In this introduction, we discuss some of the common issues and experiences expressed in the seven articles of this IDS Bulletin. This issue is a platform for IDS PhD researchers to reflect on their fieldwork experiences, including research-related challenges, as well as cultural and personal encounters along the way. The authors also develop theoretically-informed arguments about their research findings. As editors, we offer further reflections on the importance of fieldwork as part of the transformative experience of ‘doing a PhD’ in Development Studies. We suggest that the collection of articles in this IDS Bulletin represents a vision for the future of Development Studies research in which the human, relational and public work elements of research are emphasised throughout the contested process of working for change.