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SERI: Transformation and Preservation: Examining the Experiences of Doctoral Researchers with Professional Backgrounds Writing for Publication

31 January 2023 @ 08:00 - 17:00

Session delivered by Kristin Solli, OsloMet – Oslo Metropolitan University


A substantial literature documents doctoral education as a “journey” and a “becoming” involving a transformation of self (Barnacle, 2005; Barnacle & Mewburn; Carlino, 2012; Lee, 2010 & 2011; Wisker, 2016). Writing has been seen as a key site for such transformation. As Kamler & Thomson argue, through writing doctoral researchers “are producing themselves as a scholar” (2014, p. 17). This literature highlights the complexity of doctoral writing and writing’s role in the transformation from novice to expert. Recent global trends in doctoral education, described as “diversification” and “massification” indicate that doctoral writing is becoming even more complex, in that doctoral education now attracts students from a range of fields and educates people for careers both inside and outside academia (Andres et al, 2015; Boud & Lee, 2009; Thomson & Walker, 2010).

This presentation explores aspects of these complexities by reporting on a study interviewing  doctoral researchers entering doctoral programs after extensive professional careers. Such doctoral candidates often face challenges in terms of being an expert in their field of practice but a novice in academia and have to negotiate multiple discourse communities with different interests and expectations. In addition, a particular feature of PhD programs in Scandinavia, the context of our study, is that the thesis by publication (TBP)  has become the default thesis format in the social sciences and professional fields. Typically, a TBP consists of 3 to 4 stand-alone publications (usually journal articles) accompanied by an integrating narrative. One of the challenges for doctoral students working with the TBP approach is the rapid transit from beginning the doctorate to publishing in peer-reviewed international journals. The speed of this transit compounds the already complex identity work produced by the novice/expert binary experienced by our interviewees.

In this talk, I draw from a study that interviewed PhD candidates with  previous professional careers in health, social work, and education to explore such experiences of identity and ask what they mean for the doctoral narrative of “becoming” and for the rhetorical choices these doctoral researchers face when they write.
The interviews focused on 1) The decision to pursue a PhD; 2) Writing and publishing the first article of the thesis; and 3) Communities and groups that the participants deemed important to them in the writing process specifically, and in the PhD process more broadly. We identified three themes, articulated as tensions, that seemed particularly important for how  the participants approached writing for publication:

  • Transformation and preservation: Perceptions of continuity/discontinuity between the “rules of the game” in their professional field and in academia
    • Risk and conservation: Perceptions of the important/non-important role of research in current professional practice
    • Departures and arrivals: Perceptions of whether the interviewees viewed a PhD as a departure from or a continuation of their professional career

    This analysis suggests that the metaphor of the PhD as “journey” requires different nuances for candidates in professional fields. For these interviewees, “producing themselves as scholars” through writing was marked with ambivalence, a matter of what they wanted to remain as well as what they were becoming. This ambivalence shaped their rhetorical situations and choices. Our study, then, provides detail on how the relationship between writing and doctoral “becoming” continue to be a complex matter.


RDF sub-domain(s):

A1 – Knowledge Base; B1 – Personal Qualities; B3 – Professional and Career Development


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31 January 2023
08:00 - 17:00
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