This article describes ongoing work from within Children’s Identity and Citizenship in Europe (CiCe) a European Thematic Network project (see Alistair Ross in this issue). The Research Student Strand of that network is made up of a group of colleagues (including the authors of this article) who are co-operating to provide guidance for PhD research students and their supervisors. We report here on a small-scale project designed to explore debates about the nature of work being undertaken by PhD students who have interests in citizenship. In particular we wished to discuss the extent to which these students as researchers exercise freedom or are constrained. Following some contextual remarks about PhD research in Europe and the work of CiCe we describe the small scale research project and suggest that there are significant and, perhaps, increasing constraints that affect the work of students as they seek to create new knowledge. In essence we ask how we may guarantee the achievement of valuable new work if in effect we impose more common practice in line with market reforms and heightened quality assurance mechanisms. While recognising the need for appropriate standards we suggest that we need to exercise caution if we are to avoid the PhD becoming a constrained and constraining training exercise for those who are to be accepted into existing academic debates and established academic communities.