By Claire Aitchison, Susan Carter and Cally Guerin
As regular followers know, our blog and the Quality in Postgraduate Research (QPR) Conference are closely connected (see our About page for the story). Not only did the blog originate from the conference; in addition, for us QPR is a key moment for collegial renewal and scholarly reinvigoration—and for discussing doctoral writing, as we report here.
QPR is for researchers, supervisors, doctoral educators, students, policymakers and leaders in research education from around the globe. The 2016 conference theme was ‘Society, Economy & Communities: 21st century innovations in doctoral education’.
Two and a half days of papers, posters, Pecha Kucha presentations and symposia canvassed an extraordinary field of issues pertinent to these themes, including, for example, researcher development, employability and research skills, supervision and student experience, research degree policies, management, outcomes and assessment, doctoral writing, internationalisation, research dissemination and so on. And, of course, there was plenty of socialising and wining and dining.
Unlike previous years, the keynotes were local Australian presenters: Professor James Arvanitakis (Western Sydney University) posed the question of the contemporary PhD ‘Worth the paper it’s written on?’; and Professor Helene Marsh (James Cook University) provided some interesting insights on the recent ACOLA (Australian Council of Learned Academies) Report.
It’s impossible for us to give a full overview of the Conference; rather, we recommend you return to the QPR website over coming months as conference papers and abstracts are uploaded. In the meanwhile, we hope you enjoy these brief personal reflections and impressions.
The conference offered plenty of opportunities for the discussion of doctoral writing. For example, the complexities around the relationship between publication and the thesis continue be of interest. Cuthbert described the experience of a university grappling with the proposal that some form of publication be made mandatory for all PhD candidates. Edmondston, Azariadis, and Haq considered the incorporation of publications into theses, and Odendaal and Frick offered us a framework for understanding hybridity in thesis format when including publications.
Measurement and pace of writing were also considered: Aitchison and Green made a bid for ‘Slow writing in fast times’, while Picard reminded us of the motivating force of counting the words produced.
Supervisor/student relationships and identities in writing were also canvassed. Carter and Laurs explored the ‘ako’ approach to providing feedback on writing. Discussions between supervisors and students on writing are often a source of anxiety—even conflict—and Economou and James presented their Research Writing Tool aimed at facilitating these conversations. Authorial voice in doctoral writing was the focus for Xu and also for Olivier. Some novel approaches to supporting international and CALD PhD candidates were explored by Gregoric and Muller, and a SIG on EAL writers is now a regular part of the QPR program.
Wisker and Robertson’s playful tour of the many ‘players’ in doctoral candidature fitted well with the symposium on ‘The Uberisation of doctoral education’ by Aitchison, Mewburn, Thomson and Carrigan, which explored the self-help and outsourcing that candidates seek out as they make their way through their PhDs. The latter was a first for QPR in that two of the speakers came to us from a live internet hook-up – hopefully this is something we’ll see more of at future conferences. In a related paper, Guerin and Badenhorst took up the conference theme by considering the value of research literacies in the ‘gig’ economy.
How can the PhD meet the challenges of the 21st century?
This is the question that many pondered over the course of the conference. There is no doubt that doctoral education is an exciting and rapidly changing field that demands some clear thinking and agility on behalf of policymakers and regional and local leaders. On the one hand, we face growing social inequities, tighter economic constraints, research funding restrictions and strong global competition, while on the other hand many presenters reminded us of the human dimensions of individual student struggles with identity, writing and research. How do we reconcile the global and the local realities that shape so much of our everyday work as research educators, administrators, supervisors and doctoral students? How do we advise students who have to navigate these tensions? And how do we help supervisors to adapt to the changing forms and purposes of doctoral study? How do we best resource doctoral education workers—the supervisors, examiners, administrative staff, learning developers—the growing array of people who impact the life and successes of doctoral candidates? In essence most presentations were grappling with these questions.
You can see that this QPR Conference was a veritable feast! With seven parallel sessions each day, no one was able to attend more than a fraction of the rich offerings available. We’d love to hear from others who would like to share their recollections from the conference and especially how it sparked further thinking about doctoral writing.