PhD by Publication – Make a Contribution

Before any research student enrolls in a program, let the program make clear the criteria for an original contribution to knowledge.  Somehow the core of research training gets left out of programs.   The process Jenny Mackness went through to prove her contribution- ought to be central to both PhD by publication or PhD by program pathways.


Earlier this year I was awarded a PhD by Publication from the University of Lancaster, UK. The process is not quite finished yet. I still must submit a hard copy and electronic copy to the library and wear the floppy hat at a ceremony in December. But for all intents and purposes it is […]

via PhD by Publication – Making a Contribution — Jenny Connected

The PhD by Publication: Another Cause for Canadian Grad Student Unions to Champion

(Swedish academic, Jorgen Carling, published the basis for this post on the LSE Blog May 30, 2017, CC 3.0 license.  The license allows for me to share, copy, redistribute the material in any meduim or format; adapt, remix, transform and build upon the material for any purpose).

A PhD by publication requires doctoral candidates to submit a set of papers for peer-reviewed journals plus an integrating chapter, rather than the more traditional doctoral dissertation. This remains a less common, sometimes frowned-upon model, but Jørgen Carling outlines eight reasons why a PhD by publication might be a good option. It allows you to write for real, varied audiences, with differing levels of ambition, and can help you build a name for yourself in academia, which is important not only for your career but also as it affords you opportunities for vital intellectual exchanges that may benefit your research.

As a doctoral candidate you may have a choice between submitting a traditional doctoral dissertation and submitting a set of papers for peer-reviewed journals plus an integrating chapter. The latter option, known as a “PhD by publication” or an “article dissertation”, has become the norm in some contexts and is resented in others. I can’t decide for you, but I can give you eight reasons why I think the PhD by publication is often a good model.

First, writing journal articles constitutes professional training. It is what academics primarily do, and by writing your dissertation in the form of articles, you learn the craft. (If you abandon academia after completing a PhD it is even more important to know that your work is out there, potentially benefiting others, and not just stored in a dusty library.)

Second, writing journal articles ensures valuable feedback. Regardless of the quality of the supervision you get, the review process in a journal can be a valuable supplement. Having your article accepted in a journal also provides a tangible source of independent recognition, different from your supervisor’s assurances that your work is fine. The peer review process can be filled with disappointments and frustration too but living through that is, for better or worse, part of being an academic. Just make sure that you are not handling it all alone.

journalsImage credit: journals by Barry Silver. This work is licensed under a CC BY 2.0 license.

Third, writing journal articles means writing for real audiences. This is a point with several implications: it is a source of motivation during the writing process, it teaches you about attentiveness to the needs of your readers, and it ensures that the resources devoted to doctoral research flow back to society. By “resources” I don’t mean only taxpayers’ money but also the time and trust that research participants have contributed, for instance.

Fourth, writing a dissertation based on individual papers allows you to write for different audiences. In my field, most articles could be targeted to either a disciplinary journal (e.g. political geography), a thematic journal (e.g. International Migration Review), or a regional journal (e.g. African Affairs). Being able to see which parts of your research appeal to different audiences and, not least, to present those parts accordingly is a great skill to develop in the course of doing a PhD.

Fifth, writing journal articles allows you to write with different levels of ambition. This is a crucial point that is often ignored. The time available for writing a dissertation is limited, and writing 300 pages of brilliant prose might be beyond reach. But in a series of papers, there might be one that has great potential, deserves to be revised over and over, is accepted in a good journal, and is still being cited ten years after you defended your PhD. Other papers in your dissertation might fall short of such success, and that’s fine.

Sixth, writing a dissertation by publication provides you with good milestones in the process. The submission, resubmission, acceptance and publication of articles in the course of a PhD give you a firm sense of progress. Signing off on the proofs for a journal article is different from telling yourself that a chapter is finished but thinking that you might do additional work on it before saying that the dissertation is done.

Seventh, writing articles helps you build a name for yourself in academia. There are PhD candidates who do great work but because they are halfway through a traditional dissertation remain virtually invisible. Being visible is not only about being career-conscious, it is also about inviting intellectual exchanges that benefit your research. Conference papers help, of course, but they might not reach many people beyond the handful who were in the room. Writing articles alongside a traditional dissertation might be an ideal but it increases the workload at the cost of something else – be it your family, health or intellectual energy.

Finally, a traditional dissertation is not a book. It can form the foundation for writing a book but a lot of hard work remains. If a book is important in your discipline, then a traditional dissertation is probably the most promising route to follow. But it comes with considerable risk: unless you can secure substantial time for writing the book after the dissertation is submitted, you could be left with no articles and no book.

These are my eight reasons for pursuing a PhD by publication. The biggest counter-argument is a frustrating one but is real nevertheless: in some departments or disciplines a PhD by publication might be formally permissible but frowned upon. Pioneers are needed to swim against the stream and help change attitudes; but whether you want, or can afford, to be such a pioneer is a personal choice.

Beyond the decision to do a PhD by publication, there are many things to consider about the process if you go for it – such as the number of papers, possibilities for co-authoring, and implications for how you define what the dissertation is about. There are also many institution-specific rules and expectations that you need to explore. Some universities require that a certain number of articles be published, or at least accepted. Going through the review process is a valuable part of the experience but such requirements make me uncomfortable both as a supervisor and an examiner. For instance, I think a candidate should feel free to pursue publication in a top journal, even if it means a review process that lasts way beyond submission of the dissertation. The article in question might be just fine as a component of the dissertation even if the editor of a highly ranked journal demands additional revisions. Conversely, as an examiner, I want freedom to independently assess the quality of the dissertation. Good articles sometimes get rejected by journals while poor ones get accepted. So, while it’s useful to know which journals the articles were written for, I wouldn’t want to infer their quality from decisions made by reviewers and editors.

The PhD is, in many ways, an odd exercise – partly an introspective learning and qualification process and partly a piece of research that society has reason to value. Doing a PhD by publication offers a chance to bridge the gap between the two.

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

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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