Welcome to the first post for our new mini-course, ‘Is your thesis good enough?’. This Pomodoro Break is designed to give you short, targeted information while you are having a coffee break. Each day this week we will explore topics related to the final document you submit for examination, your thesis.
If you didn’t get a chance to join our coffee meeting on Monday morning, please introduce yourselves to the group via the Comments function at the bottom of the post. Where are you up to in your studies – do you have a definite submission date yet? How do you imagine that day of submission?
One of the big challenges of the PhD is that, ultimately, it must be examined, invoking many of the fears we have regarding examinations from past educational experiences. This is quite different from submitting a research article to a journal, where we might expect some formative feedback on how to revise and improve the paper before a final decision is made to accept it for publication.
This high-stakes examination is as much about your identity as a scholar being allowed into the academy as it is about the quality of the research itself. For some, holding onto the thesis and NOT submitting is a means of holding onto the identity of PhD candidate – after all this time, if I’m no longer a PhD candidate, then who WILL I be? Maybe the job I hoped for is not out there waiting for me; maybe the brilliant career everyone expects me to live out may not be available; maybe my days will become empty without this big project to keep me connected into the University environment. (More on researcher identities in a future Pomodoro Break course.)
What is ‘doctorateness’?
One of the mysteries surrounding PhD examination relates to the expected standard. What counts as ‘doctoral level’? The Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) identifies this for us at Level 10 (scroll down to p63).
This can sound very general, though, and relating these broad skills, knowledge and application to the thesis itself can help conceptualise what you are aiming for. But having a sense of what you are aiming for is useful: this blog by Claire Aitchison is useful for moving into an evaluative mindset regarding your own work.
ACTIVITY: Components of doctorateness: The sum is greater than the parts.
Trafford & Leshem (2009) explain that reaching ‘doctorateness’ requires a synergy of all 12 of the following elements, but if you had to choose your top 3, which would they be? Use the comments function below to explain why you think these are the most important.
|1. Contribution to knowledge|
|2. Stated gap in knowledge|
|3. Explicit research questions|
|4. Conceptual framework|
|5. Explicit research design|
|6. Appropriate methodology|
|7. ‘Correct’ data collection|
|8. Clear/precise presentation|
|9. Full engagement with theory|
|10. Cogent argument throughout|
|11. Research questions answered|
|12. Conceptual conclusions|
What is really being examined?
Is it the person or the thesis that is being examined? When you read the ANU criteria provided to examiners, you’ll see reference to ‘The candidate is expected to have…’ and ‘The thesis must be….’ You’ll also notice that these criteria are rather vague and general, even though the requirements are pretty much the same at every university in Australia.
ACTIVITY: If you were examining a PhD thesis, what would you be looking for? What makes a research project worth a PhD? What do you regard as the most important elements? Imagine you had to assign points for the main criteria listed by ANU – what weighting would you give to each of these 4 criteria? Are there other criteria you would like to add to this list? Use the comments function to tell us what you think.
Tomorrow we’ll look at what makes a thesis big enough – what is a ‘substantial contribution’?
Vernon Trafford & Shosh Leshem (2009) Doctorateness as a threshold concept, Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 46:3, 305-316, DOI: 10.1080/14703290903069027.