This paper presents our cross-national research into what we term the ‘doctoral learning penumbra’, which covers the diverse, unnoticed, and often unrecognised forms of help and support that doctoral students draw from during their PhD, and which are vital for completion. Our aim is to better understand the range of different actors, support systems, and meaningful others, which to a high degree shape and influence doctoral education, but without receiving acknowledgement, and sometimes without awareness even, of the Graduate Schools and research programmes that educate present and future researchers.
Our research questions are:
- What forms of extra-curricular and informal help and support networks do doctoral students draw from during their doctoral programmes?
- How may such networks and meaningful others be discussed to be part of a wider doctoral ecology?
Today, doctoral education is generally seen as a complex and challenging affair influenced by global drivers, national policy, and local institutional strategies (Teichler, 2004; Wright, 2016). As Andres and her team of researchers have pointed out, we know little of ‘how [such] global trends, drivers, and strategies for doctoral education play out in local national settings and how such global drivers are integrated locally in specific teaching and learning environments at specific universities’ (Andres et al, p. 11). As McAlpine and Norton found in their study, doctoral education is situated ‘within multiple nested contexts whereby the factors influencing attrition and retention are influenced by different stakeholders’ (McAlpine & Norton, 2006, p. 5). At the institutional level, the increase in size of Graduate Schools combined with global-national-local tensions in doctoral programmes risk creating a fragmented and torn curriculum in doctoral education. Studies show that doctoral students risk becoming overwhelmed by this organisational complexity and ‘institutional darkness’ (Bengtsen, 2016b; Bengtsen & Barnett, 2016), where ‘students fall off the radar (…) [or] slip out of view and become distant, maybe even strangers to the institution.’ (Bengtsen & Barnett, 2016, p. 7). This loss of academic identity and a secure departmental and curricular platforms cause some students to become ‘doctoral orphans’ (Wisker & Robsinon, 2012) and homeless in a system that paradoxically has been developed to better support and guide them.
The uncertainty and complexity of the formalised doctoral curriculum seems to be linked to an increase in the various extra-curricular activities and forms of support that doctoral students engage in. As Jazvac-Martek, Chen and McAlpine’s study (2011) show, doctoral students draw on ‘a plenitude of supportive and critical interactions occurring beyond the primary relationship with the supervisor. Students in our research were on the whole well networked and depended on these relationships for different kinds of support’ (Jazvac-Martek, Chen & McAlpine, 2011, p. 25). In a similar vein Hopwood and his team of researchers (2011) have studied the ‘hidden lives’ of doctoral students and disclosed the importance of recognizing them also as being “parents, siblings, daughters/sons, and friends; they have other interests to pursue, health and finance to maintain, and domestic lives to run” (Hopwood et al., p.218). In a recent publication Elliot and her team (Elliot et al, 2016) have studied the so-called informal ‘third spaces’ of doctoral education and conclude that “resently, insights into personal, educational, or societal benefits, conveyed through informal hidden contexts, are largely unnoticed and are therefore easily missed and wasted, unless they are accidentally found and their utility recognised.” (Elliot et al, 2016, p.8). Such third spaces are central parts of, but often institutionally and educationally ignored and unnoticed, the doctoral learning penumbra.
Andres, L., Bengtsen, S., Crossouard, B., Gallego, L., Keefer, J., & Pyhältö, K. (2015). Drivers and Interpretations of Doctoral Education Today: National Comparisons. Frontline Learning Research, 3(2), 63-80 Bengtsen, S.S.E. (2016b). An exploration of darkness within doctoral education. Creative learning approaches of doctoral students. In C. Zhou (Ed.), Handbook of research on creative problem-solving skill development in higher education (pp.260-282). Hershey, PA: IGI Global. Bengtsen, S.S.E., & Barnett, R. (2016). Confronting the dark side of higher education. Journal of Philosophy of Education. DOI:10.1111/1467-9752.12190. Brinkmann, S. & Kvale, S. (2014). Interviews. Learning the Craft of Qualitative Research Interviewing. SAGE Publishing Brummett, B. (2010). Techniques of Close Reading. London: SAGE Publications, Inc. Elliot, D.L., Baumfield, V., Reid, K., & Makara, K.A. (2016). Hidden treasures: Successful international doctoral students who found and harnessed the hidden curriculum. Oxford Review of Education, 42. DOI:10.1080/03054985.2016.1229664 Hopwood, N., Alexander, P., Harris-Huemmert, S., McAlpine, L., & Wagstaff, S. (2011). The hidden realities of life as a doctoral student. In V. Kumar & A. Lee (Eds.), Doctoral education in international context: Connecting local, regional and global perspectives (pp. 213-233). Serdang: UniversitiPutra Malaysia Press. Jazvac-Martek, M., Chen, S., & McAlpine, L. (2011). Tracking the doctoral student experience over time: Cultivating agency in diverse spaces. In L. McAlpine & C. Amundsen (Eds.), Doctoral education: Researched-based strategies for doctoral students, supervisors and administrators (p. 25). Berlin: Springer Publishing. Johnstone, B. (2000). The Individual Voice in Language. Annual Review of Anthropology. Vol. 29, 405-424 Johnstone, B. (1996). The Lingusitic Individual. Self-Expression in Language and Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press McAlpine, L., & Norton, J. (2006). Reframing our approach to doctoral programs: A learning perspective. Higher Education Research and Development 25(1), 3-17 McCracken, G. (1988). The Long Interview. Qualitative Research Methods Series. SAGE Publishing Raab, J. & Tänzler, D. (2012). Video Hermeneutics. In Knoblauch, H., Schnettler, B., Raab, J., & Soeffner, H-G. (Eds.). Video Analysis: Methodology and Methods. Qualitative Audiovisual Data Analysis in Sociology. Frank am Main: Peter Lang Saldana, J. (2016). The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers. London: SAGE Publishers Teichler, U. (2004). The Changing Debate on Internationalisation of Higher Education, Higher Education, 48 (1), 5–26. DOI:10.1023/B:HIGH.0000033771.69078.41. Wisker, G., & Robinson, G. (2012). Picking up the pieces: Supervisors and doctoral ‘orphans’. International Journal for Researcher Development 3(2), 39-153. Wright, S. (2016). Universities in a knowledge economy or ecology? Policy, contestation and abjection, Critical Policy Studies, 10:1, 59-78, DOI:10.1080/19460171.2016.1142457
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