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Doctoral education is central to both the production of knowledge and the reproduction of disciplines—producing the next generation of researchers. This paper considers the doctoral and supervisory experiences associated with the ‘the PhD by publication’—in which a dissertation comprises a number of stand-alone ‘publishable’ papers, along with introductory and concluding overviews. Using the entry points of human geography and our experiences doing and supervising these PhDs, we provide a number of guidelines for human geographers, and illuminate the identity work involved in this specific process of producing scholars.
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Journal of Geography in Higher
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Critical Reflections on Doctoral
Research and Supervision in Human
Geography: The ‘PhD by Publication’
Robyn Dowling a , Andrew Gorman-Murray b , Emma Power b &
Karina Luzia c
a Learning and Teaching Centre, Macquarie University , Australia
b School of Social Sciences, University of Western Sydney ,
c Department of Environment and Geography , Macquarie
University , Australia
Published online: 16 Jan 2012.
To cite this article: Robyn Dowling , Andrew Gorman-Murray , Emma Power & Karina Luzia
(2012) Critical Reflections on Doctoral Research and Supervision in Human Geography:
The ‘PhD by Publication’, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 36:2, 293-305, DOI:
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Critical Reflections on Doctoral Research
and Supervision in Human Geography:
The ‘PhD by Publication’
*Learning and Teaching Centre, Macquarie University, Australia, **School of Social Sciences, University of
Western Sydney, Australia,
Department of Environment and Geography, Macquarie University, Australia
ABSTRACT Doctoral education is central to both the production of knowledge and the reproduction
of disciplines—producing the next generation of researchers. This paper considers the doctoral and
supervisory experiences associated with the ‘the PhD by publication’—in which a dissertation
comprises a number of stand-alone ‘publishable’ papers, along with introductory and concluding
overviews. Using the entry points of human geography and our experiences doing and supervising
these PhDs, we provide a number of guidelines for human geographers, and illuminate the identity
work involved in this specific process of producing scholars.
KEY WORDS: PhD students, academic identity, research supervision, publishing
Doctoral education is central to both the production of knowledge—a significant
proportion of new knowledge is produced within PhD theses—and the reproduction of
disciplines—producing the next generation of researchers. It is surprising then that there is
a relative lack of attention paid within human geography to the processes and
characteristics of doctoral education, and even less theorization of research supervision.
There has been some work on the use of writing groups for graduate students (Ferguson,
2009), the RGS-IBG and AAG have provided guidance on research and publication for
new researchers (including doctoral researchers) (Solem et al., 2009; Blunt & Souch,
2010), and there has been limited critical reflection on practices such as master classes in
developing academic identities (Bærenholdt et al., 2010). Nonetheless, there remains a
critical gap in understanding the formation of academic identities through doctoral
education in the contemporary era. This paper begins to fill this gap through an exploration
of the ‘PhD by publication’.
Definitions vary across institutions and disciplines, but essentially the PhD by
publication consists of an unspecified number of stand-alone published or ‘publishable’
papers (Robins & Kanowski, 2008). Our exploration here serves two purposes. The first
ISSN 0309-8265 Print/1466-1845 Online/12/020293-13 q2012 Taylor & Francis
Correspondence Address: Robyn Dowling, Learning and Teaching Centre, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW,
2109, Australia. Email:
Journal of Geography in Higher Education,
Vol. 36, No. 2, 293–305, May 2012
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purpose is to contribute to the broad body of work on the support of writing in doctoral
supervision. As an ‘interstitial’ discipline—with topics and research practices ranging
across the humanities, social sciences and environmental sciences—human geography can
make a unique contribution to the literature on supervision and writing, which has
previously identified a dearth of interdisciplinary considerations (Lee & Kamler, 2008).
The second purpose is to intervene in recent critical debates on publishing within the
discipline, which argue that there are increasingly individualistic approaches to
scholarship and micro-management of academic life related to the development of
researchers within the neoliberal university (Dowling, 2008). As we outline here, the PhD
by publication offers insight into the production of researchers in the contemporary
academy which some have argued is characterized by a performance culture (Dowling,
2008; Starrs, 2008). We begin with an outline of the PhD by publication and provide
prompts for supervisors and students considering such a thesis mode. We then turn to the
process of writing, its link to academic identities and the role of the supervisor and peers in
supporting these. In conclusion, we reflect on the academic identities produced through the
PhD by publication as a means of guiding further research. A brief note on ‘method’ is in
order here. This paper is the product of a long-term dialogue of our individual ruminations
on the process of undertaking a PhD by publication, alongside a number of shorter term
conversations (both verbal and written) in which we juxtaposed our reflections.
Effectively, then, we present a collective autoethnographic story and critical reflections,
broadly mirroring Manathunga et al.’s (2010) approach to supervisory development.
The PhD by Publication: An Overview for Students and Supervisors
The PhD by publication is certainly not new. In the UK, PhDs based on published works
have historically been awarded retrospectively in recognition of a contribution to
scholarship of someone working in the academy but without a PhD (Davies & Rolfe,
2009), or as the basis of honorary or professional doctorates. In various European nations,
presenting a PhD as a series of interconnected but stand-alone papers occurs across a
number of disciplines, including geography, while in some fields, such as economics,
thesis by papers is the international norm (Davies & Rolfe, 2009). We are concerned in this
paper with the more recent and widespread adoption of this model across Australian
universities, where PhD theses are encouraged to be in the form of a collection of
published or publishable papers. Indeed, a 2010 scoping of Australian doctoral degrees
revealed that the majority of universities explicitly identified the PhD by publication as an
option. For some, this option was confined to specific disciplines or professional
doctorates, for others it was considered a non-conventional but allowable route towards
the PhD, and for others yet, it was the preferred thesis format. Institutional rules around
theses by publication vary significantly. Monash University, for example tightly prescribes
the number of publications, whether they are published, accepted or submitted, and sets
conventions of co-authorship. Others, such as Macquarie University and the University of
Wollongong, provide more general guidelines on length and form, with the specifics
expected to vary by discipline. Common across universities is that the PhD thesis is still
subject to examination—the publication of papers in and of themselves is not sufficient for
the awarding of the PhD degree. It is important to note that although there are many
differences between the PhD by publication and the traditional mode of doctoral
dissertation, these should not be considered as diametrically opposed, but as a continuum.
294 R. Dowling et al.
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For example, a student writing a dissertation can publish alongside, but the PhD by
publication changes the nature of the supervisory dyad.
Our engagement with PhD by publication is through Macquarie University, where this
mode of PhD thesis is valourized and increasingly is the norm. In the sciences at
Macquarie, for example more than half of PhD theses are in the form of
published/publishable papers. In human geography at Macquarie, around a third of
submitted PhDs take this form, and span cultural geography, urban planning and resource
management. Macquarie University’s guidelines are quite flexible, as suggested in the
descriptions of the authors’ theses given in Table 1. Journal articles (in print or in press),
book chapters, submitted manuscripts or manuscripts in preparation are appropriate for a
PhD by publication. These papers can be co-authored, though in this case must be
accompanied by a statement of the student’s contribution. At Macquarie, the quality of the
PhD is maintained through a rigorous examination process involving three external
examiners. Theses can be submitted with the actual publications bound into one document
or, more commonly, publications re-formatted into one document with linking sections.
In this way, examiners are able to, and do, make comments on the published as well as
unpublished components of the thesis as part of their overall assessment of the thesis’
contribution to knowledge. Acceptance of the PhD by publication is far from universal;
many supervisors remain sceptical and some examiners continue to query the validity of it.
Our experiences as students and supervisors suggest that a lack of knowledge about this
PhD mode has contributed to this reluctance. Thus, in this section we provide some
guidance for both doctoral researchers and their supervisors. Our guidance is based on
conceptual framings of the doctorate and its supervision (Pearson, 2005; Wisker, 2005;
Boud & Lee, 2009; Halse & Malfroy, 2010) as well as Dowling’s recent involvement in the
professional development of research supervisors.
Topic ‘Fit’ and Thesis Mode
PhD by publication more readily lends itself to some types of research projects. For us, a
PhD by publication is particularly suited to doctoral research that addresses a number of
related but potentially stand-alone empirical or conceptual issues. Such a project can be
more clearly separated into distinct papers. ‘For example, each of the authors’ doctoral
projects consisted of discrete schemes each of which spoke to a broader theme. Emma’s
PhD addressed the broad issue of more-than-human domesticities, using a number of
different methods and sub-projects.’ These resulted in papers on a media analysis of pests,
dogs and home making, pests and the nation as home, and domestic temporalities.
Similarly, Andrew’s PhD addressed and advanced the theme of critical geographies of
sexuality and home by utilizing mixed methods—media analysis, archives and
autobiographies, and semi-structured interviews—to produce discrete papers that focused
on gay men and the home, gay men in lifestyle media, same-sex couples at home, same-
sex-attracted youth in family homes, and meanings of home for lesbians and gay men.
Karina’s PhD explored the geographies of family; also employed mixed methods; and
similarly produced a range of papers with diverse themes such as moral panic, parenting
places, disorder in the home and family photography. Mixed methods and ‘mini-projects’
within the larger PhD are not unusual within the doctoral experience, but the three of us
found they worked particularly well in PhD by publication.
‘PhD by Publication’ 295
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Table 1. Our experiences with PhD by publication.
Research field
Papers (published/
accepted/in submission)
Motivation to undertake PhD by
publication Likes/benefits
Robyn (supervisor) Urban and cultural
Student interest Encourages writing-focused
Andrew (student) Social and cultural
Published: 3 papers
Accepted: 1 paper
In submission: 1 paper
Keen to develop the requisite skills
for an academic career, such as
expertise in academic writing and
experience in publishing processes
Able to explore mixed methods
through discrete projects which
addressed a central question. Learn-
ing to write for different academic
audiences through an interdisciplin-
ary project
Emma (student) Urban and cultural
Published: 3 papers
Accepted: 1 paper (co-
In submission: 1 paper
Keen to develop skills required for
an academic career, and motivated
to develop a publication record to
ensure competitiveness in a tight
academic job market
Rhythm of work structured around
discrete publications. Pragmatically,
PhD by publication supported timely
completion in a tertiary context that
emphasized on-time completion
Karina (student) Social and cultural
Published: 3 papers and 1
book chapter
Revise and resubmit: 1
Keen to rapidly develop key skills
and competencies required for an
academic career, establish a
publication record and join the
scholarly conversation
Emphasis on writing ‘for’ publi-
cation and wider dissemination of
work. A thesis comprising mini
writing projects, all with diverse
themes and formats.
Developing a writer’s identity and
self-discipline—work that is still in
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However, although published journal articles or book chapter papers need to stand alone
and address distinct concepts and topics, they also need to be able to be woven together
into a thesis. The difficulties doctoral students have in finding their ‘voice’ and articulating
the ‘thesis’ (in its meaning of an overarching argument) are well known. These can be
more pronounced in the PhD by publication in a number of ways. There can be a tendency
to want to write the thesis in each paper. Karina found this to be a particular challenge
early in her candidature when she was simultaneously developing the ideas that would
underpin the thesis and finalizing papers that would become the chapters. At this early
stage, it was difficult to separate the two and she battled the impulse to write the entire
thesis within her first paper; she was also concerned about how her ideas would change and
develop over the period of the candidature and whether this would render early papers
obsolete. Similarly, Emma found identifying the conceptual framing of her first paper
challenging, spending many early drafts rehearsing the broader theories that ultimately
framed the thesis as a whole rather than focusing on the specific contributions of this
paper. Writing the ‘binding’ sections of the thesis at the end can be equally challenging. As
with traditional theses, the thesis by publication is required to be a coherent contribution of
knowledge. The coherence, and overall thesis argument, can become lost in the process of
writing separate papers.
Finally, PhD by publication can be easily aligned with interdisciplinary research and/or
doctoral researchers wishing to make a contribution across a number of fields. For
Andrew, the process encouraged creativity and interdisciplinarity, and enabled him to
deliberately position his research as not only a geographical project, but also an
interdisciplinary one. This decision was reflected in the choice of journals located in
geography, cultural studies and housing studies, and journals with an interdisciplinary
remit across geography, gender studies and cultural studies. These journals speak to
different audiences within a range of scholarly communities and encourage varied forms
of academic writing, which enabled him to experiment with different writing styles and
techniques commensurate with humanities (e.g. cultural studies) and social science
(e.g. geography) disciplines. This also provided the opportunity to learn how to position
his work in different ways in these disciplines. Indeed, more generally it may be that PhD
by publication is especially suited to those numerous human geography projects that speak
across disciplines.
Doctoral Temporalities
The planning, implementing and writing of a research project in a set time frame is one of
the hallmarks of doctoral education. Supervisor, students and departments have many
‘rules of thumb’ about what should happen when. In many 3-year programmes, for
example, it is envisaged that the first year is spent setting up the topic and conceptual
framework, the second on data collection and the final year on writing. The rhythm of the
PhD by publication is somewhat different from this ‘conventional’ rhythm (though we
acknowledge that many different timings are evident across all PhDs). In the PhD by
publication, writing and data collection can, and sometimes need to, occur simultaneously.
Emma, for example was able to start archive-based research and subsequent writing while
her Human Research Ethics Application was processed by the university. On receiving
ethics approval she was able to continue working on this article in the period between
advertising for participants and commencing interviews, and between interviews and the
‘PhD by Publication’ 297
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transcription process. Then when the first article was in review, another paper was started.
This process may sound broadly similar to the ongoing writing that takes place throughout
a traditional candidature, but there is a key difference: the writing is different in so far as it
is scheduled around a publication plan and hence is organized into discrete bundles of time
that are punctuated by the completion of a new article or chapter. For Emma, this process
had very pragmatic benefits as it meant that she progressively finalized large sections of
the thesis throughout the progression of the candidature, rather than having a constantly
moving thesis that was always ‘up for grabs’ until the date of submission. It also meant that
by the time she came to write the thesis she had a confidence in it as the majority of it had
undergone blind peer review in addition to supervisor comments.
However, there are a few unique challenges to this process, which significantly shape
the scheduling of writing as well the thesis timeline. Journal lag times, for both refereeing
and final publications, have been identified as possible stumbling blocks to the PhD by
publication (Robins & Kanowski, 2008). While acknowledging this impediment, there are
also broader changes to the temporal rhythms of the PhD at play. In particular, Emma
found that she needed to adapt her research timetable to the uncertainty of the review
process, including the length of time that articles were under review, and the nature of
changes that could be required. Different journals had different periods of review, some
sending feedback extremely promptly while others took significantly longer. In Emma’s
case, most articles were under review for approximately 3 months before receiving
comments, although one took significantly longer at over 6 months. These times are not
out of the ordinary, but within the 3-year candidature of a PhD they impel both planning
and a willingness to alter research and writing schedules—flexibility was essential. These
factors meant that progressive publication was not just a benefit but rather a necessity.
Writing and sending articles for review early in the candidature and continuously
throughout were an essential insurance against these uncertainties, providing a time buffer
that could accommodate some of this uncertainty. Karina similarly reflects on being
encouraged to adopt very productive writing habits (Draft a paper, edit, send off, write an
article, edit, send off and repeat.) and of developing a pragmatic attitude towards the
writing process itself (no time to sit around and brood about what is happening with your
paper, you have another one to write!).
In essence, our experience of the PhD by publication underlines not a simple difference
from the traditional thesis, but a subtly different emphasis, especially in relation to topic
definition and temporal rhythms. Thus, rather than assessing the worth of this form of PhD,
we believe it more useful to prompt scholars to consider whether the project, the
supervisor and the student are appropriate to it. We hence summarize this discussion in
Table 2, which is a series of prompts for supervisors and students to consider before and
during candidature.
Academic Identity, Academic Writing and Research Supervision
In this last section of the paper, we connect more directly with the scholarship on research
supervision, the doctoral experience and academic writing. In particular, we are interested
in theorizations of the doctorate as ‘more than the thesis’: the PhD also produces academic
identities. As Peterson (2007, p. 477) states in her summary of the field, doctoral work ‘is not
simply a matter of coming to know; it is also a matter of coming to be’. In undertaking
doctoral work, students are immersed in, and learn to perform, the norms of scholars and
298 R. Dowling et al.
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Table 2. Prompts for considering and supervising a PhD by publication.
For students For supervisors About the project
How competent is the student at juggling
multiple projects and time frames?
What is the expected time frame of the PhD?
What does the supervisor expect of a PhD?
Is there departmental support for thesis by
Can the research project be broken down
into smaller components?
Is the student a capable writer?
Is the student able to ‘let go’ of a piece of
writing that may not be perfect?
Is the supervisor willing to help the student develop
juggling skills?
Does the supervisor have knowledge of, or access to,
resources to support time management (e.g. Kearns &
Gardiner, 2008)?
How well is the student likely to cope with
criticisms from referees/peers?
Is the supervisor able to mentor writing for
publication? This might include:
Publication/refereeing experience
Knowledge of the ‘anxieties’ of the early career
Is early publication of results possible or
Is the topic likely to have trouble being
published? For example, is it so cutting
edge that it may meet with resistance in
peer-review processes?
How keen is the student on becoming a
publishing academic?
What are student/supervisor/discipline expectations
of co-authorship and how are they to be negotiated?
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scholarship. Writing is central to the performance and demonstration of an academic
identity, and to the doctorate. It is through writing that scholarly identities are formed, with
the text putting the work and the self in the public domain (Kamler, 2008; Lee & Kamler,
2008). Writing is central to scholarship and a demonstration of research competence.
Written work conveys the scholarship and scholarly identity of the researcher: public
academic audiences respond to statements, findings and arguments in a scholar’s published
work. So in this section of the paper we conceptualize how the PhD by publication
configures the connections between doctoral writing, supervisor relationships, student
anxieties and scholarly identity work.
Writing, Supervision and Scholarly Community
Supervising and supporting scholarly writing have been the focus of a number of
interventions in geography, including writing groups, mentoring and facilitating supportive
communities of practice (Cameron et al., 2009; Ferguson, 2009; Bærenholdt et al., 2010).
The PhD by publication amplifies the links between writing and the formation of doctoral
scholars, though in different ways. Much more so than a conventional dissertation, the
publication-based doctorate emphasizes ongoing writing, and writing for peers. It also
changes the character of the supervisor-student relationship in at least two important ways.
First, supervision becomes much more explicitly a conversation through the medium of
writing. Written work is the focus. Certainly supervisory meetings cover the usual issues
such as the scope of the project, its methodology and how data collection and analysis are
progressing. But in the middle years they also intensely focus on written work, not only
encouraging the completion of papers, but commenting on draft papers and re-drafted
versions. In our experiences, when referees’ reports were received, the focus was on
interpreting what the referees had said, on how to respond to the referees and on
highlighting the role of the editor’s comments. Supervision became a process of mentoring
for publication that included much more than the content and structure of a piece of work.
Supervisor as mentor comes to the fore (see Lee et al., 2007).
Second, for all of us it felt as if the broader scholarly community was participating in the
creation of the thesis. Prior to submission, each thesis had already received considerable
feedback from a range of academic experts as well as supervisors. We really had a sense
that the PhD by publication is a very broad collaborative effort; much more so, we would
argue, than the traditional PhD. Karina notes that some of what she has written towards the
PhD will ‘make it’ into journals and/or the thesis, while other works would not go any
further than the ‘Misc folder’ on her computer. Nonetheless, to date she has received direct
and indirect feedback on her work from literally dozens of people: supervisors, adjunct
supervisors, editors, sub-editors, reviewers, as well as from colleagues and peers.
Scholarship on supervision often points out the merits of supervisory panels, and open
discussions about supervision as a means to improve student experiences and encourage
completion (Samara, 2006; Walsh, 2010). For us—candidate and supervisor alike—this
expansion of the supervisory team was much wider than conventionally envisaged.
Moreover, it helped allay some anxieties going into the examination processes: since the
thesis, or parts thereof, had already been judged by peers we were more confident in the
general outcomes (though of course examiners did have additional comments to make).
These experiences allow further reflection on Kiley’s (2009) discussion of the role of
the supervisory relationship in supporting doctoral students’ comprehension of threshold
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concepts. Threshold concepts are ‘concepts that are so critical to an understanding of the
discipline that advanced learning is not possible without having crossed the threshold of
understanding for that concept’, and include ‘thesis’, ‘theory’ and ‘framework’ (Kiley,
2009, p. 297). In the case of the PhD, threshold concepts revolve around learning to be a
researcher. Threshold concepts are troublesome but transformative—they are difficult to
grasp, induce anxiety, but are critical for doctoral learning and the development of
scholarly confidence—for transforming doctoral ‘candidates’ into ‘scholars’. Through her
work with experienced supervisors, Kiley (2009, p. 301) found that a common strategy
used to help students grasp threshold concepts—and cross thresholds—was to ‘encourage
candidates to feel part of an academic community’ through activities such as journal clubs
or reading groups. Furthermore, she argued that scholarly transformation is advanced if
‘candidates are engaged in “learning the rules” of the culture into which they are moving
but not in any didactic manner but rather by participating with peers and others within the
environment’ (Kiley, 2009, p. 302).
We suggest that the characteristics of the PhD by publications—the particular rhythm and
scheduling of writing activities—are very useful for identifying threshold moments in the
development of the researcher. For the authors, as identified in the discussion so far, key
moments in the production of the PhD by publication included writing the first paper,
interpreting and responding to referee comments and publication itself. These are frequently
characterized by feelings of uncertainty and anxiety, and are moments when the researcher
is forced to confront disciplinary threshold concepts including identifying the thesis,
articulating the theory and communicating a coherent framework. Crossing these thresholds
and forming scholarly identities are also wrapped up with doctoral candidates’ introductions
into a wider academic community. Our collective experience suggests that the PhD by
publication patently enables such engagement with scholarly communities, academic
cultures and their rules. The process of writing for publication pushes the candidate to
engage with academic peers beyond their own supervisor, and together the supervisor and
student address peer review comments, mediating and supporting the candidate across the
threshold into the academic community. We found that the PhD by publication facilitates
‘crossing the threshold’ and becoming a ‘member’ of the academic community.
Scholarly Identity Work
Crossing the thresholds of both concepts and communities helps to transform the candidate
into a scholar. We now further conceptualize how the PhD by publication facilitates the
formation of a scholarly identity through its emphasis on writing for publication. This work
builds on insights by Kamler (2008, p. 285), who encourages us to think about doctoral
writing as both text work and identity work because of the way in which it focuses on:
the connections between textual practices in a field and the formation of the doctoral
scholar ... Students find doctoral writing difficult because texts and identities are
formed together, in and through writing. They feel vulnerable when their work is
made public because the text is an extension of the scholar and scholarship; it
literally puts the self and the work ‘out there’.
In many ways, doing the PhD by publication directly addresses the vulnerabilities of both
writing and the contemporary academic labour market. For us, it has certainly been in
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response to a number of uncertainties: uncertainty around the academic market place and
future job prospects; uncertainty about having the time, opportunity, and of course, the
financial resources ‘later on’ to acquire necessary skills and last, but certainly not the least,
uncertainty around ‘academic identity’, and how each of us as an individual scholar ‘fits’
into academia in general. Indeed, doing the PhD by publications has not only been a way
of joining conversations; it has been a way to manage (but not completely overcome)
anxieties around these uncertainties, by jumping straight in. It enables us to develop a
publication record while completing the PhD. This was more than ‘just’ a list of
publications; however, this record was crucial for making our research work known in the
academic community, and thus for beginning to develop reputations as scholarly figures in
particular disciplinary (and interdisciplinary) areas.
Such was Andrew’s experience of doing a PhD by publications. Doing research with a
view to writing for journal publications crucially shaped his understanding of his own
doctoral work—not as a low-circulation dissertation but as high-circulation published
scholarship with potential to contribute to debates within international communities of
scholars in geography, sexuality studies and cultural studies. He was quite consciously
aware that he was constructing an emergent scholarly identity through the process of
writing articles for peer review and publication. This process can be both exciting and
daunting for doctoral researchers. It is motivating to work and to write with the intent that
one’s research can be read and circulated so early in one’s career. But it also induces a level
of anxiety, not just about the peer-review process, which can be trying and sometimes
destructive (Kamler, 2008), but also about how one’s published scholarship will be read,
interpreted, applied, extended and/or critiqued once it is in print. The reception—not just
the production and publication—of one’s scholarship is a critical contributor to shaping
one’s scholarly identity, particularly for new researchers. In Andrew’s case, he was
concerned about how his work would be received by the scholarly community, particularly
within the field of geographies of sexualities. Would his work and thus his ‘academic self’
be welcomed in that community of scholars? How would he know?
These are vital fears for new scholars, but there are two other significant aspects of the
formation of textual-scholarly identities that should be considered and which we would
like to explicate. These pointers are informed by post-structural ideas about the
constitution of identities, and extend Kamler’s (2008) discussion about the links between
text work and identity work in doctoral writing. One factor to keep in mind is that
identities are always formed relationally—in relation to other people, dialogically, in
community. In terms of the present discussion, this relationality means that our own
textual-scholarly identities are sculpted through our engagements with other scholars and
their published work; or to put it in terms of text work, our scholarly identities are
constituted intertextually, through reading and responding to other scholars’ published
ideas within an academic community. For new scholars, it is important to remember that
intertextual engagement is powerful, networked and flows in multiple directions: we
constitute our scholarly identities by entering the academic community, but in doing so we
also begin to reconfigure other researchers’ scholarly identities as well. This
reconfiguration should empower new scholars, suggesting their capacity to contribute to
academia; simultaneously, we urge all scholars to enter this intertextual ground with an
attitude of care, using our text work to advance scholarship, and not to damage scholars.
The second factor to consider is that all identity work is an ongoing process, not a one-
off event, and this includes the text work involved in constituting scholarly identities; this
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means that the emergent scholarly identities of doctoral writing and publication are
certainly not fully formed, solid and ‘final’. Rather, scholarly identities—like all
identities—are partial, fluid, flexible, and change over time as our scholarship develops
and we take on new ideas, research interests and collaborative partnerships with other
scholars. Moreover, it is arguable that as researchers we should never intend to have ‘final’
unchanging scholarly identities, but to try to always be open to new concepts, ideas, fields
of enquiry and avenues of investigation. What is crucial for doctoral writers and new
researchers to keep in mind is that we only set out on that scholarly adventure when we
begin writing and thus become part of a broader community of scholars. The PhD by
publication certainly facilitates that journey.
Concluding Thoughts
In this paper, we have considered the PhD by publication in terms of the doctoral
experience, academic identities and research supervision. In this short conclusion, we
bring together the paper’s insights with respect to these three elements.
With respect to doctoral education, it has not been our intention in this paper to advocate
for the PhD by publication, nor to provide an analysis of its costs and benefits. Rather, we
wanted to elaborate on some of its rhythms and specificities. In this respect, the doctorate by
publication is both similar to, and different from, the traditional thesis in subtle ways, for
both supervisor and student. The PhD process in this mode has a more cyclical rhythm—one
attuned to each paper, and, in our experiences, a magnified focus on writing throughout the
doctorate. Moreover, given that many human geography research projects are cross-
disciplinary, we would suggest that the fit between PhD by publication and cross-disciplinary
engagement may make it more suited to geographical research than to other areas.
In terms of research supervision/advising, our experiences underscore the ways in
which supervision of these doctorates necessarily takes on these new rhythms and an
associated focus on writing. Interestingly, supervision is undertaken by more than the
supervisor, with feedback and perspectives from the broader scholarly community, for
example through the refereeing process, being incorporated into the research project and
the thesis. The human geography perspective offered in this paper facilitates social science
insights into a knowledge field that has so far been dominated by experiences from the
biophysical sciences (e.g. Robins & Kanowski, 2008). From this disciplinary perspective,
the relevance of topic selection and mentoring writing are magnified, while issues such as
co-authorship are less pressing.
Finally, in terms of academic identities, the critical reflections on our own experiences
we present in this paper illuminate the production of academic identities attuned to
scholarly practices of writing for publication, and the threshold concepts encountered
through this process that, in the PhD by publication, can be negotiated in and through
groups of learners that include peers, supervisors as well as the broader academic
community. Whether, however, the PhD by publication produces academics as neoliberal
subjects with a commitment to ‘publish or perish’ (Brien, 2008; Dowling, 2008;
Starrs, 2008) remains an open question that needs development in future research. From
our perspective, as both students and academics, the PhD by publication produced both an
enriching doctoral experience and an enhanced publication record. Further research across
institutions and disciplines is required to understand the changing place of the PhD in the
academy, academic careers and scholarly identities.
‘PhD by Publication’ 303
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We are grateful to four anonymous referees and the editors for their insightful comments on previous drafts of this
In North America, the terms ‘advising’ and ‘advisor’ are more commonly used to describe the process
of guiding a research student/doctoral candidate through to completion. We use the European and
Australian terms ‘supervision’ here.
Currently, Dowling is coordinating Macquarie University’s Supervision Enhancement Program which is
designed to enhance supervision practices across the university (see
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Davies, R. & Rolfe, G. (2009) PhD by publication: A prospective as well as retrospective award? Some
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Dowling, R. (2008) Geographies of identity: Labouring in the neoliberal university, Progress in Human
Geography, 32(6), pp. 812–820.
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Higher Education, 33(3), pp. 283294.
Kearns,H.&Gardiner,M.(2008)The Balanced Researcher: Strategies for Busy Researchers
(Swindon: Research Councils UK).
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Lee, A., Dennis, C. & Campbell, P. (2007) Nature’s guide for mentors, Nature, 447, pp. 791 797.
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... The increasing popularity of the PBP pathway cuts across different academic fields. For instance, Dowling et al. (2012) indicate that over 30% of all PhDs submitted at the human geography department at Macquarie University in Australia take the PBP pathway. ...
... Despite the shortfalls of the PBP pathway, Dowling et al. (2012) argue that the PBP pathway has evolved to address many of its associated criticisms. For example, Niven and Grant (2012) have argued that the problem of thesis incoherence is addressed in the introductory and concluding chapters of the PBP, where doctoral students work backward and forward to develop a logic of connectivity at both the theoretical and methodological levels. ...
... For the field of geography, Dowling et al. (2012) argued that there is a relative lack of attention paid within human geography to the processes and characteristics of doctoral education, and even less theorization of research supervision. This argument adds to the justification of our study to characterize our experiences in the field of geography. ...
Several scholars have, over the years, written about their experiences of the pathway of PhD by publication (PBP). However, little is known about why African doctoral students pursue PBP and their experiences . In this article, we adopt collaborative autoethnography to document our experiences and motivation for choosing the PBP pathway. Based on our experiences, the choice of PBP is primarily influenced by the candidate's previous research experience and the requirements/practices of the university. The common motivation among African doctoral students is the quest to acquire the requisite research skills and training in journal article publishing and the determination to catch-up in the knowledge economy through the production of high-quality scientific publication. Everyday experiences of PBP are shaped by university expectations, scholarly writing skills, institutional, supervisory and external support systems, research training and resilience. This study concludes by highlighting the positive implications of PBP for educational and socio-economic development in Africa and the world, more generally. It is recommended that journals develop scholar development programs to enable their editors to provide individualized support to PhD students, especially those pursuing PBP.
... In communities of practice models, "the supervisor plays a key role in encouraging supportive stages of brainstorming, sharing, modelling and the cohort processes overall, empowering students to develop mutual, critically focused support for each other's work through the enhanced use of the cohort" (Wisker et al. 2007, 301). For Dowling et al. (2012), "[c]rossing… thresholds and forming scholarly identities are also wrapped up with doctoral candidates" introductions into a wider academic community. Programs have included skillsbased elements such as research development workshops, symposia and online discussions (Wisker et al. 2007), as well as more socialisation-based elements such as residential workshops and learning community development activities (Choy et al. 2015). ...
... This work can be tedious for supervisors, particularly when advances are not observable in the students' writing development. The growing trend of PhD by publication provides a useful structure through which to identify threshold moments (Dowling et al. 2012). Practising academic writing skills such as publishing collaboratively is also an important step towards socialisation into the academic and disciplinary culture, since it is a common practice beyond the doctorate. ...
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Higher degree research students and their contributions to society and the economy are well known. However, the recognition of the increasing numbers of such students and the decreasing availability of supervisors implies that traditional individual modes of research supervision are no longer sufficient, while models of cohort supervision have led to successful outcomes. This paper uses the notion of threshold crossing to reflect upon a case study of higher degree research (HDR) supervision in an action research program, where students are immersed in industry projects to investigate company issues, innovate and transform the organisation. The action research model balances structure and flexibility, with set tasks and embedded reflexivity; the responsiveness of the model ensures timely project completion and the development of critical thinking skills. Balancing the proximity and distance between the supervisors, student, cohort and industry partner ensures that students are socialised into both academic and industry settings, developing self-efficacy to succeed in both worlds. Analysis of interviews with students and firm partners reveals that the cohort model valorises the higher research degree, developing research students. Three trends in HDR supervision are reconciled in the pedagogical approach outlined: bridging industry and academia, enculturation and emancipation and communities of learning and practice.
... In cases when such instruction is provided, the pedagogical approach is typically premised on technical skills development and 'problems of writing are most often construed either in terms of individualized deficit and trauma (the problem) or of clinical-technical intervention (the solution)' (Aitchison & Lee, 2006, p. 266). Instead, from the social constructivist perspective (Gergen, 1995) on writing pedagogies, writing is understood as intrinsic to the development of scholarly identities (Dowling et al., 2012;Guerin et al., 2013;Kamler and Thompson 2004;Lassig et al., 2013;Lee & Boud, 2003;Parker, 2009;Ward and West, 2008). This identity formation occurs via the 'intertextual connections' that are forged through the writing of scholarly articles (Thompson, 2009; see also McAlpine, 2012). ...
... One powerful pedagogical strategy to prevent the hardening of disciplinary silos while also providing technical writing skills is the writing workshop. Research in writing pedagogies suggests that a workshop format furthers students' understanding of the centrality of writing for knowledge production (Adamek, 2015;Dowling et al., 2012;Aitchison & Lee, 2006) and fosters students' critical appreciation of writing as a principal means to enter 'explicitly into a network of peer relations as becoming-researchers' (Lee & Kamler, 2008, p. 516; see also Guerin et al., 2013;Lassig et al., 2013). By separating the intimidating process of publishing into smaller, sequential tasks and taking a collaborative approach to writing and revision, the workshop format also reduces anxieties about the peer review process (e.g. ...
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This article discusses a course at The University of Texas at Austinwhich sought to facilitate doctoral students’ development of scholarly articles while simultaneously fostering their sense of scholarly identity. The article was co-authored by the instructor and two cohorts of doctoral students based on immediate as well as retrospective learning outcome assessments. The social constructivist approach to writing pedagogy fostered students’ scholarly identities and demystified the publication process. However, efforts should be made to maintain the practice of writing, sharing, and reviewing and the course should more explicitly foster critical reflections on the relationship between writing, scholarly identity, and knowledge production.
... Many institutions, including the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), have adopted the doctorate-by-publication model, but the full interpretation and impact of this approach is yet to be fully endorsed. The model is not universally accepted, with supervisors being sceptical and examiners questioning its validity (Dowling et al., 2012). While 'new-route PhD', 'professional doctorate' and 'practice-based doctorates' add to the traditional PhD and PhD by publication (Robins and Kanowski, 2008), several institutional and pedagogical reasons favour the publication route. ...
... Writing is central to academic identity formation, and therefore a PhD by publication facilitates crossing the threshold and plays an important formative role in developing the student towards becoming a member of the academic community (Mason, 2018). It is the reception and not just the production and publication of one's scholarship that shapes this identity, which is an ongoing process or journey facilitated by the publication model (Dowling et al., 2012). ...
... Those completing a PhD while employed in academia may be particularly likely to publish or attempt to publish during doctoral candidature, producing a Thesis by Publication (TBP) Mason et al., 2020), perhaps motivated by the growing value attributed to academic publication in institutional values and rankings, and individuals' post-doctoral employment prospects (Guerin 2016;Merga et al., 2019;O'Keefe, 2020). Publishing during doctoral candidature has been linked to numerous other benefits such as facilitating broad dissemination of findings (Kamler, 2008;Robins and Kanowski, 2008), as well as obtaining useful critical feedback from reviewers and building research and writing skills (Dowling et al., 2012;Guerin, 2016;Merga et al., 2019), and all of these benefits also hold ongoing currency for ECRs. ...
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There is a growing expectation that doctoral candidates and early career academics publish research outputs such as journal articles and conference papers, and that they share their findings with key stakeholders beyond academia. However, it is not known if these expectations are being coupled with support from mentors and peers within institutions. Through interviews with recent PhD graduates working as early career researchers in Australia and Japan, this paper investigates if mentor and peer support for producing both academic and translational outputs was forthcoming during their doctoral candidature and beyond. It also investigates kinds of supports provided in doctoral candidature and early career. Thirty early career researchers in Australia and Japan took part in this qualitative study involving in-depth semi-structured interviews with a purposive sample of re- spondents. Researchers made translation support available for Japanese respondents so that those with limited English could take part. Findings suggest that mentor and peer support were not universal, and some respondents did not have a mentor or significant peer influence supporting their production of academic or translational research outputs. Support for sharing research with audiences beyond academia could be limited, with production of outputs for academic audiences consistently a greater focus of support. There were no mentoring supports for translational outputs that had salience across Australia and Japan within the sample. While limited attention has been given to the role that peer influence may play in supporting research output production of early career researchers the more even power relationship between peers as opposed to the peer-/mentor dyad can allow unique supports to flourish. Where institutions expect growing and diverse research output production by doctoral candidates and early career researchers, they should also ensure that support is provided through facilitating mentoring and peer relationships.
... This dissertation type is widely used and discussed in many STEM 1 fields, including the 'hard' sciences (Gustavii, 2012), biological and health sciences (Jowsey et al., 2020), engineering (Moodie & Hapgood, 2012), geography (Dowling et al., 2012), nursing sciences (Baggs, 2011), and instructional technology (Thomas et al., 2016). Empirically, Dong (1998) analyzed 169 science-based master's theses and doctoral dissertations in two US universities and found that 40% used a manuscript-style format. ...
The doctorate and doctoral writing remain popular areas of inquiry and discussion, and yet very little research has empirically investigated the trends in dissertation types and how these trends might indicate broader changes in dissertation writing practices. This article builds on our recent work that investigated the macrostructures and research designs of 1,373 education-based PhD dissertations from five major Canadian research universities. In this current article, we more deeply explore the emergence in popularity of two ‘alternative’ or non-traditional dissertation macrostructures in education fields: the manuscript-style dissertation and the topic-based PhD dissertation. We highlight the popularity of these two dissertation types as evidence of shifting notions of what doctoral research and dissertations can (and do) look like in contemporary PhD programs. We focus specifically on these two dissertation macrostructures that were prevalent in our analysis, yet which are scarcely addressed in education-based dissertation resources. We provide a deeper reflection on the popularity of these dissertation models from our large-scale study, the ways these types of dissertations are organized at the global (macrostructural) level, and the chosen research designs, number of chapters, word counts, and authorship status (as either single-authored, partially co-authored, or mostly co-authored texts).
... Doctoral education is not important only in terms of knowledge production in general, but in terms of reproduction of disciplines as well (Dowling et al., 2012). It is not enough for doctoral researchers to learn to navigate in academia as a whole, but within their own discipline as well (Gardner, 2010). ...
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This dissertation explores doctoral education as a form of social action. The qualitative mode of inquiry guiding both the theoretical and methodological choices of this work is nexus analysis. In the context of this work, doctoral education is a nexus where different social actors (such as doctoral researchers, supervisors, and funding agencies), places (such as seminar rooms, universities, conference venues), and discourses (such as the one of internationalisation) come together. For this reason, they should also be examined together, rather than as individual facets. To conduct the analysis, I generated data by doing insider ethnography in two distinct settings over the course of eighteen months: CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Switzerland/France) and CALS (the Centre for Applied Language Studies, University of Jyväskylä, Finland). The data consists of recorded and transcribed interviews, fieldwork notes and photographs, survey data, documents, and reports. In both settings, I followed three practical stages of nexus analysis: engaging, navigating, and finally changing the nexus of practice. Based on the comprehensive analysis process, I argue that nexus analysis offers a promising holistic, inductive mode of inquiry to study doctoral education from a perspective that is currently underrepresented in research on doctoral education. It enables the researcher to become an activist with powerful analytical tools, which can be used to facilitate change in the studied nexus of practice. Nexus analysis also allows individual doctoral researchers to approach doctoral education in a bottom-up manner, rather than a top-down one, challenging the existing power relationships, gatekeeping, and decision-making practices. Therefore, I suggest that the social actors involved in doctoral education ought to critically assess whether the decisions regarding doctoral education and specific doctoral practices are made by those who have experience and/or research-based knowledge on doctoral education, instead of those who have neither. In this way, challenges of contemporary doctoral education could be addressed more effectively. Keywords: doctoral education, nexus analysis, social action
While still considered non-traditional, the popularity of the three-article dissertation is increasing. This variation on the conventional dissertation format consists of three publication-ready articles that cohesively address an overarching research problem. As much as the traditional format, it showcases students' research and writing skills while providing an opportunity to engage in multiple research projects. This chapter describes the differences between a conventional dissertation and a three-article dissertation format, delving into the different phases of the latter. Based on their experiences with the format, the authors offer insight for faculty mentors and doctoral students interested in pursuing a three-article dissertation, including its associated challenges and advantages.
Our introduction to the Exchanges section unpacks the two terms, writing economies and economies of writing, as well as previewing the subsequent nine papers included within the section. We contend first, that the economy cannot exist until it is first written about – ‘writing economies’. Here a variety of dates have been suggested as to its first written representation, from roughly 2500 hundred years ago to a mere hundred years. Second, we argue that the pressures on academics to write – ‘economies of writing’ – have never been more acute than now and bound up with the neoliberalization of the university.
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Aim/Purpose: The traditional doctoral dissertation is the first major research project that is led by doctoral students, but it does not necessarily prepare them to publish shorter articles in journals. The manuscript dissertation provides a way for doctoral students to establish themselves as researchers while gaining the experience of developing peer-reviewed manuscripts before graduation, thus enhancing career opportunities as tenure-track faculty. Background: This paper demonstrates how the manuscript dissertation can be employed to increase doctoral student publications before graduation. Methodology: This article uses autoethnography to describe the process and results of writing a manuscript dissertation. Contribution: This paper contrasts dissertation styles, explaining the benefits and challenges of the manuscript dissertation option in particular. Findings: I found that it was important to have an influential and established dissertation chair, develop credibility by displaying competence and clear goals, being curious about what you don’t know may be an asset and to be humble and comfortable with sharing what you don’t know. I also discuss the personal benefits I gained from developing a manuscript dissertation including producing refereed articles earlier, committee members serve as peer-reviewers of your chapters and gaining the opportunity to learn and master multiple methodological approaches. I also shared the challenges I encountered during my dissertation process which included, committee members not being familiar with and not being willing to invest the time to support me in developing the manuscript dissertation, the timeframe for completion of my dissertation was extended, and balancing my responsibilities as a doctoral candidate. I also discussed challenges that I had not experienced but still could be an issue for others utilizing this style of dissertation including, insuring the cohesion of publications and having the copyediting support. Recommendations for Practitioners: Dissertation advisors and chairs should consider recommending the manuscript dissertation to doctoral students interested in gaining the experience of developing peer-reviewed manuscripts and becoming tenure-track faculty. Recommendation for Researchers: Doctoral students interested in becoming tenure-track faculty should consider the manuscript dissertation option as a means of producing publications before graduation, thus increasing competitive edge in the academic job market. Impact on Society: Publication before graduation will help young scholars to produce high-quality research earlier in their academic careers. Future Research: Future research should examine the prevalence of the manuscript dissertation, allowing researchers to determine where and how commonly it is used.
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How can we find ways of training PhD students in academic practices, while reflexively analysing how academic practices are performed? The paper's answer to this question is based on evaluations from a British–Nordic master class. The paper discusses how master classes can be used to train the discursive skills required for academic discussion, commenting and reporting. Methods used in the master class are: performing and creative arts pedagogical exercises, the use of written provocations to elicit short papers, discussion group exercises, and training in reporting and in panel discussion facilitated by a meta-panel discussion. The authors argue that master classes have the potential to further develop advanced-level PhD training, especially through their emphasis on reflexive engagement in the performance of key academic skills.
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This article explores the role of publication in taking forward the work of the doctorate. Low publication rates from doctoral degrees have been noted as a problem in the quality of doctoral education for preparing students to participate in research cultures. At the same time there is ambivalence and some resistance among doctoral supervisors and candidates about the place of publication in doctoral work. This article argues that issues of writing and publication need to be systematically addressed within doctoral pedagogy. In a climate of increasing pressure to publish during and after candidature, pedagogies need to take up a more explicitly outward-looking stance, developing a stronger orientation to induction and participation in the world of peer-reviewed publication. These arguments are developed through two case studies that illustrate ways of supporting doctoral researchers to effectively recontextualise their dissertation writing for wider audiences.
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A competitive higher education environment marked by increased accountability and quality assurance measures for doctoral study, including the structured training of doctoral supervisors, has highlighted the need to clearly articulate and delineate the work of supervising doctoral students. This article responds to this imperative by examining the question: in the contemporary university, what do doctoral supervisors do and how might their work be theorized? The response draws on life history interviews with doctoral supervisors in five broad disciplines/fields, working in a large metropolitan university in Australia. Based on empirical analyses, doctoral supervision is theorized as professional work that comprises five facets: the learning alliance, habits of mind, scholarly expertise, technê and contextual expertise. The article proposes that this model offers a more precise discourse, language and theory for understanding and preparing for the work of doctoral supervision in the contemporary university.
Researchers from outside the European Union represent an increasing proportion of the UK doctoral student body. However, relatively little research exists on their experience from their own perspective. This research, based on interviews with students from a range of countries and scientific and engineering disciplines, seeks to address that deficit. It looks in particular at the difficulties the researchers identified whilst undertaking doctoral study, which included isolation, a lack of integration with home students, cultural adjustment problems and ongoing language difficulties. Two important findings emerged: firstly, that research groups appear to exhibit a ‘microclimate’ which is determined by factors including the style of the supervisor and the norms of social and work‐related interaction. Groups with a more cohesive microclimate presented a more supportive environment. Secondly, evidence emerged of a widespread deficit in understanding of cultural issues. This, when combined with language difficulties, aggravated the problems experienced by the overseas students.
This paper is an investigation of group supervision of the Master of Education thesis at the University of Bergen, Norway. Four recorded group supervision sessions are analysed. The group participants are five students and three supervisors. The sessions are analysed from a qualitative, phenomenological perspective. The results show that group supervision enables the development of supervision skills, has an impact on the students' writing process and facilitates the students' enculturation into the particular discipline. The article refers briefly to contextual elements that influence the above processes and makes claims about the function group supervision can serve in higher education.
The development of research higher degree supervisors is a relatively recent phenomenon. In most cases, supervisor development continues within the traditional workshop mode and remains firmly located within what Bob Smith calls the “administrative framing” of supervision. This framing ensures that a liberal and policy‐orientated discourse retains dominance as the mode of solving problems in supervision. This article explores three creative approaches to supervisor development that take writing as their starting point for critical inquiry. Each approach enables the exploration and troubling of supervisors' identities, which contains some risks. Careful balancing of benefits and risks opens up possibilities for developing supervision pedagogy that makes central a level of complexity that the administrative framing of supervision often erases.Le développement des superviseurs de programmes postgradués axés sur la recherche est un phénomène relativement récent. Dans la plupart des cas, le développement des superviseurs s'effectue par l'entremise du mode traditionnel des ateliers de formation et demeure fermement ancré dans ce que Bob Smith nomme le « cadrage administratif » (administrative framing) de la supervision. Ce cadrage assure que le discours libéral et orienté sur les politiques demeure le modèle dominant de résolution des problèmes associés à la supervision. Cet article explore trois approches novatrices du développement des superviseurs qui font appel à la rédaction comme point de départ de la réflexion critique. Chaque approche permet l'exploration et la remise en question des identités du superviseur, ce qui peut comporter des risques. Une mise en relation équilibrée des bénéfices et des risques fournit des possibilités de développement d'une pédagogie de la supervision ayant en son centre un niveau de complexité qui est souvent effacé par le cadrage administratif de la supervision.
The scope of doctoral education scholarship continues to broaden to include such issues as the complex interactions of higher education and research policy and practice, changes in knowledge production, and the status of research students, among others. However in this article I argue for framing this scholarship and research within a comparative approach that links more rigorously and critically developments in Australia with what is happening worldwide. To establish this case I explore dominant narratives current in doctoral education scholarship in Australia to challenge some myths and assumptions about the historical record; and to problematise the nature of government and institutional policy development, the ways in which the changing research environment connects with research education, and our connections with international and increasingly global educational systems. To conclude I introduce some current approaches to rethinking higher education theory and research that have potential for framing research on doctoral education in ways that acknowledge the complexity and the significance of multi‐actor, multi‐level local, national, international and global interactions.
Writing groups facilitate the development of research students' written communication skills, which are critical for the competent preparation of theses and publications. This paper describes a Thesis Writing Group for social science doctoral students. Participants indicated that the group not only served a practical role, providing an impetus for the consideration and production of different components of their theses, but also served psychological purposes, fostering positive attitudinal changes such as enhanced motivation, increased confidence and a more positive outlook on the writing process.
While doctoral education and postgraduate supervision might be heavily researched in the context of ‘effective supervision’, this is still an acutely under‐theorised field. This article responds to the call for more explicit theorising of postgraduate supervision by exploring doctoral education as academic subjectification, and supervision as a process of ‘category boundary work’. It is argued that postgraduate supervision entails a relationship in which the boundaries around what constitutes culturally intelligible academic performativity, ‘academicity’, are negotiated, maintained, challenged and reconstructed. The concept of category boundary work is put to work in a brief analysis of the ways in which it is performed by, respectively, a supervisor and supervisee within the social sciences. The article aims to provide a perspective and an analytical tool which can be applied in context‐sensitive ways, across disciplinary, institutional, biographic and national settings, to produce significant insight into how academic cultures and subjectivities are re/produced.