When you dig into the real reasons for students having problems, two common themes emerge.
One is that students often don't know how the academic system works, particularly when they make the transition from school to university, or from a taught undergraduate degree to a research degree, from the workplace to education.
The other is that taught courses often don't pay enough attention to craft skills, so students are unable to translate the taught content into practice. This applies both to physical craft skills and to academic craft skills of writing and research.
We're recognised authorities in these areas. The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research is one of the classic books for PhD students, and it focuses strongly on these two themes. We've also published peer-reviewed journal articles on our research findings in this area, and on their implications. We've delivered courses on academic skills at a wide range of universities in the UK and elsewhere, including Cambridge University and the University of Helsinki.
The big picture and the craft skills: Examples
We wondered why a strong cohort of mature students were under-performing in written assessment. When we used think-aloud technique and laddering to unpack the reasons, we discovered that the students were attempting to make their writing clear and readable, by leaving out the technical terms and the references which would have demonstrated their knowledge and brought them higher marks. We changed our course content to include systematic explanations of the reasons behind key features of academic writing, and the students' performance improved dramatically, to the point where several of them produced projects that resulted in peer-reviewed journal publications.
Our subsequent research uncovered numerous similar issues, such as a high dropout rate among mature students returning to education, because they didn't know the underlying principles of academic work and were feeling lost and powerless. These gaps in knowledge weren't confined to students new to university; for instance, we found that a high proportion of PhD students had never heard of review articles, and were unaware of how to use them in a literature review.
Frequently asked questions:
Duration: We deliver courses ranging from one hour to three days. One hour courses are useful as tasters, and for specific, well-defined topics such as ways of referencing the grey literature.
Location: We're happy to deliver courses either on the client's premises, or at an external location.
Level: Any level from the start of an undergraduate degree to the final stages of a PhD. In practice, many of the topics that we cover are equally applicable at all levels; for instance, how to find and use review articles as part of a literature review.
Topics: We specialise in the big picture and in craft skills, particularly for research. We often find that the apparent problem that students are encountering isn't actually the root cause of the problem, so we advise having an initial conversation that will allow us to identify the topics that will be of most use to the students.
People: Our courses are usually delivered by an expert in the relevant topic, supported by one or more assistants who help with practical sessions, and who typically have several years of experience with the topic involved.