Knowledge & the Sitee

Maybe like my fellow wannabes, I don’t know how to read.

In programs, where graduate students sit (hereafter called the sitee) general exams to demonstrate their broad, deep knowledge gleaned from all that readin’ and writin’;, even though students pass, the test they are given doesn’t.


PhD students, despite having passed their general examinations, often have a naïïve understanding of their subject of inquiry and the methods employed for studying it … more often than not, [they] have failed to grasp some of the deeper meanings, implications, and more subtle nuances of the theoretical formulations in their subject of inquiry (Bargar and Duncan, 1982, p.24).


As a wannabe, I can quibble with the generalizations. Which Ph. D. sitees in particular? How is naïïve understanding identified? Oh that’s the part about failing to grasp the deeper meanings, implications, and more subtle nuances. Oops.


Well dang if it ain’t hard to design an examination that examines what it purports to examine.


Wait, if the sitee proceeds based on a false exam, what’s to say the sitee is ready for original research which is the next step?


So now progressing to the original research project phase is based on superficial understanding.


Oh well as it turns out, a large store of knowledge if “necessary, but not sufficient” (Lovitts, 2005) to produce original research. The knowledge tested by the general exam is of the ‘taught’ (formal) variety, whereas it is knowledge of the ‘caught’ (tacit) variety which is necessary to make an original contribution.


At the doctoral level, knowledge production is a very human and tacit thing. Robots can be programmed to conduct routine experiments. Reader machines can be programmed to mark essays or make summaries of legal texts that once employed legions of lawyers.


Original research must be out of reach of programmers.


Sitees probably learn how to read more deeply when put to the test of finding the problem, devising the questions, designing the methodology and writing the whole thing up as a dissertation, conference presentation, article(s) and or book.


Bargar, R. R. & Duncan, J. K. (1982) Cultivating creative endeavor in doctoral research,

Journal of

Higher Education,

52(1), 1–31.


Lovitts, B. E.. (2005) Being a good course-taker is not good enough::a theoretical perspective on the transition to independent researcher. ISSN 0307-5079 (print)/ISSN 1470-174X (online)/05/020137–18

© 2005 Society for Research into Higher Education

DOI: 10.1080/03075070500043093







The Importance of the Research Question (and how to discover yours)

Some of the best questions come from I wonder. It’s important to avoid why questions. Questions must of course be open-ended, but not too open-ended. Maybe questions answer the “To see or not to see” aspect of research and thus make all the difference.

Anuja Cabraal

Question marks

The other night, I was having a chat to my father about research and methods. He is an academic in engineering, and very much a positivist. I really enjoy discussions with him about research methods and measurement because he approaches thing from such a different perspective. One of the things I love is that even though we can be talking about the same topic, he will always be asking questions I would never think to.

So the other night, we were sitting outside chatting about methods, and he asked me a question that I had never considered. He asked “how can you have 95% confidence or more in your results, based on the data collected and analysed”? It took me a little while to think over this and answer. Particularly because my brain is not wired to think in these statistical ways. In the end, I told dad that it…

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