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By Cally Guerin

The second International Conference on Doctoral Development and Training (ICDDET) has just been held in Oxford, UK. Susan Carter and I were lucky enough to be part of this event. The UK Council for Graduate Education plans to prepare an ‘Oxford Statement’ on the topics explored during the conference, in the hope of continuing public discussion of the issues raised over the two days—keep an eye out for it. In the meantime, here are a few comments from my own perspective. As a follow on from the Stellenbosch conference, it was interesting to see how many of the same concerns are being discussed in this forum (doctoral education is always and necessarily an international forum), but there were also some different emphases.

The keynote speakers at ICDDET spoke about the current state of doctoral education in the US (Debra Stewart), Germany (Stefan Hornbostel) and Australia (Joe Luca). The story seems to be much the same everywhere—we need to help students complete their PhDs in a more timely manner, and we also need to think about what they are going to do on completing those degrees.

One topic that came up several times related to funding for PhDs through industry collaborations. While there were some positive experiences to report, there were also cautions about going down this path (David James, Cardiff University, UK). Sometimes the industry partner wants far more control over the project than sits easily with conventions of academic freedom; sometimes those putting up the cash have unrealistic ideas about how much time and effort they are buying for their money. But at the same time, when so many PhD graduates are entering the job market and we know that less than 20% of them are likely to end up working in full-time academic positions, this direct engagement with organizations outside academia can provide valuable pathways into satisfying careers post-PhD.

As at Stellenbosch, there was lots of talk about supervisor development and training, with nice alignment between the approaches discussed in both forums (Anne Lee, UK). Many are looking towards more structure within doctoral programs, with ways of recording the skills acquired along the way including open badge systems (Inger Mewburn and colleagues, Australian National University). Others are noticing the advantages of being part of a lively research community, pointing to the benefits of cohort or group supervision (Gill Clarke and Ingrid Lunt, UK), as well as the gains afforded by peer support groups (Vijay Mallan, University of Otago, New Zealand). Such support is directed towards writing, and also to other aspects of candidature. Amanda French and Alex Kendall (Birmingham City University, UK) pushed the discussion towards the relationship between writing and identity. This presentation got the prize in the UKCGE blog as one participant’s favourite session. Susan Carter ran a roundtable on the topic of generic writing support and how this fits into other institutional structures—a lively discussion that reminds us once again of the complex issues surrounding doctoral writing.

One strand of the UK conference focused on doctoral candidates in the digital age. Using digital/social media to disseminate research provides opportunities to learn about writing different genres, but may not always receive institutional blessing, and can create difficulties for novice researchers (Erika Hawkes, University of Birmingham, UK). Heather Doran and Kenneth Skeldon talked about the social media training they offer at the University of Aberdeen, UK. My contribution to this strand was framed in terms of the thesis by publication; in particular, I’m interested in the relationship between publication on social media and more formal avenues for research publication.

Of course, this version of the conference is only my own take on the papers and conversations I was able to attend. Others will have quite different ideas about the focus of the discussions, depending on which papers they went along to. If you were part of ICDDET, it would be great to hear about what you found useful or interesting. If you’ve been involved in different conversations in other forums recently, we’d love to hear about the current issues being discussed there too. They may be directly related to doctoral writing, or more generally exploring approaches to doctoral education.