From anti-structure to structure: Comparing the traditional and contemporary experience of PhD writing

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Research and Development in Higher Education Vol. 39: The Shape of Higher Education

July, 2016, 391 pages
Published by
Melissa Davis & Allan Goody

The distinguishing feature of the PhD is the requirement that the student make a substantial contribution to knowledge. In the past, this has involved a long period of largely self-directed work. However, in the last ten to fifteen years many universities have implemented changes to the PhD, resulting in additional structure. This paper compares the experience of the traditional PhD to the contemporary more structured PhD; it contrasts the accounts of ten Australasian students interviewed in 1997 to nine interviewed 2015-2016. Foucauldian discourse analysis is used to discuss a significant finding of the research: the way in which dominant education discourse (traditional and managerialist) has shaped the experience of each group of students. This paper highlights the opportunities and drawbacks of each kind of degree, highlighted by the students. These insights should help inform the work of policy makers, faculty leads and supervisors when deciding on the future shape of PhD education.

Keywords: PhD education, managerialism, neoliberalism