Contemporary writing demands in doctoral education – what are the implications for researcher identities and relations?

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The aim of this paper is to present preliminary results from my PhD research project about the formation of researcher identities and relations among doctoral students and doctoral supervisors, in contemporary times where doctoral writing practices are changing. In Denmark and international there is a growing pressure to publish during the doctorate, and for broader dissemination of research results, and there is a focus on degree completion times from both government and institutions (Boud & Lee, 2009; Aitchison et al., 2010; Aitchison et al., 2012). Alongside with these developments it has become commonly, in Denmark and international, to undertake a PhD by publication, witch means that the thesis consist of 3-5 journal articles brought together with an exegesis. All in all, there is a growing expectation for doctoral students to write more, write more often and write more differently, hence an expectation for supervisors to support students in these writing tasks. Adopting the notion that writing is a social, discursive practice, changes in writing demands have implications for the formation of identities, as well as for knowledge production (Lillis, 2001; Kamler, 2014). In this research project I am investigating what these implications are. Not compared to how it was at a previous time, but how individuals and institutions respond to present writing demands. More specifically I am investigating discourses about the doctoral thesis and thesis writing, PhD students, PhD supervisors and graduate schools are using in interpreting and handling contemporary writing demands, with implications for identities and relations. My research question is:What discourses about the doctoral thesis and thesis writing are PhD students, PhD supervisors and institutions using? How are these discourses constructed and negotiated? And what are the implications of these negotiations for researchers identities and relations in doctoral education? 
TheoryThe project is framed within a discourse analytical perspective. I am examining how thesis writing is conceptualized as an activity within doctoral education. Drawing on critical discourse analysis (Fairclough 2003, 2010), Bakhtins theory of dialogism (Bakhtin, 1986) and new rhetorical genre theory (Starke-Meyerring et all, 2014) discourses can be seen as larger social and cultural “inherited and normalized patterns of social practice” (Starke-Meyerring et all, 2014, s. 13) with significant consequences for individuals and for institutions (Kamler et all, 2014). An important goal in my discourse analysis is to investigate the discursive processes, which lead to certain understandings of the thesis and thesis writing. With in my discourse analytical framework I am leaning on Norman Fairclough and his version of critical discourse analysis (Fairclough 2003, 2010). According to Fairclough discourses are related to other elements of the social, which they are both shaping and shaped by, but cannot be reduced to (Fairclough 2010). By using Fairclough it is possible for me to take into consideration both how institutional practices and concrete individuals actively contributes to the making and changing of social realities on a micro level, but also how they are influenced and limited by existing structures in society on a macro level.By adopting a critical discourse analysis approach I am taking on a critical perspective. Discourses have constituent effects on identities and relations, and this is connected with power: What is valued as legitimate outcomes of doctoral education? What counts as “real” research genres? How is “being a researcher” conceptualized? All in all: How are discourses about thesis writing, and hereby identities and relations, negotiated, and who benefits from such understandings?
Methods The study is a qualitative interview study with doctoral students and supervisors in supplement with analyses of institutional and government documents in relation to the production of the thesis. I am examining how central participants within doctoral education perceive writing demands in general, and how the thesis and the thesis writing in specific are conceptualized. Hence it is not the thesis text it self, but the talk about genre conventions and text practices that represent the data of my project. The interview data consists of twelve semi-structured interviews: six with doctoral supervisors and six with doctoral students from the humanities and the social sciences at two universities in Denmark. I am looking for patterns and contradictions in their sayings in order to make some hypotheses about what characterises contemporary doctoral education. I have not included science in my research project. Writing demands and traditions with in science are quite different from writing traditions within humanities and social science (Kamler 2014) and it is not possible for me to investigate these also, within the frame of this research project. Further more my data consists of institutional and governmental documents in relation to thesis writing. By analysing these documents I supplement my interview material with material, which actually embody discourses at work in the discursive practices that I am examining. All in all my data represents different levels in a given social practice, and since these levels are interrelated and interact with each other it brings important perspectives to my research analysing these levels.
References Aitchison, C., Catterall, C., Ross, P. & Burgin, S. (2010). ”’Tough love and tears’: learing doctoral writing in the sciences”. Higher Education Research & Development, 31 (4)Bakhtin, M. (1986). The problem of speech genres. In C. Emerson and M. Holquist (eds)Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press.Boud, D. & Lee, A. (Eds.) (2009). Changing Practices of Doctoral Education. London: Routledge.Fairclough, N. (2010). Critical Discourse Analysis. The critical study of language. Taylor and Francis.Fairclough, N. (2003). Analysing Discourse. Textual analysis for social research. London: Routeledge.Kamler, B. & Thomsen, P. (2014). Helping Doctotal Students Write. Pedagogies for Supervision. Abingdon: RouteledgeLillis, T. (2001). Student Writing. Acces, Regulation, Desire. London: Routledge.Starke-Meyerring, D. (2011). “The Paradox of Writing in Doctoral Education: Student Experiences”. In: L. McAlpine & C. Amundsen (Eds.). Doctoral Education: Research Based Strategies for Doctoral Students, Supervisors and Administrators. London: Springer.Starke-Meyerring, D., Pare, A. Sun, K. Y., & El-Bezre, N. (2014). “Probing normalized institutional discourses about writing: The case of the doctoral thesis”. Journal of Academic Language & Learning, 8 (2).
Original languageEnglish
Publication dateOct 2017
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017

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