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Silos Hamper Change to Doc Education: Silos Alive in MLA Doctoral Study Report and Scholarship of Doctoral Studies


What happens when a disciplinary body undertakes research to release a report on doctoral education?  Does the report get input from the scholarship of doctoral studies?  Do eminent figures in doctoral studies publicly engage with the report? The MLA and doctoral studies scholars fail to make the case to each other and both continue on parallel paths.

The Modern Language Association released a report for changes to doctoral study that did not include anyone from outside the MLA community on the task force, did not include literature from doctoral studies, and did not have a proper methodology, did not offer ideas to implement change.  The report received no input from any scholar of doctoral studies, not did any scholar of doctoral studies participate in the chorus on social media to critique the report.  Escape velocity refers to the force with which an ‘academic’ area escapes the pull of academia and makes it into the outer world.  In the MLA report, the literature in doctoral studies failed to escape academia as the MLA task force failed to avail themselves of it.

A task force of persons within the world of the MLA recommended changes to doctoral education in the report.  The task force decided the best way to fulfill their goal would be through conversations with ‘directors of graduate studies, department chairs, and other administrators, graduate students; employers outside the academy; and the membership at large. Through presentations on individual campuses, at the annual conventions of the MLA and the American Historical Association, and at summer seminars for department chairs, members of the task force refined their thinking and finalized their recommendations.‘ ( p.1) Like others have said, this fails the test for a sound methodology.


These persons were tasked to execute the plan.

Carlos J. Alonso, Columbia University

Russell A. Berman (chair), Stanford University (two Stanford examples in appendix)

Sylvie Debevec Henning, East Carolina University

Lanisa Kitchiner, Smithsonian National Museum of African Art

Bethany Nowviskie, University of Virginia (cited in appendix)

Elizabeth Schwartz Crane, San Joaquin Delta College, CA

Sidonie Ann Smith, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (cited in appendix)

Kathleen Woodward, University of Washington, Seattle

Staff Liaisons

Kathleen Fitzpatrick, director, MLA Office of Scholarly Communication

David Laurence, director, MLA Office of Research and ADE

Why not include a scholar of doctoral studies on the task force like Chris M Golde or someone from the Council of Graduate Schools like Dr. Stewart?  Where is a political representative from an association of MLA doctoral students?  I don’t believe a national graduate students’ association exists for the humanities.  A graduate students’ association representative is superior to picking a student as a representative on the task force.  An elected student representative would undertake a study of the issues and report back to the constituency so as to be more effective. The MLA ought to encourage organization of a national MLA or humanities student doctoral group. The MLA could suggest that the NAGPS could organize a political group to respond to issues of teaching. learning and programming for humanities doctoral students.

Why didn’t the task force undertake a thorough  literature review?  This links back to the thin red line that runs through research and connects the methodology to the literature review to the questions and the answers.  Here are the works cited in the report.

“Academic Workforce Advocacy Kit.” Modern Language Association. MLA, n.d. Web. 7 Apr. 2014. <http:”” advocacy_kit=””>. Not a work of scholarship of doctoral studies.

Bok, Derek. “We Must Prepare Ph.D. Students for the Complicated Art of Teaching.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. Chronicle of Higher Educ., 11 Nov. 2013. Web. 8 Apr. 2014. Newspaper article.

Bridging the Higher Education Divide: Strengthening Community Colleges and Restoring the American Dream. The Century Foundation. Century Foundation, 2013. Web. 27 Mar. 2014. Not a work of scholarship of doctoral education.

Cohen, Walter. “The Economics of Doctoral Education in Literature.” PMLA 155.5 (2000): 1164–87. Web. 8 Apr. 2014. Not a work of scholarship, so much as analysis of the status quo in doctoral education; a data source.

Curtis, John W. The Employment Status of Instructional Staff Members in Higher Education, Fall 2011. American Association of University Professors. AAUP, Apr. 2014. Web. 8 Apr. 2014.”” sites=”” default=”” files=”” files=”” a=”” aup-instrstaff2011-april2014.pdf=””>. Not a work of scholarship of doctoral study; rather a data source.

Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities, 2011. National Science Foundation. Natl. Science Foundation, Dec. 2012. Web. 27 Mar. 2014. Not a work of scholarship of doctoral education; rather a data source.

Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities, 2012. National Science Foundation. Natl. Science Foundation, Jan. 2014. Web. 27 Mar. 2014. Not a work of scholarship of doctoral education; rather a data source.

Issues and Directions: Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Members in English and Other Modern Languages. ADE Bulletin 53–ADFL Bulletin 42.3 (2013): 1–97. Web. 7 Apr. 2014. Not an academic source.

Report on the MLA Job Information List, 2012–13. Modern Language Association. MLA, Oct. 2013. Web. 22 Apr. 2014. Not a work of scholarship of doctoral education.

Smith, Sidonie. Report to the MLA Executive Council from the Working Group on the Dissertation and Doctoral Education. 22 May 2010. TS. Unpublished.

Troop, Don. “Research Universities Are Praised for Returning Focus to Undergrad Education.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. Chronicle of Higher Educ., 12 Nov. 2013. Web. 8 Apr. 2014. Newspaper source.

Why did the task force fail to avail themselves of the small literature in doctoral studies? Why isn’t ‘The Formation of Scholars: Rethinking Doctoral education for the 21st Century from the five-year Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate (CID) cited? The MLA task force knows of the CID, because a CID program is used as an example in the appendix. The CID book is a how-to manual to reform doctoral programs. The work by Damrosch, Golde, Lovitts, McAlpine, Thomson & Kamler, Ziolkowski, Nettles and Millet, Jones, Watts, etc. could greatly enriched the recommendations.  Considering The Future of the PhD in the Humanities white paper which came out six months before the MLA publication would show graduate school keenness.

The White Paper says:

We recommend that the leading academic/humanities organizations… publish an agreement that all doctoral programs must keep up-to-date records, at a minimum, about recruitment of PhD students, years to completion, attrition rates, and a full accounting of placement inside and outside the academy—three, five, and ten years after graduation or after withdrawal from programs. ( p. 21).

The recommendations in both these reports play catch-up with decades of neglect. Neglect that resulted in a sparsity of stats at the program level, overly long times to completion, and high attrition.  With the humanities doctoral program came an appalling ignorance about issues in doctoral education which passed down between generations in the mini-me replication style of doctoral education.  The kind of statistic gathering recommended in the white paper fights against the indifference programs showed toward learning the outcomes of their efforts.

How can the task force writers claim excellence in past doctoral education programs when they now recommend slashing times to completion almost in half?  Is it a case of, sorry our doctoral programs of the past doubled our recommended time to completion, but now shorter times to completion are in vogue?  Did the MLA just highlight certain trends that are going around doctoral programs and wrap them together as a diffusion of innovations?

Where is the scholarship of doctoral studies?  Does the MLA task force believe that considering the scholarship of doctoral studies lacks relevance to them?  In the blogpost, Achieving escape velocity: Breaking free of the impact failure of applied philosophy. the University of Texas, philosophy academics show that in the field of applied philosophy, application fails to escape academia; that is exchanges in applied philosophy occur between academics.  Likewise MLA doctoral educators ignore the literature in doctoral studies and doctoral studies academics have failed to reach doctoral program providers. Never the twain shall meet in academia.

The MLA report is done like a fait accompli.  It does not recommend adding to a literature on doctoral studies in humanities programs.  Why not?  Isn’t scholarship the perfect vehicle to establish and share knowledge beyond just copying practices, trends or program designs?  Does the MLA task force value the teaching and learning functions of doctoral programs to subject them to study?  Why not recommend a resident expert in doctoral programs in the humanities to gather up the statistics, conduct studies, co-write articles, encourage new approaches, provide training to doctoral educators/learners and pay attention to improving the quality of doctoral programs?

Why didn’t the MLA task force take a more inter-disciplinary approach to their work?  A more inter-disciplinary approach would be in keeping with the silo-busting and using resources of the entire university that are recommended.  Golde, who is a scholar in doctoral studies, is an administrator at Stanford which is the university of the chair of the MLA task force. Wouldn’t it be great to have an expert in doctoral education servicing humanities programs and bridging the silos? The traditions in the university of failure to escape an academic silo, apply to both the MLA and doctoral studies.

Achieving ‘escape velocity’ from the silo occurs through economic forces like push and pull, supply and demand as in the the hiring of medical ethicists.  Medical ethicists were pulled out of philosophy due to an urgent demand to make ethical decisions in the context of new medical technologies.  Researchers are now urged to plan for impact, engagement and knowledge exchange within the research proposal.

The MLA report and the work of scholars of doctoral studies speaks to the old paradigm of research cloistered off as ‘academic’ specialties.  The new paradigm calls for changes to research training.  It’s time to install a more granular approach to doctoral education which asks doctoral educators and their students to join together in examining their programs as an ongoing process.  This approach speaks to ongoing growth, testing, change, sharing, experimentation and iterations in doctoral programs. The doctoral education of the future will need to be far keener, continuously learning, more professional and always iterating.  The doctoral educators of the future should not be able to ignore their programs and fail to avail themselves of the lit in doctoral studies.

The recommendation most needed would have called for development of professional knowledge of doctoral education.  As is the report fails to avail its readers of what they need most, a process for figuring where they are now, what needs to be changed, what results to expect from change  and for sharing with other doctoral educators.

Against Students

Originally posted on feministkilljoys:

I want to begin by explaining the title of this post. What do I mean by “against students”? By using this expression I am trying to describe a series of speech acts, which consistently position students, or at least specific kinds of students, as a threat to education, to free speech, to civilisation: we might even say, to life itself.  In speaking against students, these speech acts also speak for more or less explicitly articulated sets of values: freedom, reason, education, democracy. These values are identified as requiring the reproduction of norms of conduct that students are themselves failing to reproduce.  Even if that failure is explained as a result of ideological shifts that students are not held responsible for – whether it be neoliberalism, managerialism or a new sexual puritanism – it is in the bodies of students that the failure is located. Students are not transmitting the right message…

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Actors in the Oral: These Characters Need an Author & Audience

In the absence of rigour, exam takers stand-in for standards that come down through the student grapevine.

Students enter their doctoral program with trust.  Students trust that the ministrations, trials and tasks they undertake at great expense of time and effort serve some legitimate learning, teaching or assessment function. Yet the indifference to the plight of students in the department in terms of minimizing time to completion, minimizing attrition or keeping statistics for same, sends a message of indifference, even hostility toward student success in the program.  Ergo, information of program requirements, including the big high stakes pass or fail test, the oral defense, trickles down to students via a student grapevine.

These amusing lines, which are framed in terms of what not to say during the defense, beg the question; how do students learn the standards examined in the oral defense?  The cartoon shows that what you miss out on, you make up in fantasy.  Neither side has a clear idea, that is a valid and reliable idea, about what counts as evidence for a minimal acceptable research achievement in the program during the exam.

In the absence of rigour, exam takers stand-in for standards that come down through the student grapevine.

In the absence of rigour, exam takers stand-in for standards that come down through the student grapevine.

A similar cartoon could be penned for the examiners’ side.   The examiners fantasize their role as gatekeeper and play a game of keep-away.  Examiners ought not to say that they don’t know the minimally acceptable standard, haven’t done inter-rater reliability tests, understand that no one checks their work, haven’t read the dissertation closely, are reprising lines from their last 27 oral defenses etc. Until students and examiners know what counts, the exam remains more a hazing than bona fide assessment instrument.  The examiners play keep away and can take license with it.

Right now, oral exams fit the definition of pornography by the US supreme court judge: “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it.” Also oral exams fit to ‘if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, smells like a duck, then it is a duck’.  If it looks like a gang-up from the middle ages and can get side-lined by the ego needs of an examiner, you’ve got  a religious investiture, an oral exam.

All that very serious toil, tension,and trouble on the candidate’s behalf concludes with a silly piece of theater.   A book reviewer in the Harvard Education Review said doctoral ‘students deserve better’ (2006).  Advocates of graduate school reform call for a student-consumer to demand better and stop paying for this nonsense (Golde 2007, The Responsive PhD, 2008).  Doctoral programs need a consumer audience.

While the Harvard Education Review asserts that students deserve better, Harvard its self recently came under fire for the PhD it awarded to Jason Richwine.   His dissertation concluded that Latinos will never be as smart on IQ tests and used articles by discredited, racist academics like Rushton. Such dissertations get passed by esteemed professors.

Even though Richwine’s dissertation with its racist, ignorant conclusion erupted angry protests on Ivy League campuses, brought in news coverage and earned a spot on The Colbert Show, Harvard still took no responsibility and offered no real explanation or inquiry, aside from appeals for calm and to academic freedom.  One would hope that at Harvard, such a lapse in quality would prompt reflection.  Getting a doctorate from the foremost university in the world for a bad dissertation shows the weaknesses in doctoral programs.  Doctoral programs don’t get fixed.  There is no system of ongoing renewal, although sometimes changes are undertaken, to cave to long decades of neglect.  As noted in the literature on doctoral education (Nettles and Millet, 2006), doctoral education also has no system for quality control.  As a consumer of PhD training, Richwine might have thought that by virtue of completing his dissertation at Harvard, his PhD program would have quality controls.

If Harvard doesn’t control for quality, and this is bizarre, a student consumer group at Harvard ought to demand a system of quality control to prevent another Richwine episode.  Richwine’s degree devalues the Harvard PhD brand and therefore every doctorate earned at Harvard.  Richwine’s degree devalues PhDs.   Doctoral work at Harvard, or elsewhere, can not come down to simplistic statements regarding racial inferiority.  Fix the system of doctoral education.  Without a system to control for quality, beyond the charade of the oral defense, all doctoral programs suffer from the same weakness.

Too bad Western Governor’s University doesn’t provide PhDs.  Western Governor’s University anchors its degrees to discernible competencies.  Imagine a doctoral program with clear criteria for assessment and that would be a WGU PhD.   The department wouldn’t need the student to make up standards, or improvise, and sub-standards like Richwine would be detected.  The characters involved in the degree get an author.

Until then, Watts (2012) has written about how to prepare for a romp in the wild west the viva.   Adding to Watts’ advice, students must not be so stupid as to ask what makes the exam a reliable and valid assessment.  Students are well served to remember that even if the assessment is quackery, hold your nose, suppress the urge to vomit and quack.  The hard-earned degree and personal sacrifice is not at all diminished by the bogus exam, the decades of neglect, inaction, and lack of attention or the lack of quality control.

Even though roughly only 30% of PhDs work in the academy, and even in ‘professional’ doctorates like the EdD which aim outside the ivory tower, the exam focuses on scholarship.   Changes to shorten doctoral programs in the humanities at the University of California, Irvine resulted in greater consumer demand (that is more applicants) even early on.  Yet these programs aren’t fixed; they still end in an oral defense for all their lofty ambition.  Consumer-group action can send a message to doctoral program providers that shortening the program is no substitute for considering the function of every aspect.  The characters need the attention of an author and an audience.

Doctorateness Differs from The Doctorate


Regardless of discipline, all scholars are alike.  All scholars embody a quality called ‘doctorateness’.  Doctorateness pivots attention to knowledge its self, to concern with assertions of knowledge.  How would assessment differ if programs examined candidates for ‘doctorateness’ as opposed to whatever an oral defense examines?  How would examiners recognize doctorateness?

Blink is a book about expert recognition.  Experts assess very reliably, in a blink.  For example, via long experience, a mental health practitioner learns to spot schizophrenia almost at a glance.  Gladwell, who wrote Blink, explains the capacity for expert recognition via thin slicing, expert sampling of relevant aspects that come together as a pattern.  Experience shapes an expert’s mind to pick up on the clusters that make for instant recognition.

Let’s liken all doctoral candidates nominated to complete formal research training, to novice experts whose education has clustered together qualities that together make-up the pattern called ‘doctorateness’.   How would assessment of doctorateness work?  To say that doctoral work pushes the boundaries of knowledge simplifies and fails to account for work that splices together disciplines or  reconfigures existing knowledge.   A myth persists that those pursuing the doctorate spot gaps in knowledge or push the frontiers of knowledge out like this:

Is this really the way knowledge works, pushing against the rim of the circle?

Is this really the way knowledge expands, pushing against the rim of the circle?

The job of doctoral education becomes finding the bump-out expansion to the circle or gap, which is then assessed in the viva.  Sometimes doctoral researchers, like academic researchers, come up with very novel, new ideas that can not be described as a gap or bump.

In the blog post, My Viva, Stephen Downes, answers questions that commonly come up in a viva.   Even if the questions are known, the weighting and scoring of questions and the verbal characteristics examiners want to see are a mystery to both the candidate and the examiners.  A fly on the wall at the post exam conference would not likely see a careful deliberation and scoring of each question.  Instead examiners are more likely to use expert recognition assessment as in Blink and note imperfections to the text.

Downes departed doctoral study before the oral defense.  Yet even without the exam, his career and prodigious output signal doctorateness. Read his scathing critique of this dubious research.  Note his analysis includes both the methodology of the study and its politics.  His critique is the stuff of academic discernment.

What if when ‘doctorateness’ registers consistently through many interactions that are kept in a portfolio, the award was given? To confer the degree based on a sample of one solitary research project/academic effort, fails to meet the criteria for reliability and validity or mirror academia; the vast majority of publications come from collaborations between academics.

Since departing doctoral study, Downes shows his doctorateness in his analysis in his daily newsletter, in his development of a new learning theory (connectivism) and in the ongoing experiment he co-started, which gave the world the MOOC.  He is also a polymath and likely many polymaths show academic know-how.

The  ‘original contribution’ to knowledge as determined by the bump out or gap-filling idea may or may not overlap with doctorateness.  Downes, with his incessant output, has likely had a greater impact on the field of education and academia than the other students in his program who got the PhD.  In 2014, at least five dissertations about MOOCs garnered PhDs. In failing to incubate and nurture his potential for contribution and get him through, the doctoral program he was in failed him.  Yet his long years as a doctoral student in philosophy, imparted habits of mind that cluster and read as doctorateness, even if he is a polymath.

Downs can certainly hold his own and then some with any academic in the fields that interest him.  He went toe to toe with the brilliant and esteemed Diana Laurillaird from the University of London, Learning Lab.  Without an academic post at a university or a PhD, he’s engaged with academic questions.  In leaving his doctoral program before completing, he’s like the late entertainer Robin Williams.  Robin Williams left The Julliard School before completing all required credits.  His career showed that he didn’t need those last few courses even though his Julliard training fueled his many distinguished performances.

Although universities hire almost exclusively those with the doctorate credential, they also hire the likes of a Stephen Downes who has made important contributions, influenced academic discourse and is a much in demand key-note speaker throughout the globe despite missing the three magic letters. A Google Scholar search of Stephen Downes turns up many publications with citations in the thousands, well ahead of many PhD teachers/supervisors.  Downes could be granted a PhD through the PhD by publication path or maybe PhD by doctorateness path which has yet to be created.

A doctoral program that examined for doctorateness would look for indicators that express a turn of mind toward knowledge assertions and knowledge production.  Doctorateness can be faked, like Benedict Cumerbatch in The Imitation Game or Eddie Redmond/Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything.  It is ephemeral but real.   Anyway if assessment shifted away from the unreliable instrument of the oral defense, students couldn’t fake it just by practicing answering questions commonly found in an oral exam in the tone of doctorateness.

In WWII, the British military enlisted this ephemeral quality to fight the enemy.  The military recruited academics of all stripes to make sense of aerial photographs brought back by their spy planes.  Academic know-how came into play in analyzing these extra-disciplinary artifacts. The academics recruited developed knowledge about the photographs upon which the military could rely.   Of course they worked together as academics do, playing off each other, arguing, testing and in so doing advancing sound knowledge.   In them, the UK developed that oxymoron called military intelligence.  The military was not so intelligent to act on information about concentration camps that also came out in aerial photographs.

What if, as a test of doctorateness, a forward thinking faculty of graduate studies brought together all their completing doctoral candidates to make sense of aerial photographs taken by second world war British spy planes?  Most academics work closely with others, save in social sciences and humanities doctoral programs, so this test would more closely mirror the way academics work.

Given the problems with the viva as a robust assessment instrument, the defense is more akin to an initiation ritual.  The inductee becomes like ‘a made man’, in Mafia terms, and joins an elite cartel, made up historically of Euro-rooted, white men.  The cartel reluctantly admits new members.  A new doctorate threatens existing members via competition in academia.

If the PhD were simply about doctorateness, then the ‘throw em in the deep end (and let half drown) metaphor’ of doctoral programs could be exchanged for an incubator with a high hatch rate.  Those like Stephen Downes tell doctorateness without a dissertation, an oral exam or a PhD.  Perhaps, his former program would confer the degree now based on a career that clearly belongs to and exceeds many in the academy.  He succeeded despite the problems in his PhD program.  He succeeded without getting a cushy academic post.   He succeeded without relinquishing himself to obscurity in self-blame for ‘failing’ to become a made man.  He would be an excellent teacher of doctorateness.

Version Control; or, What does it Mean to “Publish?”


How should doctoral programs and scholarly societies address the issues of publication in a digital age?

Originally posted on The Scholarly Kitchen:

Draft fragment of Declaration of Independence Fragment of an early draft of the Declaration of Independence, including Thomas Jefferson’s edits. Image via US Library of Congress.

The Oxford English Dictionary’soverarching definition of the transitive verb “publish” is “to make public.” An early use, dating to 1382 is “to prepare and issue copies of (a book, newspaper, piece of music, etc.).” This is probably how most publishers think of the term: public distribution of a text. In usage dating from 1573, however, the item in question and the manner of its distribution is more expansively conceived: “to make generally accessible or available for acceptance or use . . . to present to or before the public;” in more specialized (and obviously more recent) use “to make public . . . through the medium of print or the internet.”

Recent contretemps in history, covered by The Chronicle of Higher Education and featured in an unusual forum…

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Is that all there is? Ph D by publication

What strikes me much more strongly than the lack of comparison between models is the lack of comparison within models. Someone writes a thesis; two people examine it in the viva (the two people, including the external, appointed by the host institution). The two people come to a view. That, pretty much, is it. In the academic world, at least, huge weight is accorded to doctoral qualifications, yet the whole process of awards is so unaudited, so open to arbitrariness, so lax in its procedures: it beggars belief. People treat the doctoral award as some sort of universal standard but I can see no grounds to support that assumption. Anthony Haynes April 21, 2013 on Patter..

Ph D by publication

What do doctoral supervisors, pre-school teachers and Indigenous cultures share?

What do Doctoral Supervisors, Pre-School Teachers and Indigenous People Share?  Learning by self-teaching in a rich culture.

If learning in doctoral work comes from self-teaching, then how ought the doctoral supervisor to teach?  To complete an original contribution to knowledge, heutagogy, or self-teaching becomes both the central teaching and learning process of the research trainee.

In another post, Plight of the Accidental Scholar, an intense curiosity leads to intensive self-teaching (aka learning) via the mechanisms of scholarship to paint Tim’s Vermeer.  Scholarship is not the goal but the by-product and tool to explore answers to a question.  An incidental scholar, Tim Jenison learns everything he needs to know on a need-to-know basis.  Jenison follows his curiosity taking time to read deeply in order to fully understand.  After some trial and error, he tests his hypothesis via a reconstruction of the exact setting of a Vermeer painting.  More than five years later, Jenison draws conclusions to his investigation which is couched as a contribution to the literature.  If he wanted to, Jenison could follow-up with another study.

Scholarship was an accident of search for an explanation for Tim Jenison.  Here he tries out a solution before setting up his simulation of Vermeer's painting.Any pedagogy a supervisor uses, the doctoral researcher can use too, as self-help.  In their book Supervising the Doctorate, the writers comment, with some guilt and admiration, about a student who like Jenison, proceeds to completion with little ‘supervision.’  A doctoral education outputs a scholar, aka a self-teacher, student of a discipline and learner, who uses scholarship to contribute to a literature.

Doctoral supervisors guide a learner through a critical passage to take on the apparatus of scholarship. The excellent book Helping Doctoral Students to Write: Pedagogies for Supervision (Thomson & Kamler, 2006) would benefit doctoral students as much as supervisors. When I was putting together a research proposal, I read the first couple of chapters of this book.  It really helped me to understand how to write the literature review.  If heutagogy is the overarching principle of supervision in a research program, maybe the Thomson & Kamler text would reach it’s intended audience better if repackaged as a self-help book for doctoral students.

Heutagogies of Supervision Picnic Poster

In keeping with heutagogy as the overarching method of learning, doctoral students support a vast publishing industry for self-help with the doctorate.  Self-help and self-teaching fuel the doctoral learner.  With the paucity of research about research training, doctoral self-help books even show up in the articles and bibliographies of academic research about the doctorate.

What if Thomson & Kamler’s book was titled Helping Doctoral Students to Write: Heutagogies for Supervision?  Ironically, the title sounds pedantic.  A supervisor trusts in the black box of heutagogy, about which so little is known that the word heutagogy only entered the language in the last two decades, whereas the word pedagogy has been around since the Greeks.

What would a Heutagogies of Supervision text discuss?  A heutagogies of supervision would likely be about academic writing groups, exemplars, co-constructed rubrics and program requirements to achieve some milestones in an academic passage; a presentation at a conference, writing an article or blog post in a MAAB (Multi-Author Academic Blog) or entering a three minute thesis contest.  Above all a heutagogy for supervision text would impart ideas to create a positive, nurturing and affirming culture in the department, program, academic society and faculty.

All academics are heutagogues, so are young children and so were learners in the pre-contact Indigenous world.  Heutagogy propels all of these learners forward.  Before the age of five, a child learns a language with nothing in the way of formal instruction.  However if the child’s environment, contains rich language streams through song, books, poetry, play, and oral traditions; the child’s grasp and mastery of language will be enhanced and enriched.

All of the vast knowledge of the Indigenous world, passed between generations via heutagogy.  Learning to survive in the frozen wasteland of a Canadian winter, in a snake infested jungle, or bone dry desert, was entrusted to the self-direction of the learner and to the culture.

The doctoral learner, like many in the Indigenous world, even passes through a rite of passage, the oral defense, intended to introduce a new member to the other side, of contributor and knowledge keeper.  As the oral defense lacks the markings of a bona fide assessment instrument in terms of its robustness, the oral defense has more in common with a rite of passage than an exam.

Trust in heutagogy frames supervision, the Indigenous world, and pre-school teaching.  When it comes to supervision, less is more. The doctoral supervisor trusts self-leading teaching to happen.   One of the best ways for a supervisor to enhance supervision would be to talk about heutagogy with the learner and to explain that a non-directive approach to supervision is appropriate for the work of scholarship.

An exploration of the way a doctoral supervisor and a kindergarten or nursery teacher work, sheds light on some of the conditions of heutagogy.  A pre-school teacher takes great pains to get the environment right, to observe, and to stimulate.  Learners get set loose to explore their interests.  The non-directive ‘teaching’ during play deepens, extends, and supports the learner and the learning.  The learner is free to deeply engage, to set challenges, and to work things out.

As much as doctoral researchers suffer the burden of working through a project of original research, the doctoral project still challenges and engages the researcher with an adult fascination akin to the intense satisfaction of play in kindergarten.  How fitting that schooling gets book-ended by some innate inner flame to learn, to challenge, and to grow.


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