Research Interests

  • Language learning / learner beliefs and strategies
  • Psychology of the language learner
  • Learner autonomy / independent learning
  • Awareness and agency in language learning
  • Multilingual acquisition, use and maintenance
  • Individual learning / learner differences
  • Bi-, tri-, multilingualism, polyglots
  • Research methods

Professional academic service

2009 - 2011
Assistant Editor, Birkbeck Studies in Applied Linguistics (BISAL)

Peer review
International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism


Peek, R. (2015). Exploring learner autonomy: Language learning locus of control in multilinguals. The International Journal of Multilingualism. Advance online publication. (9,500 words)

Peek, R. (2008). Languages for ALL. Birkbeck Studies in Applied Linguistics, 3, 77-87. (4,300 words)

Book reviews
Peek, R. (2010). Review of: Processes in third language acquisition.Björn Hammarberg (Ed.), 2009. Birkbeck Studies in Applied Linguistics, 4, 86-91. (2,700 words)

Peek, R. (2010). Review of: Mehrsprachigkeit: lernen und lehren / Multilingualism: Learning and Instruction / Le Plurilinguisme: apprendre et enseigner / O Plurilinguismo: aprender e ensinar. Selected papers from the L3 conference in Freiburg/Switzerland 2005. Martha Gibson, Britta Hufeisen & Cornelia Personne (Eds.), 2008. Sociolinguistic Studies, 4(1), 253-258. (2,000 words)

Peek, R. (2010). Review of: The Multiple Realities of Multilingualism. Elka Todeva & Jasone Cenoz (Eds.), 2009. The International Journal of Multilingualism, 7(3), 278-283. (3,100 words)

Peek, R. (2010). Review of: The Exploration of Multilingualism. Larissa Aronin & Britta Hufeisen (Eds.), 2009. Linguist List, 21.2618, Wed 16 June 2010. (3,300 words)

Conference reports
Peek, R. (2011). Symposium - Bloomsbury Round Table on communication, cognition and culture: The Multiple faces of multilingualism, Language Teaching, 44(4), 548-550. (950 words)

Peek, R. (2009). Thinking about doing a PhD or already doing one? Some tips & thoughts by a part-time PhD student. Birkbeck College Applied Linguistics Newsletter, 2009-2010. (2,300 words) (available below as blog entry, 4-1-2010)


Experience and learner autonomy: Locus of control in multilingual language learners. AILA World Congress 2014, Brisbane, Australia, 11-8-2014.

Beliefs about language learning: Multilingualism matters. 9th International Symposium on Bilingualism (ISB9), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, 10-6-2013. (click here for a synopsis)

Beliefs about language learning: The effect of previous/prior language learning experience (PLLE). PhD Research Seminar Series, Department of Applied Linguistics and Communication, Birkbeck, University of London, UK, 9-3-2011.

Language learner strategy use and development in 'L7 language learners'. Bloomsbury Round Table on Communication, Cognition and Culture: The Multiple Faces of Multilingualism, Birkbeck, University of London, UK, 24-6-2010. (poster)

Multilingual acquisition in polyglots: a mixed-method study of language learning strategies and beliefs. PhD Research Seminar Series, Department of Applied Linguistics and Communication, Birkbeck, University of London, UK, 3-3-2010.

Polyglots, multilinguals, trilinguals, bilinguals… What is the difference? 6th International Conference on Third Language Acquisition and Multilingualism, Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, Italy, 10-9-2009.

Are you a polyglot or not? Some key issues, 4th Lancaster University Postgraduate Conference in Linguistics and Language Teaching, Lancaster University, UK, 2-7-2009.

How many languages? On quantifying the 'poly' in polyglot, 2nd Bloomsbury Student Conference in Applied Linguistics, Birkbeck, University of London, UK, 6-6-2009.

Multiple language acquisition, maintenance and proficiency in polyglots. Outline of a research project and some preliminary results. PhD Research Seminar Series, Department of Applied Linguistics and Communication, Birkbeck College, University of London, UK, 4-3-2009.

Invited talks

Keeping everybody happy: How to earn a living as a freelance translator. Plenary lecture in translation, Centre for Language Studies, City University London, UK, 5-6-2006.

How to become a freelance translator. What you need and where to get it. Centre for Translation Studies, University of Leeds, UK, 3-11-2005.

Keeping everybody happy: How to earn a living as a freelance translator. Centre for Translation Studies, University of Leeds, UK, 5-5-2005.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Thinking about doing a PhD or already doing one? Some tips & thoughts by a part-time PhD student

Copyright R. Peek 2009.


This is a slightly amended version of a newsletter article I wrote for the Birkbeck College Applied Linguistics Society (BCALS), and which appears on the BCALS website in the Newsletter section and the Blog section (


Doing a PhD is not always easy and it comes with ups and downs. Also, it is not for everyone. I hope that this short article will provide you with some food for thought if you are considering doing a PhD or perhaps are already doing one. Below some bullet points and reflections.

• ‘Doing’ a PhD: getting a realistic picture
For a start, what does it actually mean ‘to do’ a PhD? Well, it involves quite an investment – psychological, financial, emotional and time-wise – over three to seven years, depending on whether you are enrolled part-time or full time. One way to find out beforehand what the PhD experience involves is to speak to current PhD students and ask them about what it is they do, and perhaps what they are supposed to do, on a daily/weekly/annual basis and how they feel about it. In addition, you can browse some online forums on the web and support sites (go and Google around) or start a discussion yourself, such as on our BCALS forum. I also recommend you compare these views with what is stated in the departmental PhD handbook for you specific PhD programme. You may find that there is quite a difference between general information and first-hand experience from others. Finally, have a read of the following helpful books or just browse through them (try and get the most recent edition): Philips, E.M., & Pugh, S. How to get a PhD. A Handbook for Students and their Supervisors. Booth, W.C., Colomb, G.G., Williams, J.M. 2008. The Craft of Research. Third Edition. All of this should give you a more detailed idea of what ‘doing’ a PhD involves.

• Supervision and peer support: you are not alone
There are times that you may feel stuck with your work. Hence it is important to have – or create – your own support group. This may take the form of other PhD students or someone else who may be able to give you their listening ear on occasion. I find it invaluable to be able to meet up informally to have a chat with other students, especially since I am not living near London. Hence I make use of these opportunities and enjoyable moments as and when I can, or try to arrange them myself. This is why I think BCALS is great. I particularly like the new online forum as a means to stay in touch for those of us who live a bit further away, even if it is just for browsing after a hard day’s work. This is just one of the coping strategies to get out of difficult times, which will happen. Your supervisor is another port of call, and can be a great resource for advice, networking, potential publications and a range of other things. However, his or her time may be limited, so when you start a PhD – the first meeting – ask him or her what their expectations of you are for the first 6 months and the first year, what their style of supervision is and what kind of supervision you think you need and they think you need. Supervision relationships tend to vary quite a bit, and may be more or less structured in their approach. In the end, the PhD is your responsibility and the supervisor is there in a guiding capacity: it is not their job to do the work for you. So, try to get clear at the start what is expected of you as well as when. Also be aware that some issues can be sorted out via email, whereas others may require a face-to-face meeting. When you arrange a meeting, make sure you submit any written work quite ahead of time, so your supervisor has sufficient time to read your work and comment on it. Make a small agenda of what you would like to discuss prior to the meeting and email it to your supervisor, asking her or him to add anything to it. This may make the supervision session more efficient for the both of you.

• The PhD as a training ground: what skills and where to get them
There are many reasons why people may want to do a PhD, some more focussed than others. For example, ‘I think it is interesting’, ‘I don’t know what else to do’, ‘I would like to get a job in academia’, etc. Try to get clear what your motivation is for doing or wanting to do a PhD. One thing I quickly realised is that doing a PhD is a training ground for becoming a good researcher in your chosen area. Thinking of it in this way, the PhD process is a learning curve, which may differ for each PhD student, depending on their background and a range of other factors. In my case, I have some transferable skills, but need to get more grounding in research methods, as well as their application and limitations. Part of becoming a good researcher is being able to identify your own training needs and how to address them. Attending a research methods module is helpful in this regard, as well as reading around (e.g. Dörnyei, Z. 2007. Research Methods in Applied Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press), and perhaps attending a summer school or doing relevant training courses through the Bloomsbury Postgraduate Skills Network ( However, in order to get more than an appreciation of what different methods involve, I personally like to have a small task-based project with a certain deadline I can work on – a mini-project – agreed with my supervisor, where I can apply the methodology, whether this may involve statistical analysis or more qualitative approaches. I believe that in order to acquire a skill, you will need to apply it and receive feedback, not just reading about it. In other words, learning by doing, feedback and reflection. Thus at the start of your PhD, or beforehand, think of any opportunities that may be available for learning and applying various research methods or approaches, including software training (e.g. EndNote, qualitative and statistical analysis packages), so you get an appreciation thereof and gain some confidence that you can use at least one of them competently when you come close to the end of your PhD, and preferably earlier.

• How to practise critical reading, writing, discussion and thinking
Although this is touched upon in research methods courses, and even when you think you know what it means, the move from merely summarising and describing someone else’s position or a particular problem to critical engagement with their argument and taking your own position is quite a leap. Again, being able to do it yourself is key here. How do you get there? Well, one exercise might be to read an article by your supervisor or someone else. Then summarise the main argument in 500 words, paying attention to questions such as: What are they trying to do here? (problem) How are they doing it? (method/approach), What evidence do they use? (data), What do they conclude? (findings). When you read the article, also note down your impressions and thoughts about what you read and have a questioning, inquisitive attitude while you read. Such questions may be along the lines of: ‘Hmmm, she claims this, but I am not convinced...’ ‘Why am I not convinced?’ or ‘This can’t be right!’, ‘Why not?’ See if you can back this up by reference to the text or other things you have read. In other words, going beyond description means asking and answering such questions as: ‘Do I agree/disagree with what is claimed here? Why?’ You also will need to learn how to read selectively, not just widely, i.e. ask yourself before reading something: ‘Why am I reading this?’ (purpose/relevance), ‘Will this help me with my problem?’ If not, make a note and discard it – you can always return to it later. (Another tip: keep track of what you read in EndNote and make notes in EndNote as well.) Start with reading the abstract, introduction, major headings and conclusion first and then decide whether you need to read the whole thing. Writing down your own thoughts – and not just brief notes with quotes – is extremely important, in that it forms a starting point for developing your own critical response to what you read, which may become the basis for your position or argument. This takes time and practice and I am still learning and refining this skill as well. Another way to play around with this skill is to read an article with some members in your SIG group, briefly write down what you think of it, and then discuss it – online or offline – with other SIG members. Afterwards, you may want to write a short report for yourself, summarising what others thought, how your view has changed (or not) and why, etc.

• Keeping track of your thoughts: using a reflective research diary
Another useful strategy is to keep a reflective research diary, so as to create a record of your thoughts and impressions about the PhD experience as such. One aim of such a personal learning diary is to provide you with a support tool, in that over time, you can see how your feelings and thoughts about doing the PhD develop, as well as how your ideas about your topic change over time. In a way, it is a record of your own personal PhD journey. This can take many formats, but I would recommend that you make at least an entry once a week, and write in prose about such things as: What have I done this week in relation to the PhD? How did I feel about it? What exciting texts have I read? What was interesting about it? How has what I read changed my thinking at this point? The time it takes to do this may take anywhere between 5 to 30 minutes, but the advantage is that you also practice your writing skills. In addition, it can be a track record of the highs and lows of your PhD, and how you got out of difficult times, which decisions you made about using certain methods, etc. I recommend that you have a look at the following book for some more ideas. Although it is more on the qualitative side, it contains many good things in relation to doing research as such: Silverman, D. 2008. Doing qualitative research. 2nd edition. London: Sage.

• Time management and overcoming procrastination: yes, it can be done!
You cannot do your PhD 24/7 and need to have a healthy study/work/family/life balance. It is not just about working hard, but also smart. How does doing a PhD fit in with the rest of your life and relationships? I could go into more detail here, but will merely refer you to the following: Fiore, N.A. 2007. The Now Habit. A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-free Play. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin. It is different from many other books I have read on this topic, in that the approach outlined there works (for me at least) in making things manageable by focussing on what small steps you can do now, the next 30 minutes, without beating yourself up. Have a read of it. You could also ask others what coping strategies they use to overcome procrastination, writer's block or any other issues or obstacles. Remember, you want to come out as healthy and happy a person at the end of your PhD and remain one while you are doing it!

• Becoming a good researcher and enjoying it: some final thoughts
I have touched on a range of issues here, but left out many others. My main purpose was to share some thoughts and tips with you on doing a PhD. At present, I think of the PhD as a kind of 'role play', your mission: to become a good researcher in your field of interest. This involves training, skill identification, development and practice, time, effort, guidance and support. What does it mean to be a good researcher? Can I think of any role models? What is expected of me in my first year? What do I think I need to do and what does my supervisor think? How does this translate into small, feasible tasks that my supervisor can set me and give me feedback on? How do I keep track of my development? What would be my wish list at the end of my PhD and how do I get there in small steps, things I can do on a daily or weekly basis? What about after the PhD? Thinking both short- and long-term will put things in perspective. In a way, it is like trying to teach yourself, with peer and supervisor support, how to do a PhD by doing it, a training ground to identify and acquire the skills and knowledge you need to become a good researcher in your chosen field. I find that a lot of it is by trial and error, trying to take note of what is happening: writing, thinking, talking, for example in a research diary or with others in the same – or a similar – boat. In sum, as a researcher in training, I think you need to be or become: proactive, organised, systematic, creative, and explorative, but also: enjoy yourself!

Well, these are some of my thoughts on the subject of ‘doing’ a PhD. If any of you would like to share your views, then please do so by emailing me or leaving a comment below. We can all learn from each other and ensure that our studies are an enjoyable learning experience. Finally, I would like to wish you all the best with your studies and other endeavours.

Copyright R. Peek 2009.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Great article and so true on all points.
    Well done.

  3. Thanks for taking the time to do this, it is a really thought provoking and useful piece of work.

  4. hey its realy great and very helpful for i m thinking to start P.Hd.

  5. The topic that your blog deals with demands loads of research. Thanks to you who has provided the intricate information in simple words.

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  6. I think your article does not only apply to PhD students but also to Masters students and anyone intending to become a good researcher or a good professional as a whole. I found it research provocative as well.