International Research Conference, Lancaster UK, 21-23 July 2014
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Researching the role of the PhD in developing an academic career: does it make a difference?

Karin Crawford, University of Lincoln, kcrawford@lincoln.ac.uk

Angela Brew, Macquarie University, Australia

David Boud, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia

Lisa Lucas, University of Bristol


This paper builds on the arguments developed through the think piece by Bak (2013) in that it reports on research that explored academics’ experiences of the role of the PhD in developing their academic careers. Bak (2013) questions the ‘conventional way of approaching the PhD´ in South Africa (p.1) and proposes reconsideration of how doctoral education is conceptualised, delivered and valued. The mixed methods study that underpins this paper provides insight from Australia and England, illuminating how academics in the different countries, in different university and disciplinary contexts have experienced doctoral study, its value, purpose and potential in making a difference to academic career development. The research design and analysis drew upon an Archerian conceptual framework, with the concepts of social cultural interaction, the internal conversation and differing forms of reflexivity providing a useful explanatory frame throughout the process of data analysis. In this paper, the authors provide initial contextual and descriptive findings from the wider quantitative data, but then focus on the analysis of free-text qualitative comments received in response to the survey question ‘How well did your doctoral studies prepare you [for an academic career]?’ and early analysis of interview data. Thus this paper furthers Bak’s think piece in providing empirical evidence of changing expectations of the PhD, drawing on academics’ perceptions of their own doctoral experience to advance understanding of ‘what works’, ‘what makes a difference’ and ‘what is problematic’ in the process. Bak, for example, suggests that models of doctoral supervision need to be revisited and indeed, this research has demonstrated that the role of the PhD supervisor prior to, during and after a PhD is not straightforward. Further to this, the paper will report on how the concept of independence and the exercising of agential powers emerge from the data. Through an exploration of the strengths and weaknesses of doctoral study in supporting academic career development, the authors will question the purpose and appropriateness of the PhD and will argue that often the PhD does not offer adequate preparation for the complex academic role.

Link to Full Paper (If submitted)

Conference Organisers

Paul Trowler
Lancaster University, UK

Alice Jesmont
Lancaster University, UK

Malcolm Tight
Lancaster University, UK

Paul Ashwin
Lancaster University, UK

Murray Saunders
Lancaster University, UK

Chrissie Boughey
Rhodes University, South Africa

Suellen Shay
University of Cape Town, SA

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