Conceptualising the PhD. The Students’ Perspective
Debates continue about the PhD and its purpose in a changing academic landscape. The original purpose of the PhD was to create new knowledge and become an academic. In the 21st century though new knowledge is quickly surpassed and as a result new knowledge derived from most PhD’s will have a relatively short shelf-life (Group of Eight, 2013). Traditionally completion of a PhD opened the doors to a career in academia. Though increasing numbers of PhD students and high levels of academic workforce casualisation means many PhD graduands face low prospects to securing a permanent role in academia and for many the academic profession is losing appeal. The debate has also extended to the skills and competencies that are developed as part of the PhD and how transferable these skills and competencies are beyond academia for industry or government, and openly questioning whether doctoral education is having the impact desired, or required, by academia and industry. What is interesting in this debate is that there is little reference to, or input from, the perspective of PhD students about the impact doctoral education is having on them.
This paper addresses the impact and engagement this debate is having on the human dimension by (re)conceptualising the PhD, or doctoral education, from the critical perspective of the students. This paper reports on part of a recently completed PhD thesis, The Lived PhD Experience: Critical reflections from the Students’ perspective; a research project that iteratively collected the lived experience narratives from 23 PhD students, in various disciplines and stages of their PhD, studying at Australian Universities over a period of 12 months. The Adventure Park is presented as a conceptual framework for the research participants reported experiences of navigating the challenges they encountered and tested their self-efficacy and sense of belonging. The Adventure Park facilitates us to examine the impact of the PhD from the critical perspective of those who live the experience firsthand, and provide another lens to view institutional doctoral education practices that determine many of these experiences