Rationale of a PhD

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Rationale of a PhD

Postby Richard » 10 Aug 2018 10:21

There's an interesting article on PhDs at https://www.theguardian.com/higher-educ ... emic-kudos

Overlooking issues like 33% of students get depression, 50% don't finish, and the average completion time is 13 years, there are some important things here.

The main argument seems to be that the prime goal of a PhD should be to have an impact on the real world rather than publishing for other researchers to read. Do you agree with this argument? Does it apply to your own research? When judging students' proposals for topics, should we be judging them on their real-world impact rather than the likelihood of leading to a quality publication (as at present)?
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Re: Rationale of a PhD

Postby Sachiko » 13 Aug 2018 10:29

It’s an interesting coincidence that I happened to read this article and had some discussions with a friend of mine a few days ago.
“The main argument seems to be that the prime goal of a PhD should be to have an impact on the real world rather than publishing for other researchers to read. Do you agree with this argument?”
I’d like to say ‘yes and no.’ As far as I’ve come to understand up till now (through 1 year of my PhD journey), research is about making a contribution. This contribution can be as big as, for example, offering groundbreaking findings that will have a huge impact on language teaching and/or theory, and it can be as small/local as helping to improve some specific aspects of language education system at local schools. Whatever the form of the contribution, it is of worth being spread and read by other researchers who may then take on an even further investigation to challenge or support your findings. That said, being read by others, such as getting a bigger number of citations or getting published in major journals should never be the end-goal.

This is a bit personal story, but something I wanted to share:
Last February, I was talking with a friend of mine (experienced researcher) about my concerns and anxiety related to my PhD study through email exchanges.
In one of my email lines, I wrote:
My biggest fear and worry is that I won't be able to get my work published in good journals.
Then he wrote:
Why do you want to be published in journals?
I replied:
Good question. I was going to add the information.
That is one of my goals as a researcher. I've asked myself so many times, 'why do I want to?' I don't really get an answer. But I do want to get published. I don't really know why. Maybe it's one way of seeing some degree of accomplishment? It can also be a type of evaluation of my work, I believe.
Then he wrote:
Yes. Those kinds of goals are useful but not before having something to say
This message struck me. That time I realized that I had been so wrong about research and publication. It was one of the milestones in my academia life, and I owe him for that, just as I do with many of those who have supported/helped/gave advice to me. tears tears… ;)
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Re: Rationale of a PhD

Postby sgtowns » 13 Aug 2018 21:56

I agree with Sachiko above. I also have mixed feelings about this article. I agree with the article's assertion that Academia at the PhD level is a broken system, especially in western countries. And I agree that there is a link between being a PhD student and experiencing mental issues such as depression or anxiety. (We can save a discussion of what that link is and what causes it for another post.)

But in my opinion, changing all PhDs to be more "real-world" focused is not the answer. First of all, research and theory is still needed in order to apply the frameworks and findings in the real world. PhDs and academia in general are here to develop and to argue and to agree about that theory. Secondly, how does one judge when a student has "made a difference in the real world"? What is "a difference"? Saved millions of people and changed history? Or made just one person's life better?

Having said that, I strongly believe that we should do what we can to make the world a better place. So why can't we have separate doctoral tracks in academia for every field -- one for theory and one for more practical pursuits? This is already done in some fields. A medical doctor (MD) earns a doctorate, but the focus is on practical experience. A JD is a doctorate of Law, but again it is more applied than a PhD of Law. However, the goal for MD or JD is not "you can graduate because you have already made a difference in the world" as this article talks about. It is more along the lines of "you can graduate because you are ready to go out and make a difference in the world".

It seems to me that a professional doctorate in Applied Linguistics would make sense. It would prepare doctoral students to be English teachers who can apply research findings to their classroom. A separate research doctorate would be for students who want to do research in the future, or who are more interested in theory, or who want to teach/supervise doctoral students.

I am curious to hear what others think of this idea...
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