05 November 2010

How and why I'll do a PhD

After an intense few days of very valuable deliberation with people in my online network, and others in my place of work, I think I've concluded on the reasons for doing, and how I will do a PhD. Thanks to everyone who contributed over these past few days, and to anyone who does so subsequently. 

If anyone has niggling doubts or vague questions in their mind about something, I can highly recommend this approach to formulating perspective and clarity.

Below is a summary copied across today.

The question again:
In this day and age, why would I do a PhD?
Where is the wisdom and philosophy in today's Doctorate of Philosophy? What defense might the status have against commodified certification, credential inflation, and otherwise collaborative and crowd sourced knowledge? How might an autodidact approach a PhD with integrity? Would they?
These are open questions looking for the heart and meaning of a PhD in today's context. Leigh will explain his approach to developing in-depth knowledge, and invite challenges, suggestions and responses to it...
I solicited responses on this blog post, and lead a Creative Research Discussion Group at the University of Canberra. These are my notes from those two events, and a description on how I will approach the workload of a Doctor of Philosophy, an approach generally referred to as OpenPhD.
For me, submitting to a PhD is not as straight forward as it may be for others. Aside from the extra workload, pressure and uncomfortable status that everyone in the process must face, I have published a lot of criticism generally at the mechanisms of Higher Education, not excluding the PhD. Critiquing such processes, the institutions that sustain them, and espousing alternative ways, such as online networks, where I believe stronger knowledge creation and dissemination takes place, leaves me with an ethical dilemma. The traditional PhD, a project that is so narrow in scope, so closed and inaccessible to most, and typically limited in dialog between time poor supervisors, within a discipline area, within a faculty, within a university - nothing could be more opposed to the way I and many others work to explore, create and disseminate knowledge! It would be hypocritical of me to submit to such a process without at least attempting to explain why and how I might do it with integrity, possibly exploding the myths, inequalities and injustices I see in it, and no doubt many of my own prejudices along the way..
2 people are in the foremost of my mind when I face this dilemma, and each represent arms of my online social network, which I carry a strong sense of commitment to, and responsibility for. Minhaaj Rheman, someone I have never met, but who I have had the pleasure of many a sustained - often exhausting exchange of ideas, many times leading to a clearer perspective in me, toward international issues (Such as this, in 2009), and Jim Groom, a wild man online and in person, carrying an honest and creative integrity that many see as the ideal for the new-age academic in a socially networked world (3rings 2010). Both these people, from opposite ends of a spectrum, carry in them a deep questioning of the academic establishment, and influence my concerns more than they probably know. It is Minhaaj and Jim, and the wider social network they represent, that give me this dilemma, and the motivation and assistance to see through it.

How I'll do it

After quite a bit of discussion (see below), I have resolved to approach a PhD in this way:
I will (and have already) publicly declared my commitment to understanding and attempting to apply the apparent rigor, depth and discipline required for recognition as a Doctor of Philosophy, but will do so informally. That is, without enrolling or submitting to an institution, faculty, discipline area or assigned supervisors. Instead, I will direct myself, using online social networks, professional contacts, all workshop and seminar opportunities that present themselves, and family and fiends to test my ideas, check the quality of my work, and help build its worthiness in line with the criteria I aim to discover. Through open documentation of our dialog, this network will play the role, and reflect an equivalence of traditional PhD supervisors. When I feel confident that I understand and have met the requirements of the PhD, I will submit a summative body of work to an assessing organisation, if there is one willing to play this role, and await their verdict.

Why do this?

I recognise the value of focused, sustained research and investigation, resulting in a well communicated, extensive summary of that, as a valuable process for me as an individual, and for a wider knowledge society. I reject however, this process as an institution, as pre defined course work, as an initiation to a class of knowledge worker, or mark of status or credibility. Especially if it is a title required for employment, and a process that has yet to have considered, or make allowances for, the more informal and self directed approaches I'm proposing. I expect the combination of the established criteria of a PhD, with my own unruly approach to it, will teach all involved a thing or two, even if it results in the credential not being awarded, and me accepting this failure. Finally, but by no means the least, if I am to remain an employed academic, it is expected that I have a PhD. This is not an insignificant reason, as I see no other place at this point in time, regardless of how minimalistic my family may attempt to live, where I can continue to investigate networked learning, and devise new models and critiques for its formal and common existence, than through employment as an academic in the university system.


dave cormier said...

mmm... one wonders if it would help if you had, say, one or two people in your cohort? Maybe a Canadian. You know, talks alot about rhizomes and openness and communities.

Peter Rawsthorne said...

I will hedge that some of your research during this journey will include a deep dive into assessment and accreditation. And it is at this point combined with your seeking an assessing organization that you will fundamentally ask, who is going to assess what, for what reason, against whose criteria, and who are these people? And does this assessing organization carry the weight and recognition for MY OpenPhD to be considered a traditional PhD. And I'll also hedge your answer to that question will be my social network should be my assessing organization... and this is where the real work will then begin, how do we reconcile this? how do we close this gap? how do we fold this into Open Education. All the best Leigh! I will be following you, I admire your courage and the amount of work this endeavour will include. Let me know if / how I could assist ( maybe even assess ;) your OpenPhD. Be Well...

Sarah Stewart said...

The other thing I was thinking is...why not do an EdD instead, or would that be even more constraining?

Leigh Blackall said...

Dave, I sure hope you join me in this! Especially if our questions and process intersect.

Peter, you know I will attack these questions. Nothing would please me more, to work out how to gain deeper commitment from people in my network, where it would be feasable to work so hard on each other. As it is now, the best we can really hope for is a comment here and there. I wish my government would give me the money, instead of the institution who takes me on...

Sarah, will look into EdP. Not heard of it before..

Sarah Stewart said...

Educational Doctorate...does Canberra Uni run one?

Alexander Hayes said...




Dont ask questions.....just get on with it.

A PhD. ........open or closed or a mixture of in between is what you afford it not what it affords you.

David said...

You forgot to mention "payment of monies".

I say that sincerely. As it stands, a PhD is not just about expertise, knowledge and having a complete understanding of one's discipline. It is also about making knowledge a commodity and the payment to those in authority for the continuation of this subservience.

I don't think you'll get anyone to accredit/assess your body of work without due payment. Doesn't that kill the notion of "open"? Why even feel the need for this or for that matter, the label, "Doctorate" / "PhD" etc? Or might I suggest, Omnia Vanitas?

but good for you if you keep questioning, bad if you don't....


Leigh Blackall said...

G'day David. An enrolled PhD student attracts a government fund. I'm not sure how much it is, but it would be similar to the undergraduate subsidy I think, known as a Commonwealth Contribution based on Equivalent Full Time Student Load (EFTLS). Institutions are free to ask for more than this contribution, from the student (up to a cap), this is known as the Student Contribution. That's how it works for undergrad.. I'm pretty sure its the same for post grad. So, I need to find an organisation willing to assess the submission using only the Commonwealth Contribution.. I think that's a reasonable request. Otherwise, give me a letter saying its a pass in principle, and I can show that to the employer who requires it of me, and ask they sponsor me the Student Contribution.

Leigh Blackall said...

Alex, Brent also suggested following the Beuys path.. I think I will to some degree. Will look at the others too. Thanks.

benrattray said...

you'd be a much happier person if you just stopped worrying about crap that you don't need to.

why should i care if you do a PhD? I don't, it doesnt change anything about what I think about you. Most don't have PhD written in bold on their blog, most "closed" scientific research publications don't advertise whether the authors have a PhD. People build reputations based on bodies of work, and readers make judgements about what they read in front of them at the time. Don't they?

So I just don't get why you are doing a PhD. It's like getting married if you are an athiest. PhDs are what they are, channel 7 television is what it is. If you don't like it, just don't do it/watch it and move on.

Leigh Blackall said...

Totally agree Ben!

So here are my shabby reasons, in order of priority:

The Dean wants me to have a PhD
Jobs like mine now require a PhD
Almost all paid academic work requires a PhD
Personal challenge, discipline and focus...

So, with these reasons in mind, how can I go through the process with as little compromise as possible, and to possibly show the University how they might award PhD's otherwise...