Where will your mind take you today?

Discovering patterns within the doctoral process

The claim of ‘making a difference’ only has meaning when a difference is made. This has been and continues to be one of my guiding philosophies as an international lecturer and consultant. For many years now, I have been intrigued by the array of answers to questions such as, ‘What is a doctorate?’ or ‘What is doctorateness?’ or ‘What is it that supervisors are supervising when they supervise a doctoral candidate?’ 

One set of answers to these questions appear in University regulations for doctoral study. They are couched as formal statements about entry requirements, study patterns, methods of formative assessment and the summative doctoral examination, plus supervisory arrangements and academic protocols. These are the institutional parameters within which doctoral study occurs.

Another set of parameters are the criteria used by examiners to assess the scholarly merit of a doctoral thesis. These criteria are the must-have features which typify doctorateness and which examiners expect to see, explicitly, within theses. However, outcomes from the examination of such doctoral theses are dependent on various sets of activities that influence the successful conclusion to all summative assessment processes.

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With the first cohort of candidates in the Faculty of Educational Sciences, North West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa whose theses will be examined by a face-to-face viva. February, 2013.

My consultancy and lecturing activities focus upon the three deciding factors that every doctoral candidate and supervisor who is serious about achieving success needs to understand and accommodate. For anyone involved in doctoral education, to start at the beginning may prove less fruitful than beginning with the end clearly in mind. 

Firstly, how candidates plan, undertake and write about their research in a thesis reflects their understanding of the words ‘achieving a doctorate’. This represents the extent to which candidates actually think like researchers, and, how they then demonstrate doctorateness.

Secondly, the supervisory process combines notions of academic guidance, doctoral education and mentoring within an extended interpersonal relationship with a candidate. This represents the scholarly development by supervisors of candidates towards doctorateness plus the interrelationship between a candidate and a supervisor.

Thirdly, note has to be taken of how examiners reach their decisions about the merit of a doctoral thesis and the questions they ask of doctoral candidates during the summative assessment process. This represents the process of evaluating scholarship, research and doctorateness.

The workshops, conferences and consultancy work that I deliver draw upon research that illuminates the three essential doctoral activities referred to above. A constant theme is that candidates and supervisors need to meet the examiners' criteria for judging high quality scholarship in a thesis. Thus, starting at the end of the doctoral process provides a framework of questions asked by examiners that can be used to guide, and to audit, doctoral-level research.