Back to
all case studies

DoctoralNet: An Innovative Digital Platform for Postgraduate Research Students

Dublin City University


This innovation provides an online platform with a range of tools for supporting postgraduate research students. The case study describes how Dublin City University has been using a subscription-based service known as DoctoralNet to enhance postgraduate completion rates and the overall experience of research students.   

Major Objective

The major objective of this innovation was to provide a suite of online tools and services to enhance the postgraduate research student experience and more specifically support the development of research proposals, completion of thesis writing and dissemination of findings.


The current set of tools and features available through DoctoralNet include:

  • A branded university level portal where research students can sign in to locate all relevant resources for postgraduate study. For example see
  • A range of opt-in tools students can choose when they require additional or more personalised support during the research process. Many of these resources can be sent to the student privately either by the Graduate Studies Office or the supervisor, and accessed through the DoctoralNet app.
  • Tools include a 30-day writing challenge, a 30-day work-life balance challenge and motivational emails to name the most popular.  For example see:
  • Webinars and the international groups in which those conversations are embedded are a favorite for many students giving them not only new or refresher knowledge but membership in a bigger network.  Some of these services require specialized IT tools and DoctoralNet partners with an outside company for their production.  Importantly, these tools for supporting research students are offered as open educational resources (OERs).  For examples visit:

Major Outcomes

Several major outcomes underpin our increased understanding of postgraduate use of these digital tools:

  • Students don’t know what they don’t know – while pedagogically driven supports underlie the technology, students tend to hunt and peck until they find the resources they need.
  • Wellbeing and work-life balance are significant challenges, especially for the part time, distant postgraduate student and these wrap around services need to be included as well.
  • Universities will not adequately predict which students will need the services.  Everyone was surprised by some of the usage results, such as full-time and part-time being about equal. Therefore, costs of services need to be low enough that everyone has access.
  • Technology changes quickly and students expect universities to keep up with the times, requiring collaborative effort between the university and the technology provider.

Lessons about Innovation

We have learned that innovation in both technology and how to continue to grow supports and services for research students is an ongoing process. More specifically, the services available through DoctoralNet need to be embedded in the range of existing resources available to postgraduate research students rather than seen as an ‘add on’ solution to the challenge of student success. Additionally, we now better understand the importance of personalizing the tools and resources to meet individual students’ needs depending on their progress and the nature of their research.  

How it Challenges Conventional Thinking

We have found that you can support postgraduate research students in ways that go beyond traditional models of supervision. Also we have discovered that you can’t predict who will need or use the tools available through DoctoralNet. For example, both the strongest and the weakest postgraduate students use the tools. Moreover, while Business, Health and Social Sciences faculty may perceive the greatest need, STEM students use the digital tools as well.  

Supporting Materials

  1. Orientation video for students:
  2. Access to DCU student portal – sign on demo | demo123

Name of Authors 

Joseph Stokes and Mark Brown

Contact Person

Professor Joseph Stokes, Dean of Graduate Studies

Telephone: 353 1 700 8720

Institutional Partners

DoctoralNet Ltd

National Institute for Digital Learning
Dublin City University

Dublin City University


Dublin City University (DCU) is a young, ambitious and vibrant university, with a mission ‘to transform lives and societies through education, research, innovation and engagement’. Known as Ireland’s ‘University of Enterprise and Transformation’, DCU is committed to the development of talent, and the discovery and translation of knowledge that advances society and the economy. The university is based on three academic campuses in the Glasnevin-Drumcondra region of north Dublin. It currently has more than 18,000 students enrolled across its five faculties – Science and Health, DCU Business School, Computing and Engineering, Humanities and Social Sciences and DCU Institute of Education.

More information