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PhD Skills? Is that an oxymoron?

What skills develop in the completion of a doctorate?  A list of PhD skills follows.  These are the PhD skills expected of students in the UK as a joint statement of research councils.

A: Research Skills and Techniques

  1. Recognising research problems
  2. Critical thinking
  3. Knowing current work in field
  4. Research methods
  5. Critical reviewing
  6. Documenting and reporting

B: Research Environment

  1. Understanding the research context
  2. Complying with ethical requirements
  3. Following good research practice
  4. Complying with heath and safety legislation
  5. Understanding research funding and evaluation
  6. Justifying research methods
  7. Understanding academic and commercial exploitation

C: Research Management

  1. Organising your work
  2. Information management
  3. Using information sources
  4. Using IT

D: Personal Effectiveness

  1. Ability to learn
  2. Creativity and innovation
  3. Flexibility and open-mindedness
  4. Self-awareness
  5. Self-discipline
  6. Asking for help
  7. Independent working

E: Communication Skills

  1. Academic writing
  2. Presenting to non-academics
  3. Academic presentations
  4. Promotion of public understanding
  5. Teaching, mentoring, demonstrating

F: Networking and Teamworking Skills

  1. Building relationships and networks
  2. Working in a team
  3. Giving and receiving feedback

G: Career Management

  1. Continued professional development
  2. Planning your career progression
  3. Identifying transferable skills
  4. Presenting yourself to employers

This sparse list outlines research training.  Defense of an academic thesis is missing.  Justifying research methods may take its place.

Some may feel that the term skills denigrates the lofty aims of a doctoral level education in the same way that the word training does.  Skills hardly captures the daring creative leaps taken by some early career researchers.  Research develops that spurs whole new fields of scholarship.

Can a program teach creative leaps?  A program can model and demonstrate the skills that go into making a work of scholarship, but the daring creative leap part, that comes from somewhere else.

Skills are a good place to start though.


Government and doctorates

My country is teetering on a downward slide into totalitarianism. The election of the next parliament calls for a defeat of the present government.

The Harper Government in Canada shows a fear of scientific research. The government closed a joint PhD, medical degree program, has thrown decades of research in the garbage bin, has stopped important research projects, has stopped government scientists from speaking, has suppressed information. .

Harper kills the messengers who don’t follow suit by firing them, discrediting them, or taking them to court.  He wants absolute control and finds an independent judiciary gets in his way.  to that end he manufactured a plot to discredit our supreme court head justice who advised him of his inappropriate selection for supreme court justice nominee.

In Canada in 2015, it’s really 1984. Orwell saw how knowledge suppression and language control go hand in hand. If we get a new stable government in October this dark legacy will be a reminder of the precious freedom this country must protect. I hope that the sorry administration of government will become a source of scholarship when his era ends with the election on October 19.  Otherwise the academic freedom required of scholarship, will be a memory from a by gone time.

21st century Doctoral Education: Apprenticeship on SoTLoids & Researcher Apprenticeship in Workplaces

Mandelbrot described a pattern outside of Euclidean geometry which explained roughness and applied to heart beats, coast lines and economic markets.

Although graduate schools adopt practices like the 3 Minute Thesis Contest, researcher training needs to try new practices to update the apprenticeship.  How can research training better align with the affordances of the 21st century?  PhD by publication or career achievement pathways need more development. What if researchers trained with masters outside of universities?

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) blog says “a growing number of business-related MOOCs are being offered by institutions for whom academics are a less central focus.”  A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course. It originated with an educational experiment in my home province at the University of Manitoba.  MOOCs afford learning on an enormous scale, to tens of thousands of learners at once.

Commercial interests appropriated the term MOOC and a number of commercial interests started to offer MOOCs.  Now the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign may offer a full MBA for completion of a number of commercial MOOCs.  The Australian National University charged Inger Mewburn, aka, The Thesis Whisperer from the #PhDchat community,  to facilitate a MOOC called How to Survive Your PhD in late August 2015.  MOOCs offer opportunities for researchers in training to connect with others, develop learning networks and participate in methodological learning on a global scale.

As Stephen Downes notes,  ‘The MOOC, it seems, is an excellent way to deliver a course if your business model does not depend on degrees and credentials.’  Stephen Downes would be a case in point.  As a pioneer of the MOOC, a learning theorist, philosopher and prolific writer, dissertations and scholarly articles cite his work.  He exudes doctorateness.  Sans a doctorate, he works in a community of practice for the National Research Council of Canada  and cooperatively with others in his learning networks around the globe.  His speaking engagements schedule speaks to his influence and heft.  Downes could sit on an oral examining committee for MOOC research, but for the lack of three magic letters beside his name.

These days scholarly practitioners like Downes abound.  Practitioners in business and politics copy the language and attitude of academics in writing and in speaking.  Note the language and mindset of an academic coming from the mouth of the former Prime Minister of Australia Kevin Rudd in this interview with Charlie Rose. Seth Godin, a popular marketing guru, also injects scholarly detachment into his practice.

If researchers develop via apprenticeships & research and experts are everywhere, aspiring researchers may develop ‘doctorateness’ via other sources of apprenticeship, outside the university doctoral program. The PhD by publication route acknowledges doctorateness achieved through practice and experience.

What if via MOOCs and in communities of practice outside of The Ivory Tower, practitioners cum researchers developed as doctoral candidates and then applied for doctoral credentials to a doctoral degree granting institution?  Western Governor’s University uses a competency model which recognizes prior knowledge to award Masters’ degrees.  A similar institution to WGU, let’s say called The Doctorateness Assessment Centre could conduct valid, reliable assessments for practitioner-scholar degrees.

An entire class of doctoral degrees, (Ed. D., D. B. A., Psych D., D. Pharm., D. Eng.), strives to cross scholarly practices with work practices outside of the academy.  These degrees do not strive to produce a steward of a discipline but rather a practitioner with a scholarly mindset.  Formerly in the UK., a practitioner of engineering whose career showed advanced achievement, could be awarded a doctorate, the D. Eng.  In the 21st century,  a more fluid scholarly training from outside a doctoral program makes ongoing study in professional life, life long.  For doctoral educators, the challenge posed by the explosion in research capacity is to recognize doctoral worthy work that comes from outside a doctoral program.

The 21st Century affords a doctoral path decoupled from a doctoral program. The French-American mathematician Mandlelbrot practiced research in mathematics at IBM.  During his 35 year tenure at IBM, when he did his brilliant work on fractals, no doctoral researcher worked with him.  Too bad.  Would apprenticeship in a highly productive crucible like Silicon Valley produce researcher practitioners with a dynamic mixture of professional and scholarly habits?

Graduate educators need to credit work down outside the academy. Sadly no graduate student                                          worked with Mandelbrot at IBM, when he developed fractal theory. (fractal pictured)

Doctoral programs need to focus a scholarly mindset on the practices that make a researcher.  The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) movement studies higher education practice.  University teachers formally study their practice and write-up their findings in journals to create a teacher-practitioner scholarship.  Adding scholarship to doctoral program practices affords doctoral educator learning and controlled experimentation.  New practices beyond the transmission of innovations model as in the spread of the 3MT can take hold.  The ignorance of doctoral education in the 20th century with its indifference to long times to completion and high attrition rates, can gain insight and professional knowledge via SoTL.  20th century doctoral apprenticeship transforms to doctoral apprenticeship on SoTLoids.

Social anthropologist, Jean Lave made a career studying the apprenticeships of potter and tailors in Africa.  In this video, Lave draws parallels between research training and apprenticeship.  Lave says, ‘We are always learning what we are already doing. This makes us apprentices to our own practices.‘  Adding a scholarship of teaching and learning to a doctoral program, evolves the apprenticeship so that both early career researchers and their masters become apprentices to the practice of research training.

Lave’s insights go far to understand the making of a scholar.  The making of a scholar, like the making of a skilled artisan, benefits from a meta perspective to include learning about the training.  Doctoral programs need to study their own training and accrediting practices.

In the 21st century, research occurs in communities of practice.  In the 21st century, the information and communications technologies that support MOOCs, also disrupt and transform the practice of research and work.  A scholarship of research training may fuzz the monopoly of a doctoral program and discover how doctorateness develops in scholar-practitioners.  Doctoral educators need to recognize that now a community outside the academy can raise a researcher.

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.


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