Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Friday, February 29, 2008

Wrapping up the process

This post brings to a conclusion my doctoral practices as a candidate. I have updated select extracts of recent publications on the side bar, examples of which include an abstract of my thesis and related conference papers. I am currently awaiting confirmation that the thesis has been uploaded to the Australian digital thesis data base and entered in the ANU library catalogue.

I received my PhD certificate a few weeks ago and am currently working on the Carrick-funded project on skills development for HDR candidates. An internal article PhD busts PhD stereotype was published this week, generating some inquiries about my doctoral and current research. The reading group (HERO) established a couple of years ago involving candidates and staff from universities in Canberra remains active. Our second meeting for the year will be held next week on Tuesday 4 March. When matters of interest pertaining to doctoral practices arise I shall endeavour to maintain the twin processes of documentation and reflection.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Obtaining examiners' reports

I received a letter from the ANU on Friday advising that my PhD has been approved. The reports of three examiners were enclosed, each recommending that the thesis be accepted without amendment—along with a few comments and suggestions. So I guess it’s a case of mission accomplished! I remain very grateful for all the support I have received during my candidature—from my principal supervisor and panel members, CEDAM staff and candidates, CIs, IPs and project team members, informants, respondents, bloggers, critical friends, partner … —the list is extensive indeed. Looking back, I have learned a great deal—as much about myself as my research topic—but have also become increasingly aware of how much I don’t know. I hope that in future I might be able to provide practical support to others engaged in the doctoral enterprise—whether at critical points (e.g. ‘hitting a wall’, ‘writer’s block’) or routine moments (e.g. ‘reflecting critically’, ‘contemplating possibilities’). It would be great to have the opportunity to offer something in return and in a way that is meaningful to the individual or group seeking input. If invited, I suspect my primary focus would be on listening and clarifying rather than offering advice—preferably in an informal context.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Undertaking Employment

Although my status has been full-time throughout my candidature, I did undertake two consultancies during the initial stages. The first was undertaken in 2004 and involved writing a paper for the National Institute for Quality Teaching and School Leadership—now Teaching Australia. The second was in 2005 and involved input to the Review of the South Australian Certificate of Education. Both of these initiatives drew on knowledge and expertise developed prior to enrolling in a doctorate.

After submitting my thesis in October 2005 I have been engaged primarily in the writing of journal articles and a book chapter. I have also maintained my involvement in a small number of CEDAM
initiatives such as the development of a strategy for raising the profile of the Centre’s PhD program in the academic and wider community. However, on 2 January 2008 I commenced a three-month contract with CEDAM to assist with the initial implementation of a project funded by the Carrick Institute as part of the discipline-based initiatives scheme. The main task is to conduct a review of the literature on the development of generic and specific capabilities among HDR students.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Co-presenting at a symposium

Shaping the Future of Supervisor Training was the title of a symposium conducted this week at the University of Technology Sydney on 19-20 November. Funded by the Carrick Institute, this event was part of the fIRST Project, that is, the “for Improving Research Supervisor Training” Project. An interesting feature of fIRST is its institutional membership involving 41 universities from Australia and New Zealand.

The structure for the symposium involved six sessions which were led by small groups of academics and researchers. Together with three representatives from other universities, I contributed to the opening session entitled “What is the future nature and purpose of the doctorate?”. My input involved reflecting on the contemporary framing of the doctorate (e.g. as Education, Knowledge Production, Personal Development, Professional Development, Leisure, Training or Other), by drawing on the results of a national online survey of doctoral candidates administered in 2005 as part of the ARC Linkage Project on Reconceptualising the Doctoral Experience.

In accepting the invitation to the symposium, I had some initial reservations about participating in further discussion on supervision, a topic that has dominated the field of doctoral education for the past twenty years. One of my concerns is that many academics continue to conceptualise supervision in terms of a dyadic relationship, in which candidates are viewed as young, full-time, on campus etc. However, it was good to interact again with colleagues who at the end of my candidature constitute a ‘community of practice’. The final session “What is the agenda for future research education?” was useful in that it moved beyond some of the conventional conceptualising around supervision. For example, the tension between reductionism (e.g. supervision as a component of the doctorate) on the one hand, and a more holistic view (e.g. reflecting the diversity and complexity of the doctorate) on the other, was explored.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Submitting the thesis

After arranging for the printing and binding of the required number of thesis copies on 25 October 2007, these were duly submitted via the Registrar’s office at the ANU with the appropriate protocols in place. As anticipated, some final refinements to the content of the thesis—along with the inevitable dotting of Is and crossing of Ts—were completed earlier in the month.

I was surprised at the number of minor inconsistencies that kept emerging in subsequent and multiple re-readings of the thesis. A swag of these involved my Endnote referencing system. During the course of my candidature I managed to rack up just under 500 references—with most the finer details concerning publisher, location, URL, page numbers and so on—as well as my own notes for the majority of publications. Although there were a small number of gaps, the database was in reasonably good shape—or so I thought. However, comments from a couple of advisers identified the need to do some close checking, and when I did, began to discover a raft of inconsistencies in relation to the way in which my data had been recorded. For example, in some instances I had recorded the publisher as ‘Open University Press’, in others ‘OUP’; in some instances the location as ‘Chicago’ and in others ‘Chicago, Illinois’ and so on.

At last count my thesis reference list comprised around 200 citations. I probably spent two full days in order to achieve consistency in relation to my Endnote records—not to mention refining the referencing style for both the citations and the bibliography. Pedantic? Possibly. Necessary? Probably. I was stunned at the level of attention that some readers of my second draft devoted to correcting errors concerning the use of apostrophes, capitals, acronyms and the like. In their eyes, attention to this form of scholarship was obviously as important—if not more so—than the substance of the thesis. The clear message—confirmed in the literature—is that many examiners are easily riled by what they perceive to be sloppy work, particularly in relation to a lack of attention to detail.

Hopefully, most of the editorial gremlins have been removed and the thesis is now on its way to the examiners. However, a word of advice offered by the officer responsible for the administration of PhD examinations at the ANU provided a sobering outlook with regard to outcomes. She casually remarked, “while we request examiners to provide their assessment within two months, on average it is three or four”. It sounds like the best policy from this point is to forget about the thesis and get on with disseminating and publishing the major outcomes of my research.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Presenting another paper

Given that a considerable volume of water has passed under the bridge since my last post, a summary of recent events is in order. Earlier in the year I submitted a proposal to present a paper at the British Educational Research Association (BERA) annual conference in London in September. Although the proposal was accepted, my preoccupation with thesis writing resulted in conference participation being moved to the back burner. Completing the second draft of the thesis by the end of August provided the green light to proceed.

In contrast to AERA’s annual conference in Chicago which involved over 10,000 people, the BERA conference had about 1200 participants and was more collegial as a result. Both professional associations—like AARE here in Australia—are oriented primarily towards school education. Specific Interest Groups (SIGs), however, provide a very effective means of accessing a broader range of interests. While AERA has over 150, AARE has 35, and BERA 30.

My paper was included as part of BERA’s Higher Education SIG, and was entitled The Doctoral Experience in Science: Challenging the current orthodoxy. The paper begins by developing a theoretical framework in the form of a conventional model of the PhD student experience in the natural and physical sciences. This is followed by one of my case narratives about contemporary practices and arrangements in which the voices of a candidate and her co-supervisors are integrated. Drawing on a wider literature, I then provide an interpretation of the narrative, encouraging readers to construct their own meanings, before comparing and contrasting them with mine as researcher/narrator.

I was assigned the graveyard shift—9.00am Saturday morning on the last day of the conference—along with a team headed by Mark Sinclair from CQU and two other teams from the UK. Despite the timing, it was a stimulating session with about 30 people in attendance. Needless to say, established conference schedules—fifteen minutes to present a paper and five minutes for discussion—doesn’t allow much space for critical reflection or earnest contemplation. However, a follow up interaction over coffee, a hurriedly exchanged business card, or a scribbled email address on the program always holds the promise of a new insights, contacts or resources.

On returning to Australia, a batch of correspondence included anticipated responses to the second draft of my thesis. Fortunately, there was a common view among members of my supervisory panel that the document is in reasonable shape—with room for tightening in places, of course. Having completed my intention to submit the thesis a month ago, I’m now feel that I am entering the final lap which hopefully will be completed in a couple of weeks. As one panel member commented, a thesis should be seen ongoing rather than complete. “It is your responsibility to determine the point at which to stop”. I shall certainly be bearing that in mind as October marches on.