From Chaos to Clarity: Design Thinking in the PhD Voyage

The PhD journey, with its rigorous reading, writing, coursework, and assignments, is indeed a colossal task. As I navigate these tumultuous waters, I can’t help but wonder if I could frame my PhD life as a problem statement and design a model to guide me through this journey. Recently, I have been engrossed in reading about design thinking, and it struck me – why not view my PhD life as a ‘wicked problem’ and apply the principles of design thinking to it? After all, what could be more intriguing than exploring the life of PhD scholars and the buzzword ‘design thinking’ that has permeated every discipline?

The Wicked Problem of PhD Life

A ‘wicked problem’ is a complex, multifaceted challenge that cannot be resolved through traditional problem-solving methods. They are ambiguous, uncertain, and lack a single solution. The resemblance between a ‘wicked problem’ and ‘PhD Life’ is uncanny. The PhD journey is riddled with complexities and uncertainties, making it akin to a wicked problem. From traversing academic hierarchies, managing personal and professional relationships, conducting rigorous research, and publishing findings to preparing for future career paths – each aspect is interrelated and influenced by numerous variables, making the PhD experience inherently complex and challenging to grasp or solve fully.

Recognizing the PhD journey as a wicked problem allows students to adopt a more flexible and resilient mindset, embracing uncertainty as an inherent part of the scholarly process. Through interdisciplinary collaboration, creative problem-solving, and challenging conventional norms, PhD candidates can navigate the complexities of academia with greater clarity, purpose, and effectiveness. So, let’s bring in design thinking and design the PhD student experience.

Applying the Stanford Model of Design Thinking

The Stanford model of design thinking suggests five main stages: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test.

Empathize: Understanding the Needs of the PhD Student

At the heart of design thinking lies empathy – the ability to deeply understand the needs, aspirations, and challenges of the end-users. For PhD students, cultivating empathy involves recognizing their own academic and personal needs and empathizing with the diverse stakeholders within their academic ecosystems. This includes advisors, peers, collaborators, and broader academic communities. By empathizing with fellow students, PhD candidates can build supportive networks, share experiences, and foster a culture of collaboration and camaraderie. Understanding the perspectives of advisors and mentors enables students to establish more productive and fulfilling relationships characterized by mutual respect and effective communication. Moreover, empathizing with broader academic communities helps students situate their research within larger intellectual contexts, fostering interdisciplinary connections and insights.

Define: Clarifying Challenges and Goals in the PhD Journey

During the define stage, you embark on a profound exploration of your PhD journey, seeking to identify the core challenges impeding your effectiveness as a scholar. Building upon the empathetic understanding cultivated in the earlier stages, you rummage deep into the nuances of your academic experience. This involves not only clarifying your personal goals and aspirations but also discerning the expectations placed upon you by others, such as advisers and family members. Furthermore, you confront the deficits and limitations present in your scholarly life, whether they be related to time management, project engagement, or resource availability. By carefully defining these essential aspects, you gain a comprehensive understanding of the obstacles standing in your way. This self-awareness forms the bedrock upon which you can construct tailored solutions, enabling you to navigate the complexities of academia with clarity, resilience, and purpose.

Ideate: Innovating Solutions for Academic Hurdles

In the ideation phase of design thinking, creativity reigns supreme as individuals generate diverse solutions to address identified challenges. Applied to the Ph.D. journey, ideation involves reimagining traditional academic practices and structures to serve better the evolving needs of students and the broader scholarly community. For instance, PhD students can leverage ideation techniques to explore alternative modes of dissemination beyond traditional academic publications, such as podcasts, videos, or interactive media. By embracing interdisciplinary collaborations, students can enrich their research perspectives and methodologies, transcending disciplinary boundaries to tackle complex real-world problems.

Prototype: Experimenting with New Approaches

Prototyping is an essential component of design thinking, allowing individuals to test and refine their ideas in real-world settings. In the context of the PhD journey, prototyping entails experimenting with new approaches to research, learning, and professional development. PhD students can prototype innovative teaching methodologies by designing and delivering workshops or courses within their areas of expertise. Additionally, they can explore emerging technologies and digital platforms to enhance the dissemination and impact of their research findings. By embracing a spirit of experimentation, students can adapt to changing academic landscapes and cultivate resilience in the face of uncertainty.

Test: Putting Ideas into Action

In the Test stage of the design thinking model, the focus shifts from planning to action as prototypes are put to the test. This phase acknowledges the inherent challenges of designing, emphasizing that success may not be immediate or linear. It is perfectly acceptable if the solution doesn’t work initially; designing is an iterative process of refinement. When faced with setbacks, it is essential to take a step back, analyse the components, and make necessary adjustments. If, despite efforts, the solution proves ineffective, there is no harm in discarding it entirely and exploring alternative concepts. Each attempt provides valuable insights into the problem space, informing future iterations towards becoming a more functional PhD student.



Designing a Fulfilling PhD Experience

The principles of design thinking offer a transformative framework for revamping the PhD experience as a dynamic journey of discovery, creativity, and personal growth. By cultivating empathy, ideation, prototyping, and testing, students can navigate the complexities of academia with confidence, resilience, and purpose. As PhD candidates embark on their scholarly ventures, they are not merely passive participants but active agents of change, shaping their academic trajectories and contributing to the advancement of knowledge. By embracing the principles of design thinking, they can design a PhD experience that is not only functional but also fulfilling, empowering them to realize their full potential.

Subscribe to our newsletter
Sign up here to get the latest news, updates and special offers delivered directly to your inbox.
You can unsubscribe at any time
Subscribe to our newsletter
Sign up here to get the latest news, updates and special offers delivered directly to your inbox.
You can unsubscribe at any time
1 Comment
  1. Dr. Priti Ranjan Sahoo says

    Design thinking helps to embrace ambiguity.

    The key difference between design and art is that design is more focused on function and usability than art.

    The design thinking approach, which uses an empathetic ethnographic approach to understanding human behaviour, can better understand feelings and unarticulated intrinsic behaviour and explain why a person is behaving in a certain way. Thus, a better model can be developed with the combined utilization of both the data-driven methods of data science and insight-driven approach of design thinking.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.