How To Cross A Boundary In An Australian Phd







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Coursework in Australian

PhD programs: Why is this a

boundary and how is it being


Margaret Kiley



•  Background to Australian PhD

•  Recent developments in Australian

doctoral education

•  Study undertaken to identify curriculum

issues and candidate views

•  Possible future, once we cross the


Background to Australian PhD

•  Australian PhD (late 1940s)

•  Entry through Honours program based on

the Scottish model

•  Mid 1980s – 90s fundamental reform

leading to the unified system

•  Changes included introduction of


Potential Boundaries

•  Traditionally:

– Single supervisor/apprentice model

– Honours designed to provide a sound

research preparation, however, an undergraduate award

•  With new developments, candidates, their


Increases in . . .

•  Age

–  Median age across all disciplines is 33

(Chemistry 22 Education 45)

•  Enrolment

–  Part-time for domestic candidates close to 50%

•  Entry qualification

–  Increase in entry through coursework masters with

decrease in Honours


Recent developments

•  Australian Qualifications Framework

(AQF) introduced in 1995, revised 2011 •  Tertiary Education Quality and Standards


The Doctoral Degree (Research) qualification (leading to the award of a Doctor of

Philosophy) is designed so that graduates will have undertaken a program of

independent supervised study that produces significant and original research outcomes culminating in a thesis, dissertation, exegesis or equivalent for independent examination by

a least two external expert examiners of international standing


Research in the program of learning will be for a least two years and typically two-thirds

or more of the qualification. The program of

structured learning typically will include

advanced coursework. The program of

learning may also include advanced

coursework to enhance the student’s capacity

to make a significant contribution to knowledge in the discipline (or


and/or research-integrated practice

developed in collaboration with a relevant professional, statutory or regulatory body.

The advanced coursework may support but

not replace the research outcomes. The

advanced coursework and

research-integrated practice will support the research outcomes.


Project design

•  Involved six different types of Australian

universities with

– Interviews with Deans of Graduate Studies

– Extensive workshops and focus groups in two

– Survey of candidates in five institutions


Workshops and focus groups

•  “Boundaries” re different perceptions of


– Lectures, exams and all candidates treated

the same

•  “Boundaries” between types of coursework

– Enabling e.g. research processes

– Enriching e.g. advanced discipline knowledge


Key significance

•  Need to focus on individual, disciplinary

and institutional variation:

– Needs analysis

– Learning plans

•  Involvement of supervisory team in some


Online Survey

•  Most respondents in PhD (not Prof Doc)

•  Prior to enrolment:

– Over 50% of respondents had been employed

full time and of all respondents (working full-time or part-full-time) approx. 50% in Education

•  >50% respondents reported coursework

should be part of the PhD with over 40% suggesting it should be in the first year


Main areas where PhD has helped

•  Independent research skills

•  Thinking critically

•  Analysing data

•  Knowledge and skills in field

•  Designing research

•  Making sense of evidence

•  Solving problems


Areas where PhD has been of least help

•  Project management

•  Assertiveness

•  Working as a member of a team

•  Making a contribution to the profession

•  Leadership

•  Grant writing skills

•  Teaching skills


Preparation for employment

•  55% reported needing help relating

doctoral research experiences to employer needs (see Kyvik and Olsen 2012)

•  61% younger (20-30 years), and 33% of

older (31-50 years) reported needing

additional information about the job market

•  45% needed assistance with developing


Possible future, once we cross the


•  A general agreement is that it would be

useful if:

– A set of learning outcomes be developed (to a

large extent discipline specific within an overall university approach)

– For each candidate develop an individualised

learning plan early in candidature to be revised after the Proposal Seminar and annually at the Progress Review



Support for this project has been provided by the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching.



•  ACOLA. (2012). Career support for researchers: Understanding

needs and developing a best practice approach: Australian Council

of Learned Academies.

•  Cumming, J., & Kiley, M. (2009 ). Research Graduate Skills Project.

Canberra: Australian National University.

•  Edwards, D., Bexley, E., & Richardson, S. (2011). Regenerating the

academic workforce: The careers, intentions and motivations of higher degree research students in Australia, Findings of the

National Research Student Survey (NRSS). Melbourne, Australia:


•  Edwards, D., Radloff, A., & Coates, H. (2009). Supply, demand and


References (cont.)

•  Group of Eight. (2013). The changing PhD: Discussion paper.

Canberra: Group of Eight.

•  Humphrey, R., Marshall, N., & Leonardo, L. (2012). The impact of

research training and research codes of practice on submission of doctoral degrees: An exploratory case study. Higher Education

Quarterly, 66(1), 47-64.

•  Larkins, F. (2012 ). Australian Higher Education Policy Analysis:

Gender, citizenship and discipline in Australian Higher Education

Research Training. Melbourne L: L.H.Martin.

•  Pearson, M., Cumming, J., Evans, T., Macauley, P., & Ryland, K.

(2011). How shall we know them? Capturing the diversity of

differences in Australian doctoral candidates and their experiences.





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