Apgar Score for Doctoral Programs


Wouldn’t it be loverly, if at a glance a wannabe doctoral student, a Dean of Graduate Studies, a doctoral researcher could tell the health and well-being of a doctoral program. Dr. Virginia Apgar, an obstetrician, developed the Apgar scoring system to assess the health of a newly born infant. According to legend, she hastily scrawled down the five criteria on the back of a napkin (of course) to solve the problem of obstetric personnel reliably and validly determining the vitality of any newly born baby (Kahneman, 2010).

Apgar’s scoring regime so summarized assessment of new born vigor that it became standard practice in delivery rooms.

For my doctoral project, I’d like to develop a scoring, shorthand system to assess the vigor of a doctoral program. For example, by looking at the program description and ascertaining some facts in a survey I would like to answer some or all of the following questions. To what degree does the doctoral program learn, adjust, and renew to reflect the nature of academic work and research in the (inter)discipline as of 2014? To what degree is communication within the program open, transparent, supportive, inclusive, and positive? To what degree are its assessments valid, reliable, consistent between department members, formative, meta-oriented (aka self-assessment) and reciprocally understood by all. What sorts of statistics does the program keep? For example how does the department keep/track/ study/let be known/show curiosity regarding time to completion, attrition rates, its alumni, doctoral researcher interests, publication records, etc.

I might develop a checklist. To what degree does the program support student effort;

  • to learn and master a much longer piece of academic writing than has (probably) heretofore been produced,
  • to develop a warrant for research,
  • to develop a context for research via a literature review,
  • to publish,
  • to edit,
  • to collaborate, to network,
  • to develop original or unique research?
  • To what degree are students encouraged to work together on a doctoral research project?
  • To what degree can the format of the dissertation be adapted to include multiple authors, multiple projects, and multiple collaborations?

I might develop some checklists and a rubric.

What might the doctoral program evaluation rubric look-like?






Renewal and redefinition of pedagogy

Practices of ongoing renewal to program structure, requirements, courses, practices; including attention to problems (for example attrition, time to completion, the non sequitur between course-taking and research stages) and ‘learning’ from student experience.

Allowance for the impact and redefinition of learning and teaching from the pervasive use of social and communications technologies (SAMR model)



Along a continuum that includes reliable, valid summative assessment both for grades and pass/fail; formative assessment practices, meta-assessment or assessment literacy practices, transparency, exemplars …



To students, between faculty members, within the university, with professional associations, within oral examination panels, with public


Department Culture

Student-centered vs Program-driven (degree by which students are treated as products or by-products of the system)

Inward orientation vs. Outward orientation of the department

Dysfunctional fiefdoms and infighting or co-operation, collaboration, communication

Degree of networked, leadership, and inter-relationships within discipline or across disciplines


Student Experience

Supervision, support, writing growth, turns at academic tasks like editing, reviewing, publication, conferences; turn-around time with dissertation drafts, participation in academic debate, conversations, and discourses/help with financing.



I’m going to get information from grey pages in Canadian university department web sites or literature and telephone interviews. I’ll vet index design iterations through communities of interest on social media. An auto-ethnographic aspect to the research will require me to address the assessment issues that the research uncovers. The overall goal of the project is to draw attention to doctoral pedagogy so as to create an interest in examination of same and also to provide a guide to considerations of graduate schools for potential applicants. The project may create a web application which invites doctoral students to “rate my doctoral program.” Perhaps in the process it will become known how doctoral students find their doctoral programs. Wait that’s another research topic…


Doctoral Program Index: Doctoral Research Project Redux

Readers please give me feedback regarding the doctoral research project I’m considering. I’m a doctoral researcher studying doctoral pedagogy, so the proposed project has auto-ethnographic aspects too.

Here is how the abstract might look.

I use the format of:

1. Purpose

2. Design methodology approach

3. Findings

4. Practical implications

5. Originality /Value.

Purpose: To develop indices of aspects of Canadian (or maybe online) doctoral programs. The secondary purpose seeks to create awareness of the impact of the pervasive use of digital and information technology upon teaching and learning. A message that doctoral pedagogy needs to change, renew, and update to reflect contemporary, cutting-edge, and emerging research and scholarship practices will be communicated. Technology changes teaching and learning. Doctoral pedagogy needs conscious renewal and attention.

Design/methodology/ approach: Through an examination of the available gray literature, a comprehensive picture of pedagogical aspects of doctoral programs will be composed. Research will probe for use of new approaches to doctoral education including, collaborative research, networked research, transitions to the doctoral project, multiple supervisors, formative feedback, knowledge of assessments, preparation for assessments, knowledge of the supervisory process, transparency, time to completion, attrition, culture of the doctoral program, program assessment efforts, ongoing renewal of the doctoral program etc. The data will be put into 10 point scales, to assess the overall quality of the program, the culture of the program, its transparency, the comprehensiveness of its assessment practices, its embrace of new communications media.

Luminaries in doctoral pedagogy, doctoral students and the online community of people who respond to #phdchat tweets will be enlisted to give feedback on the indices. Certain publications which actively report on developments to doctoral pedagogy may receive stories and a blog will detail the unfolding project to actively seek commentary.

The researcher may work with journalism students at Red River College (Winnipeg, Manitoba) for help with access to information, digital communication, and info-graphics.

Findings: A first iteration of several indices to evaluate doctoral programs along with guidelines for ongoing renewal and perhaps a rate my doctoral program web application will be developed. Perhaps something like a scorecard for doctoral programs will be developed.

Originality/ value: Doctoral educators, administrators and students need an instrument by which to assess their programs and to map out new trajectories.

Your comments, suggestions and critique are most welcome.