By Cally Guerin
It’s all over so quickly! The biennial Quality in Postgraduate Research (QPR) conference was held in sunny Adelaide, South Australia, last week. As the longest running and biggest conference on doctoral education in the world, QPR gathers together people who are concerned with both the big picture of where research training is heading and the details of how we get where we want to be. The conference keeps growing, and this year we had lots of current PhD candidates in attendance as well as seasoned academics and researchers. The conference website has details about the range of presenters and abstracts.
The overall QPR conference theme this time around was “Impact and Engagement”, two elements of current government policy in Australia that are influencing decisions around university planning for PhD programs. Keynote Alan Finkel, Australia’s Chief Scientist, offered an optimistic view of where we are heading, pointing to the problems with the state of academic publishing at present but offering some alternative approaches. Gina Wisker, Gillian Robinson and Brenda Leibowitz presented the keynote on Day 2, sharing insights from their research into “The purpose and impact of postgraduate knowledge” and inspiring us with stories of the important work that has been achieved by mid-career PhD candidates mobilising doctoral work to explore complex issues in their professional work. On Day 3, Hugh Kearns reminded us all of the importance of managing mental health in the challenging environment of doctoral education.
Mental health issues in doctoral education created a strong strand through the rest of the conference, too – it’s clearly a major concern in the contemporary university. There were also sets of papers on how the affordances of digital technologies are being harnessed by researcher developers to support doctoral programs. We saw a number of showcases explaining the support provided alongside doctoral programs at universities around the world, much of which is designed with an eye on the longer term employability of graduates. As more research into doctoral education is conducted, we seem to be unearthing more and more complexity in this high-stakes, high-level learning environment. As a community we are making progress with the issues, but there is still work to be done as we grapple with the intersections between our educational practices and the ever-changing demands on supervisors, administrators and research degree candidates.
A highlight of the conference for those of us working in the area of doctoral writing, the DoctoralWriting SIG meeting is a great opportunity to catch up with our peers from other universities. This year the SIG meeting was organised by Susan Mowbray and Juliet Lum – thank you both for making us welcome! Susan Carter got the discussion going with some provocative questions that invited us all to think about the differences between doctoral writing, academic writing and research writing. It is always interesting to hear the different perspectives and definitions that our colleagues work with, and lots of encouraging ideas were exchanged between the 20 or so participants.
QPR provides one of the rare occasions for the DoctoralWriting blog co-editors to get together in person – a real treat for us! We’ve spent some time planning for the future of the blog, and have lots of ideas about where we’d like to take this next.
DoctoralWriting co-editors: Claire Aitchison, Susan Carter, Cally Guerin
We hope to bring you blog versions of some of the papers from the conference that focused specifically on doctoral writing. In the meantime, we’d love to hear from other attendees about their experiences of the conference – with multiple parallel sessions, we all get to hear only a small proportion of the presentations.