In addition to writing about the topics on my mind, I enjoy using this space to talk about the topics on other people’s minds. Pat Thomson had a recent post on methods assignments and methods chapters that was fascinating to me. She was writing about the possibility that a certain notion of doctoral training might have deleterious consequences for how doctoral writers conceive of their intellectual task: “I’m worried that in instituting doctoral ‘training’ courses, we might have extended the under and taught postgraduate assignment genre, and everything it means, into doctoral research.” The specifics of her concern are connected to the shape and conditions of the doctorate in the UK, but the question of how much disciplinary training ought to be given to doctoral students is of broader interest.
My own doctoral education was pretty much a matter of trial and error; the overwhelming message was ‘we trust you, you’ll figure it out’. We were, by many measures, neglected, although we preferred to think of it as European (sounds better). From the very outset, we were expected to come up with our own topics—and our own due dates, but that’s another story—and our own reading lists. Those who finished the program (and many did not) were generally ready to take responsibility for an autonomous research agenda. While that sounds positive, the fact remains that the time-to-degree was unmanageable and the attrition rates were unacceptable.
It is with this slightly Darwinian back story that I now teach academic writing to graduate students. My biggest initial adjustment in this position was grasping the degree of support and scaffolding that my current university provides to doctoral students. To be clear, I think the growth of a supportive infrastructure surrounding doctoral education is an excellent thing. And so I was intrigued by the suggestion that doctoral training could have the unintended consequence of diminishing the extent to which doctoral students are able to inhabit their new role as researchers. I realize that this is somewhat dicey territory. I have absolutely no desire to be the person blathering on about my uphill walk both ways! Nor do I think that suffering should be replicated out of habit or misplaced ideas about its value. But I also know some of the frustration I see in some doctoral students comes from a certain stasis in the role of student. The shift away from student toward researcher can be facilitated but cannot, by definition, be taught. Autonomy will come from experience, not instruction. As I have discussed before in this space, I believe that doctoral writers need to avail themselves of a range of resources in order to gain the confidence and competence to occupy their new role.
As always, I will end this links post with things that I have recently shared on Twitter; since my last links post was in mid-December, there’s lots of great stuff!
Recent links from @explorstyle on Twitter
My favourite non-academic blogger (from the Dinner: A Love Story blog) has great advice about starting and managing a blog.
From the Lingua Franca blog, William Germano gives you all the ‘catfish’ puns you could ask for.
From the Academic Life in Emergency Medicine blog, reflections on becoming a peer-reviewed blog.
From @fishhookopeneye, an argument for vibrant presentations regardless of disciplinary dictates. Here’s my take on the same question.
From John Tierney in the New York Times, an account of ‘positive procrastination‘: can you trick yourself into getting the important stuff done?
From @AltAcademix, suggestions on expanding career preparation during doctoral study.
People are always trying to get forestall usage that irks them. I love this project to revive neglected words instead.
From Inside Higher Ed, Barbara Fister on the way excess negativity can preclude much-needed rational responses to real challenges.
From The Monkey Cage blog, JSTOR Cracks the Door.
From McSweeney’s, some irreverent writing advice.
From the Crooked Timber blog, an excellent defense of Erik Loomis.
From the When in Academia tumblr, an accurate depiction of me and today’s blog post.
This piece in The New Yorker made me think how a thesis can alternate between being a focal point and being a distraction.
From Inside Higher Ed, a great round-up of a year’s worth of MOOC-related commentary.