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Future student online experiences

Future student online experiences

Sharing the work of the Prospective Student Web Content Team

Prospective PhD research playback session 4 December 2023

We’re running an open invite event on Microsoft Teams to share what we learned through the user research conducted during the summer of 2023. Join us to better understand the experience of prospective postgraduate research students, with the majority focus on PhD.

Event details

What: An online playback of insight arising from user research with prospective postgraduate research students and the staff who support them.

When: Monday 4 December, 11:00 to 13:00

Where: Online, via a Microsoft Teams meeting

Booking: Book via University Events (staff login needed)

This session will be recorded, and made available via a blog post later this year.

Who should attend

This session should be of interest to you if you:

  • are responsible for recruiting PhD students
  • support prospective PhD students through the application process
  • field enquiries from prospective PhD students
  • manage digital channels targeting prospective PhD students, including degree finder entries


The session is in development, so the timings may change but we intend to cover:

  • Introduction and context of the website transformation project (10 minutes)
  • What we learned from interviews with Edinburgh staff (20 minutes)
  • Insights from user research with prospective PhD students (60 minutes)
  • Where this insight fits into the website transformation project (10 minutes)
  • Time for questions and discussion (20 minutes)

Background and context

To support the redevelopment of the central web provision for prospective students, and the transformation of the degree finders, we have been conducting user research on an ongoing basis. The most significant gap in our knowledge relates to the experience of prospective postgraduate research students.

To begin to address this, and provide insight to inform future website, content and experience design activities we made user research in this area  a priority for 2023. We convened a steering group to provide ongoing feedback on what we were learning, and to help us make connections with colleagues around the University who recruit research, and especially PhD, students.

Our steering group consisted of colleagues from the Doctoral College, Student Recruitment and Admissions and the three Colleges, and convened roughly monthly while the research was being planned and executed.

This discovery user research project started with a scoping activity in the form of internal research.

Insight from staff interviews

This was our first exploration of this study level (discovery research) so we began with an exercise involving staff, where we learned about:

  • the nature of postgraduate research study, specifically PhDs
  • the nature the postgraduate research audience, data which informed our 1-2-1 research
  • the routes to take when applying for a PhD
  • the administration processes involved in these routes and how they can differ across the schools
  • what information is currently available on the University of Edinburgh web estate to inform and guide prospective postgraduate research students

We also uncovered internal assumptions about the behaviour and context of prospective postgraduate research students and the challenges they face.

We used this information to scope a round of user research.

Insight from student interviews

Insights from our 1-2-1 user research with current and prospective PhD students include:

  • ⁠What the overall experience is like for PhD applicants.
  • Where they experience specific challenges in the process of finding and applying for a PhD.
  • How effective the current information and guidance on the web estate is.
  • What information is key for applicants, and distinct  from what undergraduates and taught postgraduates need.
  • How effective the degree finder programme pages are for PhD students and staff.

Next steps

This work was completed over the course of the summer, but our first priority was to inform the project that is transforming the central provision for prospective students.

Based on what we’ve learned we now have a much firmer understanding of what a transformed degree finder needs to do for prospective PhD students, and for our colleagues involved in student recruitment and marketing.

The insight we’ll share with you has fed into the next activities in the project:

  • a content audit of central, college and school based websites, along with some other universities, and
  • a content modelling process that will inform prototypes we will co-design with colleagues and then usability test with students

Join us on Monday 4 December

When: Monday 4 December, 11:00 to 13:00

Where: Online, via a Microsoft Teams meeting

Booking: Book via University Events (staff login needed)

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