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All is too quiet on the doctoral front: Graduate Students’ Associations MIA


Right now graduate students across Canada prepare to elect new graduate student government representatives for the 2016-2017 year.

Sadly, in Canada, these graduate student associations have failed to take action on long-standing issues in doctoral education. Graduate students organizations work on teacher assistant contracts, taxes, grants, etc., but rarely weigh in on the structure of doctoral programs or lobby for innovation and transparency in doctoral education.  A now long disbanded pan-Canadian organization, The Graduate Students’ Association of Canada commissioned valuable research on behalf of graduate students in its short life.  Since the organization disbanded, no replacement has come to the fore and the issues it might have addressed languish.

What are some of these academic issues that graduate students’ associations need to bring to the fore and work on long-term?

Lack of consultation with graduate students:  A major initiative to retool doctoral education for the 21st Century, the Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate, placed the experience of doctoral students at the center of meaningful reformation of doctoral education.  Despite this the White Paper on the Future of the PhD in the Humanities and a recent UBC initiative failed to consult with graduate school representatives.  The Canadian Association of Graduate Studies does not have a graduate student representative from the Canadian Federation of Students’ graduate caucus on its board.

Lack of data collection by faculties of graduate studies: Potential applicants need data as to time to completion and departure rates.  Career trajectories of graduates would be especially valuable data.  This information is not available as it has not been systematically collected.  The larger question this lack of data asks concerns the indifference of graduate studies faculties to their own performance metrics.  The graduate education system is front-loaded to attract students and then looses interest.

Data collection function: A graduate students’ association should collect academic data to use in discussions with administrators.  A students’ association could conduct learner satisfaction surveys and feedback.  A students’ association could collect long-term data on graduate trajectories with which to press for changes.  A students’ association could verify official data by reference to their own data.

Assessment by the oral defense:  The oral defense lacks both validity and reliability as an assessment instrument.  An oral defense sanctions abuse in the form of contempt and derision.  An oral defense allows for less than honest responses to trick examiners.  An oral defense has no precedent so that the student’s first oral defense is also the last oral defense.

Ongoing doctoral-teacher training:  The research world has changed.  New genres of scholarly knowledge production (#GOSKP) disrupt academia and produce differences in the dissertation.  Experiments in doctoral training that allow for collaborative dissertations and networked research also beg for variations of supervision and understanding.  Ongoing doctoral teacher-training makes for a more professional attitude toward discharging teaching responsibilities.

Reduction of students admitted to some doctoral programs going forward:  Recently some Canadian doctoral programs have suggested that reductions in the number of students admitted to certain programs would result in better employment outcomes.  A graduate students’ association ought to be nosy about who gets admitted to doctoral training, how the program makes its selection, and which programs get targeted for reductions.

Audit: Perhaps a graduate students’ association could develop an audit of doctoral educational practices to verify marketing claims.

Practices in programs: Toward an Examined and Renewed Doctoral Education

Scholarship in doctoral education: A graduate students’ lobby ought to insist that the graduate studies faculty be contributing to knowledge of doctoral education by at least attending conferences and at best publishing research.

Partnerships with doctoral students (graduate students’ associations) for ongoing renewal: A graduate students’ lobby ought to insist that programs solicit feedback from doctoral learners and act on same to improve the program.  Student advocates ought to look into GRIP at the University of Minnesota and demand the same kind of value-added educational advantage.

Experiments in doctoral education: The UBC and McGill paraded out new approaches to doctoral education.  The corresponding study of these new approaches leaves much to be desired in terms of contributions to the literature.   Participation with concerned doctoral educators  at conferences like #IDDET leave open the exciting proposition that these changes go beyond tinkering with the formula for doctoral education, to taking responsibility for ongoing engagement with teaching and learning.

Mess with the core: Doctoral programs tout three minute thesis contests and graduate skills training.  None of this counts towards the degree.  Instead of featuring these skills as extraneous, a doctoral program that incorporates them into a curriculum shows a better commitment to renewal.  Ditto for incorporating learning about doctoral education as part of the curriculum of doctoral education as in GRIP at the University of Minnesota or the model used by the CID.

PhD by publication route One mark of a good doctoral school is that the school confers PhDs by publication.   The conferral of a PhD by publication shows a greater understanding of doctoral education and distances graduate schools from exploitative practices like benefiting from  cheap graduate student labor to teach undergrad courses and do grunt work while collecting high tuition fees.

Doctoral education has expanded in Canada by more that 400% since the 1980s.   This unfettered growth allows programs to tap market demand with little by input or agency on behalf of graduate students.

Graduate students’ associations have no performance metrics by which to judge their value-added function to reform, reshape and renew doctoral education in their members’ interests.  Graduate students’ associations need to take on a long-term agenda of quality checks and pushes for renewal and 21st century research relevance. Such an agenda should be immune from the shaky alliances between associations which so very often fail or get short shrift.

Graduate students’ associations in Canada, need to step up, develop policies, commission research. collect data and add value to their members academic experience in doctoral programs.  At this time of graduate students’ association elections, let’s hope some candidates put doctoral renewal policies in the heretofore bare shop window.







Piper Harron discusses her artistic and wonderful math Ph.D. thesis

Fabrication Nation is changing..


Piper Harron is a mathematician who is very happy to be here, and yes, is having a great time, despite the fact that she is standing alone awkwardly by the food table hoping nobody will talk to her.

Piper, would you care to write a mathbabe post describing your thesis, and yourself, and anything else you’d care to mention?

When Cathy (Cathy?  mathbabe?) asked if I would like to write a mathbabe post describing my thesis, and myself, and anything else I’d care to mention, I said “sure!” because that is objectively the right answer. I then immediately plunged into despair.

Describe my thesis? My thesis is this thing that was initially going to be a grenade launched at my ex-prison, for better or for worse, and instead turned into some kind of positive seed bomb where flowers have sprouted beside the foundations I thought I wanted to crumble…

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2015 in Fabrication Nation: An alphabet

How is research training like a diamond-encrusted skull?

Doctoral education in 2015 appears as a diamond encrusted skull with brilliant new developments and a brainless interior.   Deans and program heads take little interest in it, preferring multi-media marketing material, ignorance and poorly designed initiatives. Meanwhile software devours academia and transforms communication beyond all semblance to exchanges that began 350 years ago with the first academic journal.

A is for affordances. Innovations in the technologies of scholarly communication afford changes that redefine every aspect of research. At an Innovations in Scholarly Communication conference, in June, in Geneva, the impact of these innovations on scholarly work framed the keynote address to enlarge the vision of learning to reach beyond open access.

B is for blog.  A  blog written by a doctoral learner, gets the student in a research practice and workflow associated to 21st century patterns in scholarly communication.  Blogs allow open access and are legitimate forms of academic writing and communication.

C is for copyright.  Doctoral students need to understand copyright, be armed to make publication decisions and follow practices associated to open access.

D is for data; open data that is.  Some research methods instructors, use open data to teach research methodologies with hands-on practice.  Early career researchers can now obtain open data and see if the results can be replicated or try something else with it.  Open data could speed up a doctoral journey.   Doctoral programs need to make sure students understand open data and adopt a practice of making data open.

E is for Early Career Researcher (#ecrchat).  ECR is a transitional identity, like a caterpillar bound in the chrysalis, about to break free.  Pat Thomson who co-wrote the best book about learning in doctoral programs; Helping Doctoral Students to Write: Pedagogies for Supervision, coined the term, early career researcher.  A former Aussie, the indefatigable and prodigious Pat Thomson, heads an education department at the University of Nottingham, UK.  Pat is among a handful in the world who really understands and provides for the needs of doctoral students. She incorporates social media into her work with her excellent blog, Patter and on Twitter, @thomsonpat.

F is for fabricate.  Take the literature, the data, and the methods and fabricate some new insight, instrument, understanding, vehicle, or contribution in a cross, trans or multidisciplinary context.  Collaborate with others in interactive media.

G is for Genres of Scholarly Knowledge Production (#goskp).  No longer does print dominate, a scholar can draw, film, draw on film, illustrate and #remixthediss, or any combination thereof.  Some scholars share and collaborate via  iPython notebooks. iPython is an interactive computational environment, in which you can combine code execution, rich text, mathematics, plots and rich media.

H is for hit the Ivory Tower wall, with the intensity of it all, fall apart, and be made over anew through the crucible of doctoral study, which breaks many down.  Warning, going through doctoral training is associated with  mental health problems.  If doctoral programs taught and allowed collaborative research practices, would less students succumb to mental illness?  The overwhelming majority of researchers work together, save in doctoral programs.

I is for #ICDDET, the International Conference of Developments in  Doctoral Education and Training.  Mark your calendars for April 2017, somewhere in the UK, for the third ICDDET.  Only 150 doctoral educators attended the second conference in Oxford, England in March 2015. The conference papers will be published at the beginning of 2016.

J is for journals and new alternatives for same.  New formats, like PLOS and innovations in scholarly communication means that no grad education is complete unless students graduate knowing multiple ways of representing and sharing knowledge.  Academic workflows in some circles aim for new digital forms of publication that trend away from the journal article.

K is for knowledge translation.  Try the Dance Your PhD Contest, the 3MT Contest (three minute thesis contest) or PubhD (explain your PhD in 10 minutes in the pub).

L is for links. The 21st century scholar embeds digital links to references and citations, makes data available and computer code too.

M is for MOOC, a massive, open, online course.  Dr. Inger Mewburn, The Research Whisperer, offered How to Survive Your PhD to support doctoral students from all over the world between Sept.- Nov. in 2015.   This MOOC was free, well thought out, and experimental.  Will doctoral programs set out MOOCs to teach courses like research methods using open data or innovations in scholarly communication?

N is for nada, negative, nein, not.  Nein to the initiatives to renew and innovate doctoral education without consulting doctoral students.  While the successful demonstration that showed how to reform doctoral programs by  Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate, placed interactions between faculty and students at the very heart of a doctoral program renewal, recent initiatives eschew the student.  The White Paper on the Future of the PhD in the Humanities, which influenced the report of the MLA task force on the PhD and  The Public Scholars Initiative at University of British Columbia sound hollow.  Still the same old careless, unexamined doctoral education, with different formats for student work.  No advice to gather statistics, learn from doctoral students, understand the effects of the changes, formulate new designs for renewal and contribute to scholarship about research training in any of these initiatives.  The Rethinking The PhD: Repenser le Doctorat conference in November 2015 in Calgary, Canada disappointed being so far off the comparison it drew to Rethinking Doctoral Education: The Formation of Scholars.

O is for open.  Some researchers smash the old paywall publication practices to open their research practice.  Publish only in open access venues.  Refuse to peer review for a closed journal.  Publish in blogs and with pre-prints.  We’re getting past the ‘paper of record’ model into a publication landscape that is rapidly advancing with the affordances of new media.

P is for Ph.D. by publication pathway.  The throw ’em into the deep end pedagogy of doctoral programs drowns too many.  The 50% of doctoral students who depart doctoral studies before commencement often blame themselves and take on a life long burden of regret and recrimination.  the ignorance and indifference doctoral programs show toward students aligns to the blind eye universities turn toward sexual assault on campus.  Meanwhile, programs accept no responsibility for their casualties, continuing to admit students and doing nothing different to alter the departure rate.  A program with a Ph. D. by publication pathway would at least admit that some demonstrate they can swim in deep end without a doctoral program to show them how, which aligns to doctoral ‘throw ’em in the deep end’ pedagogy any way.

Q is for quester.  The elusive and seductive plum that keeps many a graduate student in school for a decade, speaks to some larger urge, verging with desire.  So many seek knowledge but so few know how to train a knowledge seeker, beyond throw ’em in the deep end.  Graduate school rarely tells the quester how to find a problem, form a question, do a literature review, write an abstract, make a conference poster etc.  The quester figures it all out, or not, but in any case will take the blame for failure.  No data tells the quester upon application the drop-out rate, the time to completion, the career trajectories.  Doctoral programs aren’t interested in such details.

R is for rhizome.  2015 was the 350th anniversary of the publication of the first scholarly journal, Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society.  Knowledge galloped a pace to the point that as of 2010, 50 million articles were estimated to have been published since March of 1665.  So many new papers, new fields of scholarship, and new technologies of scholarship oozed out of the first scholarly practices and fields as to suggest a pattern of rhizome-like growth.

S is for software. Software is eating the world of academia. The entire academic enterprise depends on software. New software tools accelerate the pace and variety in knowledge production and its easy fall into obsolescence.  Here is an info-graphic that divides scholarly work flow into six phases (discovery, analysis, writing, publication, outreach, assessment) and then further associates tools that facilitate each phase.


101 Innovations by Jeroen Bosman and Bianca Kramer Utrecht  University

T is for Twitter. The sophisticated and vulgar, Shit Academics Say, is a Twitter handle with more followers than Harvard.  Here is a December 2015 tweet..The definition of irony: not knowing the difference between a definition and an example.  Write your PhD in 100 tweets should be a new knowledge translation contest.  Great twitter hashtags #acwri #altac #phdchat

U is for unspent, unheard, and unheeded.  If doctoral program administrators ever get around to examining doctoral programs to make them better, the first and best source of information is, as of now, largely unspent.  Forming a partnership with graduate students as in GRIP, (Graduate Review and Improvement Program) at the University of Minnesota or as in the CID harnesses this unspent force.

V is for void.  The void of knowledge in doctoral education is reflected in vacancies in the journals of the scholarship of teaching and learning about doctoral education. New experiments in research training that drive new models, foster collaboration, embrace co-creation, incite innovation and accelerate development would fill this void.

W is for wake-up call.  Wake-up calls came from the three expert speakers from different countries at the International Developments in Doctoral Education Conference at Oxford in March. Their messages; wake-up doctoral educators and pay attention to the design of your doctoral programs.  Apparently changes to doctoral education in the humanities before ICDDET from McGill University and the Modern Language Association failed to stop the call.  Nor did the knowledge translation contests or professional skills development initiatives change the cry to wake-up.  At the next conference, scheduled for 2017, will another wake-up call go out?

X is for information languishing away on old software, floppy disks, losing  retrievability, getting x’ed out.

Y is for young and young enough still; older students are signing up for graduate degrees.

Z is for zenith.  The affordances of technology which redefine and remake academia now usher in a new peak outside of disciplines, Ivory Towers, and individual effort alone.

Will doctoral programs ever get around to consulting and collaborating with doctoral students as a common practice?  Will doctoral programs mirror the practices coming out of innovations in scholarly communication?  Stay reading.. The issues herein addressed in Fabrication Nation will continue to unfold and develop in 2016.  The times, they are a changin’




How-to Trump Self-Help in Grad School: Measure Practices

In Latin, 'nullius in verba.'

Doctorate self-help writers abhor a vacuum.  To address an abyss, well-meaning doctoral educators pen self-help books.  To meet a seemingly insatiable demand, publishers forever add yet another self-help title to their catalog. In August 2015, Haggerty and Doyle added to the genre with the lay it on the line title, 57 Ways to Screw Up in Grad School. The void of knowledge is so great that some of these non-academic books get cited in scholarly articles and bibliographies of the field.

Here are some self-help books in the catalog.


57 Ways to Screw Up in Grad School: Perverse Professional Lessons for Graduate Students (Chicago Guides to Academic Life)Product DetailsAuthoring a PhD Thesis: How to Plan, Draft, Write and Finish a Doctoral DissertationProduct DetailsProduct Details



Helping Doctoral Students to Write: Pedagogies for Supervision is in its second, newly revised edition, giving the impression that supervisors sop up this title. Supervisors don’t need help as they can write a smarmy book like 57 Ways to Screw Up in Grad School and maybe find themselves cited.  Even the publisher of Pedagogies for Supervision admits that the book’s primary audience is doctoral students.

The writers of books like 57 Ways expect that the supervisor’s role ends with the criticism that if you can’t write well, you will flunk out of graduate school. Don’t expect grad school to teach you how to write well, it’s not in the curriculum. For example, in an Amazon reader’s review of Pedagogies for Supervision, a reviewer recounts the crisis that prompted her to buy the book.  She learned that “My thesis lacks my voice and reads like an encyclopaedia and I agreed because they were right.” She did not drop out.   She did not hire a writing service.  She did not file a law suit against the program for stringing her along to the point of certain failure.   She googled.

Google found the book Helping Doctoral Student to Write: Pedagogies for Supervision for her. This book made all the difference.  This book, which in its second edition format, deserves even higher praise, is like one of the open secrets in which the self-help genre traffics. Insider open secrets keep the genre of doctoral how-to in business.  Pedagogies for Supervision could be a foundational text for doctoral programs save that it underlines the problem of supervisors passing on the job of teaching doctoral students to write to a book intended for them and thereby discredits the program.  That programs get away with merely supplying vague feedback to students, lack of ‘voice’ etc., only helps the self-help genre (and for-hire academic writers) to flourish.

A Remedy

Recently a university physics teacher and Nobel Laureate, Carl Wieman developed an instrument called the Teaching Practices Inventory (TPI).  The inventory equates teaching quality to the use of practices associated to more effective learning.   Effective teaching practices that are part of the inventory come from scholarly research of teaching undergraduate STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) courses.  An ETP score, Extent of use of research-based Teaching Practices, is calculated from a simple, direct formula and stands as a proxy for teaching quality.  Wieman notes that the TPI can be adapted to other teaching and learning contexts and for the use of students.

Wieman writes in Change Magazine (2015):

(Teaching Practices) Inventory data are also useful to students, who currently have no meaningful information by which to select courses, departments, or institutions that will provide them with the highest-quality teaching. If inventory data were available to students, they could make better-informed educational decisions and reduce the chances that they will have the all-too-common experience of encountering very poorly taught courses that have career- and life-changing consequences.

Presently, doctoral students have no meaningful data by which to compare doctoral programs. The many how-to books portend of  an all-too-common experience of encountering poorly designed doctoral programs that have career-and life-changing consequences.  The attrition and time to completion statistics belie the memes of doctoral education as a quagmire of lost years.  Self-help books only reinforce the norms that doctoral programs swallow time, money and the student into the belly of a beast.

What teaching practices would make a teaching practices index for the assessment of doctoral programs?

As mentioned earlier the literature on doctoral programs cites homespun wisdom in self-help books, so that coming up with bona fide teaching practices is harder. The entire field suffers from the impression of teaching as the passing on of tacit knowledge, hence the wealth of self-help books.

Here are a few potential categories by which to measure the quality of a graduate program:

Teaching orientation of the program: This would measure the degree with which knowledge of graduate school teaching is expressed in the program. Do administrators in the graduate school attend conferences and contribute to literature in graduate school education? Is the school acting on knowledge and piloting new programs to test changes? Is some effort made to integrate a scholarship of graduate school teaching and learning into the teaching practices of the graduate school? Does the administration work collaboratively with the graduate student association? Does the administration bring graduate student association representatives into meetings and academic committees? For example, does the graduate school conduct focus groups of graduate students to learn of their experience? This would show an effort to apply a practice from the Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate (CID) which found graduate students to be rich sources of information about change.

Graduate students go on to teach the way they were taught. To produce change to graduate education, the secret agent of change, the graduate student, must receive an experience in graduate school that disrupts the model now in place. For example, through the GRIP (Graduate Review Improvement Process) the University of Minnesota placed a meta-educational aspect into some graduate programs to change the experience in graduate school so. Via GRIP, instead of going on to publish books like 57 Ways which perpetuate a complacent attitude toward graduate  education, students critique the graduate school program. To what degree does the program solicit and act on student ideas and critiques? Does the program include an exit survey, an ongoing renewal process, focus groups etc., by which to engage students?

What aspirations drive the graduate school to rethink its programs for the 21st century beyond mere increases to enrollment? What problems is the graduate school addressing to stamp in a brand that shows a concern for  quality? How far beyond the singular requirement of a dissertation/thesis will the program go? Would the program require students to learn academic poster-making or info-graphics or participate in a three minute thesis contest to both triangulate assessment and better equip learners? Does the program avoid the tack-on-professional-skills scenario of adding extra courses without integration or even an expectation of completion of same?

Intellectual Climate: A positive, healthy intellectual culture supports student and faculty success. What efforts are made to avoid a ‘dysfunctional, apathetic, and antisocial’ culture that is common to many programs as described by the Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate? How diverse is the student and faculty body? Healthy intellectual community may stave off the mental illness that takes a toll on graduate students and faculty alike. Intellectual climate may be measured by surveys of belonging, inclusion, hostility, defensiveness, suspicion, synergy, stimulation and student voice.

Teaching Writing: Do faculty criticize and reject student writing without providing assistance? A practice here would be ongoing supervisor training to teach writing, for writing partners, writing groups, mandatory peer-editing requirements, and group supervision of writing. Every supervisor ought to be considered a teacher of writing. Do supervisors get support, guidance, or expectations from administration and or graduate student associations to enact/critique their role? Are doctoral supervisors required to upgrade their knowledge of new approaches to research training?

Assessment must address quality and align with assessment criteria for validity and reliability. The Jason Richwine scenario tells a story of a Harvard doctoral education unworthy of Harvard or any doctoral program. Does the graduate school conduct a quality audit of the dissertations produced or some like check? Does the graduate school have a policy with regards to use of academic writers and editors for hire? What efforts has the graduate school taken to replace the oral defense with alternative assessment instruments that are triangulated for greater validity and reliability?  Does the program teach problem finding?

Checks on cheating: Right now students in doctoral programs use commercial writing services with impunity. In fact some faculty use writing services. Graduate school administrators that take pains to audit degrees, increase the value of the degrees. A quality program will have a practice of an audit or a check on the degree and policies about the use of academic writing services.

21st century research practices: New genres of scholarly knowledge production (#goskp) and communication have emerged. #Remisthediss and #goskp and the myriad of new ICT tools and ways of learning (MOOCS) ought to be part of graduate school. The translation of research into info-graphic or academic poster or three minute thesis speech or dance ought to find a way into graduate school curriculum.

Collaborative dissertations and networked research represent new frontiers for research training. Collaboration in research allows for tackling of multi-pronged problems with many disciplinary overlaps. Research now reaches past the walls of the department, scholarly discipline, university and country. Researchers may find others in and out of academia who actively advance research. Researchers and scholars must take on the task of relating their work to the lay public via engagement in the broader social fabric and through entrepreneurial endeavors.

Social media will continue to disrupt traditional academic workflows and publishing. The forward thinking graduate school program needs to include wherewithal with social media in the graduate school mix and in scholarship.

Advising, career advising: To what degree does the program assist students with developing career pathways?

Transitions between course work to research or to the post-doctoral level are hard. How does the program ease transitions?

Transparency Index: Statistics as to time to completion and attrition may indicate the programs’ competence and respect for student time. Does the graduate school have policies regarding time to completion? Is the graduate school tracking students? Tracking of graduate students post-graduation shows concern for the long-term trajectory of education so that educators can build on the career stories of their graduates.

Libraries: In the past, the graduate school program consisted of letting a graduate student go in a well-equipped library and 5-10 years later presto, a dissertation emerged. Libraries beat at the heart of graduate school programs.

Graduate Student Association Leadership: To what extent has the graduate student association lobbied for some of the aforementioned features of renewed academic programming in graduate school? Graduate student associations represent the learner and can influence decision makers to step up to the challenges of providing a 21st century graduate program that provides greater transparency to potential applicants and more accountability to graduate students. Does the graduate students’ association lobby administrators to develop state of the program reports that disclose progress towards goals to renew programming? What policies does the gsa promote in regards to teaching practices, to assessment, to 21st century communication, to transparency, to the use of academic writing services, to skill development, to collaboration, etc. Does the gsa offer a student research conference? Does the gsa publish a journal of student research? Does the gsa promote supervisors teach writing? Does the gsa actively engage with other associations? The more effective the graduate student association lobby over time, the less the need for a self-help book to get through graduate school.

A TPI-like index for doctoral programs undermines the tacit knowledge in which the self-help genre traffics. The mere presence of certain teaching practices as a proxy for program quality shifts the onus to programs to renew. A teaching practices index is still a rough idea but offers sticky matter to stimulate greater responsiveness in graduate school programs. Writers like Haggerty and Doyle, for whom graduate school is more an exercise in negotiating tacit expectations, forget that admitting students to doctoral programs confers a responsibility to the student and an obligation that comes with an exchange of money for a graduate school education. Of course some may take issue with a TPI-like instrument, but only if they are prepared to fill the void with something better than  self-help books, testimonials, and ads.

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.


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