Evaluative Judgement – how do we know when doctoral work is good enough?  

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Claire Aitchison

How can doctoral students (and their supervisors) be confident their work is up to scratch? When are students ready to judge the quality of their own work and their developing expertise? And how do doctoral students and their supervisors know when the PhD is ready to send for examination?

Answering these questions requires critical reflection and accurate judgement – but how are these skills learned?

Doctoral students commence their PhD from a place of strength; they’ve been admitted through a competitive system into the highest level of university accreditation. It’s rightly a proud moment. But as the doctoral journey progresses, other mechanisms will be needed to inform candidates and their supervisors of their performance.

Being able to make accurate judgements about quality, ‘doctoralness’ and readiness is central to becoming a knowledgeable, confident, independent researcher. Continue reading

Life online: Zoom survival and etiquette in supervision

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Claire Aitchison

Can you see me?  She’s muted, she can’t hear you. Turn up your volume.  Write it into the chat function. Hello – can you hear me? That background is amazing.  I still can’t see you.  Down on the bottom, on the left, the picture of a microphone: press it.  And, so it goes – even still, even 100s of zoom meetings later…

Before Corona, whether in the laboratory or the office, by chance or scheduled, most supervisors met with their students face to face on campus. With students readily on hand, the expectation was for synchronous, physically co-present meetings – and for most, there was simply no need to consider alternatives. However, virtual supervision had been increasing with the growth in transnational doctoral study options and to meet the need for student and supervisor flexibility more generally. With the Covid-19 pandemic, what was a trend, now seems quite routine.

So, how do we best operate in this new environment? What are the etiquettes, traps and advantages of virtual meetings and of giving and receiving feedback on virtual platforms such as zoom? Continue reading

Supporting students through the “messy times” of finishing the dissertation: Voices of completers

We are delighted to share this contribution from Mary Jane Curry who is an associate professor in the Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development at the University of Rochester, New York. She is co-author or co-editor of six books, including Global academic publishing: Policies, perspectives and pedagogies (2018), Language, literacy, and learning in STEM education: Research methods and perspectives from applied linguistics (2014), A scholar’s guide to getting published in English: Critical choices and practical strategies (2013) and with six doctoral students is currently writing “An A-W of academic literacy: A reference for graduate students” (2021). With Theresa Lillis, Mary Jane co-edits the book series Studies in Knowledge Production and Participation (Multilingual Matters).

Mary Jane Curry 

Like marathon runners, students at the end stages of writing the doctoral dissertation/thesis often struggle with exhaustion and motivation. While I have never run a marathon, 20 years ago I completed my dissertation, and have thought deeply about how to support doctoral students. Recently I asked some former advisees—now graduated—to identify the strategies and practices that helped them.  Like many students in our school of education, all of them had children/families, many were part-time students, and most were working, even the full-time students. Some also cared for aging parents and other relatives. Two students had to move away from Rochester for family reasons before finishing. Continue reading

Voice in thesis writing – why does it continue to engage us?

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Claire Aitchison

So much has been written about voice in research and thesis writing and yet it continues to be a perennial concern amongst bloggers, writing teachers and researchers. In a recent supervisory discussion, I was reminded again of just how contentious this issue can be.

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

What is voice?

Some people consider voice simply in terms of rhetorical and linguistic devices, but for me, it is SO much more.

I think of ‘voice’ as the sense of the author conveyed, intentionally or otherwise, through a host of interacting features including affect, tone, style, self-revelation and involving complex issues of identity, intent, and academic and disciplinary practice. In other words, I regard voice as a social practice of identity making. In this, I am heavily influenced by the work of Ros Ivanič (1998) who sees voice in relationship to an author’s struggles with authority, self-representation and personal history. For doctoral writers and their practices, these struggles are in direct relationship with questions of the ‘autobiographical self’ (the writer’s life-history, the motivations driving their research scholarship), the ‘self as author’ (i.e., the authorial self, the authority they bring to their writing) and the ‘discoursal self’ (a writer’s representation of self).  Some of this identity formation through writing is conscious and some unconscious, sometimes it is conflictual, and it is always contextual – influenced by the norms and practices of the discipline, the methodological approach, the topic itself, the impending examination, and perhaps even the preferences and predilections of the supervisor! Continue reading

Writing an article – how is it different from writing a thesis?

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by Cally Guerin

Some doctoral candidates come into their programs with extensive experience of writing for publication from their previous work or study. For most, though, it is a big jump from writing assignments for lecturers or a Masters dissertation to writing a formal article for publication in a high-ranking, peer-reviewed journal. There’s a lot of useful information out there about how to write for academic journals. In this post I want to focus on an aspect of this discussion that is rarely mentioned: how does article writing differ from thesis writing? Importantly, how can doctoral writers recognise and respond to the difference? Continue reading

On writing titles – what do doctoral researchers need to know?

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by Cally Guerin

I’ve been preparing a workshop that includes a short section on writing titles. It’s an area of writing that I’ve always found difficult myself, and I am full of admiration for those who come up with clever, witty, memorable titles that perfectly encapsulate the subject or argument of the piece of writing. Within a specific field of research, it can sometimes feel like all the journal articles have almost the same title, with tiny variations to point to their very specific focus and contribution to the conversation. What advice can researcher developers offer to doctoral writers? Continue reading