Doctoral ecologies: The need for an expanded doctoral pedagogy

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On a global scale, research and researchers are viewed increasingly as critical to social and economic competitiveness and societal Health (Andres et al, 2015). Over the past quarter of a century, not only higher education, but the education of future researchers, principally through doctoral education, has moved from its seclusion within the disciplines at universities and into the political and institutional limelight. Because of the increasing number of policy reports linking research to wider societal development and growth, global drivers like massification, professionalization, and quality assurance agendas are influencing and shaping the work of Graduate Schools within universities across the globe (Andres et al, 2015; Gokhberg et al, 2016). However, despite increased policy focus on the wider societal relevance of researcher education, it has so far proved difficult to fully integrate societal contexts and domains into the highly disciplinary specialized doctoral education programmes (Acker & Haque, 2017). This increased political and societal focus and involvement with doctoral education creates, what Burford (2018) terms a ‘cruel optimism’, where doctoral students and their supervisors are being encouraged by the Graduate Schools to complete on time due to the demand for researchers within the society, but in reality employment prospects for researchers are poor. Graduate Schools are increasing in size and complexity with still more offers of disciplinary, technical, and practical support to doctoral students. At the same time, we see an increase in reports of doctoral students feeling stressed, lonely, and lost in the systems that are set up in order to guide them (Wisker & Robinson, 2012). Even though doctoral supervisors are central to completion and to ensuring the quality of the PhD dissertation, we see students, due to the new challenges with the ‘diversified PhD’, drawing heavily from informal and extra-curricular support and feedback systems like unassigned ‘guardian supervisors’, professional networks, peer groups, friends and family (Jazvac-Martek et al, 2011). These changes in the PhD have been described as the ‘nested contexts’ (McAlpine & Norton, 2006) of the PhD, the ‘sprawling spaces’ of doctoral education (Bengtsen, 2016), and the ‘doctoral learning penumbra’ (Wisker et al, 2017). Even though doctoral supervisors are still considered central to ensuring the quality of the research and are irreplaceable providers of disciplinary expertise and feedback on the dissertation work, more focus is given to more ‘holistic’ approaches (Lee, 2012) to doctoral education and formation. Recent research focus on the diverse and entangled strands of learning within the PhD (Halse & Malfroy, 2010) and that motivation and momentum in the research sometimes arise from ‘learning ecologies’ outside traditional academic contexts (Elliot et al, 2016). Doctoral learning, today and arguable in the future too, no longer takes place only through individualized and interpersonal relationships with supervisors, but should be understood as a doctoral ecology for learning. The main idea behind the notion of doctoral ecologies is that the doctoral journey takes place within and across several domains simultaneously. The main theoretical and conceptual inspiration comes from the work of Ronald Barnett (2018) on the ecological university that explains the ways knowledge creation, learning, and higher education curricula and institutions are always embedded within a wider range of disciplinary, institutional, societal, political, and existential contexts. Based on these current conditions for doctoral learning, I shall aim to draw out and discuss the implications for doctoral supervision, but also the need for a wider, and even expanded, doctoral pedagogy: Firstly, the PhD takes place within the learning domain of the discipline. Here, the doctoral student strives to acquire and master the fundamental and key theories and methods relevant to her field and research project more specifically. Learning within the disciplinary domain also includes mastering and developing one’s own research practices and being able to present these through the genres, craftsmanship and literacies of writing. The most typical port of call for support is doctoral supervision, where the supervisory team provides feedback, ideas, and engages in a constructive and critical learning dialogue around the doctoral student’s research project. Secondly, the PhD takes place within the learning domain of the institutional system and infrastructure. Here, the doctoral student tries to become aware of the valid rules and regulations of the local Graduate School. This may include dissertation formats (monograph, article-based dissertation), their lengths, range and scope. Within this domain, the doctoral student will also become aware of rules about when to apply for extra funding for conference participation, and how much leave is available during holiday periods, paternity and maternity leave, and sickness leave. The typical go-to persons within this domain are PhD administrators and PhD Programme leaders. Thirdly, the PhD takes place within the learning domain of the workplace culture, sometimes referred to as the process of enculturation (Lee, 2012). In contrast to the progression of the formal learning in the two first domains, this domain covers the progression in the informal learning of doctoral students. Becoming part of a research team, programme, department, and faculty means becoming aware of certain, often tacit and implicit, social norms for how to behave, and cultural values concerning proper and improper collegial conduct. Finally, the PhD takes place within the learning domain of the personal and wider societal lifeworld. Here, the doctoral student’s concern is not directed towards the quality of the dissertation, the rules and regulations of the Graduate School, but questions whether the doctoral journey provides personal (existential) meaning and how to cope with and tackle the inevitable uncertainties and pressure following independent and demanding research processes. Often, we see doctoral students finding support and help in professional networks beyond the institution, in volunteer work contexts, and between family and friends. One important conclusion is that to fully support doctoral students and help them develop into independent academics for the future institutions and societies to come, it is not enough to let all the formal educational responsibility and academic leadership hinge on supervisors’ time, resources, and competences. The Graduate Schools must take on a stronger and more sustainable academic and educational leadership to ensure that the quality of the research supervision is maintained and, at the same time, that doctoral students develop their career paths and personal emancipatory journeys. This is a lot to demand from doctoral education, but it is needed for the future PhD, where expertise in research is increasingly linked to academic citizenship and cultural leadership in zones and domains that extend beyond the university.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Future of Doctoral Education?
EditorsAnne Lee, Rob Bongaart
Publication statusIn preparation - 2 Sep 2019

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