Making a Contribution to Knowledge

famous discoveriesThe creation of new knowledge within the context of a particular field of study is also known as ‘making a contribution to knowledge’, which is an essential criterion for the award of a PhD.

This can be a source of anxiety for students researching in the arts, when the contribution one’s work has made to knowledge is not always as clear as it may be in other disciplines, such as the sciences. In the arts and creative practices the uniqueness of your contribution to knowledge will be a result of what you have done, in addition to the way you have done it, as part of a particular field
. The way your particular field operates will often define what is, and what is not, a contribution to knowledge.

In the latter stages of your PhD, be reassured that your thesis does indeed make a contribution to knowledge, otherwise your supervisor would have alerted you to it some time ago. If your work has been published in a peer reviewed journal then it does make a contribution to knowledge, as the experts who reviewed it would not have recommended it for publication.

Aim to be clear about how your PhD contributes to knowledge, including where your research fills gaps and builds on previous research and how your approach differs from that of other important research. Recognising the value of your own work can be difficult. You will find it easier when you look back over it in a year’s time!  As an expert in your particular topic, you may be more aware of the flaws, gaps and unknowns in your work rather than its strengths. Try to think of your work as if it were someone else’s and you will be more likely to fairly assess its contribution.

The process of contributing to knowledge in writing a doctoral thesis will also enable you to develop your abilities to reflect on your own and others’ learning. Over the course of your PhD you will become more able to judge fairly what you do know and realise the extent of what you don’t know. What you don’t know will come to inspire curiosity rather than insecurity as you gain confidence through experience.


Image: GSA Library and Archives on Flickr