Thursday, March 30, 2006

Presenting seminars

Research seminars constitute a relatively common activity in CEDAM, the centre where I’m based at the ANU. Given that the number of HDR candidates here has risen to six, and a new member of staff has taken a pro-active role with regard to HDR coordination, a regular program of research seminars has been developed for 2006.

In a previous post Conducting a National Survey, I provided an outline of collaborative online research conducted in 2005 to generate more detailed information about the characteristics and activities of doctoral candidates than currently exists.

I presented a research seminar at CEDAM last week entitled Candidate Perspectives on the Doctoral Experience. My presentation focused on an analysis of two open-ended questions from our survey that were designed to identify ‘what has worked well’ and ‘sources of frustration’ for respondents to that point in their candidature.

Essentially, the presentation was designed to contribute to a re-thinking of the contemporary doctoral experience by drawing on the perspectives of candidates enrolled in Australian universities. Using the NVivo software package and a grounded theory approach, my objectives were three-fold. First, to describe the expressions of respondents (e.g. words, phrases and themes). Second, to interpret these expressions (e.g. meanings and links). Third, to theorise on the implications arising from these interpretations (e.g. models and matrices).

Around seven or eight PhD candidates and staff turned up at 4.00pm in the seminar room where I spoke for 30 minutes using a Powerpoint presentation, followed by lively discussion that lasted for another 30 minutes (we have a policy that seminars should be contained to a maximum of one hour). It was a productive exercise for me given that it provided an opportunity to present material formally, but more importantly, it enabled me to gain valuable feedback on my research methods and findings in a supportive environment. Essentially, the seminar was a ‘dry-run’ for a shorter presentation that will be part of an ARC Linkage Project Team workshop at the forthcoming QPR Conference to be held in Adelaide in April. Depending on feedback generated at QPR, a follow-up paper is a possibility.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Critiquing research articles

It was my turn again this week to facilitate a critique of a contemporary journal article. In an earlier post local dialogue on blogging, I recorded the modus operandi of our Canberra-based reading/discussion group. About ten ‘hard core’ members have been meeting at 8.30am on the first Tuesday of each month for over 18 months, demonstrating high levels of enthusiasm and perspicacity.

I selected an article published this month by John Stephenson, Margaret Malloch and Len Cairns, entitled ‘Managing their own programme: a case study of the first graduates of a new kind of doctorate in professional practice’, Studies in Continuing Education, 28, 1, 17-32, March 2006, advising the group of my choice about two weeks prior to the scheduled meeting.

As fate would have it, one of our members knew the lead author and emailed him in the UK to tell him that we would be discussing his article. I was introduced to John subsequently, and began an online dialogue with a view to exchanging information about our mutual research interests, as well an any issues around the article on which he might value feedback. I collated these, but decided to table them at the meeting rather than circulate them to members in advance. The discussion on the day was lively, and considerable debate was generated around the concept of ‘third generation doctorates’; the lived experience of doctoral candidates; and links between theory and practice.

Immediately following the discussion group meeting I prepared a two-page summary of the main points raised—viz. strengths, issues and suggestions—and emailed it to the authors and group members for comment. While this generated a further round of emails, it will be interesting to see the extent to which any further interaction is maintained. Nevertheless, this simple exercise has demonstrated once again the power of information and communication technologies in supporting the development of networking, collegiality and capacity building among those researching in a common area of interest.