An increasing number of people are opting to do their doctoral studies online as distance doctorate candidates. While this can mean flexibility for doctoral students, it can also bring some challenges. In some cases the decision to enter this endeavour is by choice, but in other cases not so much. This talk outlines the #DistanceDoctorates project and presents new data on the motivations and challenges of distance doctoral students. The presented project has important practical implications – for PhD supervisors and supervisees alike.

All resources can be found below.

See you at the next TILE Network seminar on 21 February 2023 at 4PM (UK time) on “Life in Scotland for LGBT Young People – Education Report 2023” by Dr Kathleen Cronie (She/her) & Michelle McCartney (She/her), LGBT Youth Scotland.


Today’s distance doctoral students are an extremely broad cohort. Some might be officially enrolled as “distance”, “online”, or “remote” learners, but there are also increasing numbers of students who work off-campus due to their geographic location, family/care responsibilities, paid employment, the nature of their fieldwork context, or visa/border issues. Some doctoral students may simply prefer to be in their own space; others may wish to avoid the time loss involved in commuting to campus. Still other students may experience mobility issues, forms of neurodiversity, discrimination, or financial pressures that make going into campus difficult, unsafe, or prohibitive.

We argue that all of these diverse students deserve quality provision and support as they undertake doctoral study. Our supervisory and institutional practices should no longer be guided by traditional stereotypes of the “ideal” or “normal” doctoral student, or by inertia around the ways we have “always” worked with doctoral students. Instead, we must reconsider what it might look like to support all our doctoral students well.

In this session, we will draw on our 2022 #DistanceDoctorates research project, which gathered accounts from a diverse group of doctoral students worldwide. Based on the students’ experiences, we will offer prompts for reflection/evaluation as well as some practical strategies to help both supervisors and institutions move towards equitable and high quality provision for distance doctoral researchers.

About the speakers:

Dr Katrina McChesney is a Senior Lecturer in education at the University of Waikato in New Zealand. Her doctorate (from Curtin University, Australia) was completed entirely by distance, first while living and working full-time in Abu Dhabi, and then while working part-time in New Zealand. Katrina’s overarching research interest is people’s experiences in education – what it’s like for them – and this orientation centres her interest in the lived experiences of distance doctoral students. Katrina founded and co-edits Ipu Kererū, the blog of the New Zealand Association for Research in Education and serves on the editorial board of Learning Environments Research, a Q1 Springer journal. On Twitter: @krmcchesney 

Dr James Burford is an Assistant Professor of Global Education and International Development at Warwick University in the UK. Prior to taking up his position at Warwick, James worked at universities in Australia and Thailand. Jamie undertook his PhD through the University of Auckland via distance from various locations – working in a student support centre in Dunedin, caring full time for an unwell relative in Christchurch, and lecturing full-time in Bangkok. Jamie’s research is broadly in the area of critical university studies, with a particular interest in doctoral education, academic im/mobilities, and gender and care in higher education. He co-edits the Conference Inference blog. On Twitter: @jiaburford 

Professor Liezel Frick is based in the Department of Curriculum Studies and the Director of the Centre for Higher and Adult Education at the Faculty of Education, Stellenbosch University, South Africa. Her research interests are within the broader field of doctoral education, with a particular focus on aspects of doctoral creativity and originality, learning during the doctorate, and doctoral supervision. In 2015, she received the Best African Accomplished Educational Researcher Award for 2013-2014 by the African Development Institute (ADI) and the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA). On Twitter: @FrickLiezel

Katrina, Jamie, and Liezel, along with their colleague Tseen Khoo (La Trobe University, Australia), collaborate in the area of doctoral research by distance. Their work can be explored at or on Twitter using the hashtag #DistanceDoctorates. The team also host a Facebook group for those undertaking, supporting, supervising, researching, or otherwise interested in doctoral research by distance: