Friday, May 31, 2019

Five Ways to Start Preparing for End-of-Semester Exams

by Matilda Gerrans, Insider Guides:

Orientation might seem like yesterday, but you’d better believe it: semester one exams are just around the corner. And there’s no time like the present to start studying for them. Getting onto your study now means there will be a lot less pressure later on - and much less cramming the night before. If you want to kick off studying early, here are a few ways you can get started.
The best way to prepare for an exam is to find out exactly what you’re expected to know. Ask your lecturer or tutor about the exam, and they can hopefully point you in the right direction.
Getting familiar with the type of exam you’ll be sitting, or what kind of questions are going to be in it, can help you prepare more efficiently and effectively. By knowing what you’ll likely be tested on, you can focus solely on that topic or skill-set. After all, there’s no point preparing for a question or topic that isn’t going to be in the final test!
Once you’ve got an idea of what you need to prepare for, it’s time to make a study plan. Study plans are great frameworks for shaping your study over the next few weeks, as they can help you visualise what you need to study. You’ll also be able to organise the content into manageable sections. We recommend creating a calendar that outlines the days between now and your exams, which you can fill in according to your priorities.
When creating your study plan, make sure you space your study out over the coming weeks. It’s a good idea to study a little every day, so you don’t end up having to study everything in the days before the exam. And make sure to be specific with your plan; writing down that you’re going to study history for two hours can lead to mindless reading and procrastination. Instead, focus on a specific chapter or topic. That way, you’ll know exactly what you’ll be spending your time on.
It’s worth keeping in mind that your study plan isn’t just for organising revision. Make sure to schedule regular breaks, as studying for long periods of time isn’t healthy for your mind or body. Taking some time off during the day and allowing yourself to relax will help maintain balance and make your study sessions more effective. It’s also wise to put aside a day each week for catching up on any study you’ve missed, or to spend a day completely away from the books.
Your lecture or tutorial notes are a great place to start studying, and how you review them depends on how you like to study. If you’re a visual learner, highlighting your notes, writing summaries, or turning them into flashcards might help you remember better. If you learn better by listening, you can play lectures through your headphones, or record notes on your phone to listen to later. If you’re more likely to recall information through movement and hands-on activity, or if your course lends itself to this type of learning, you could explain or demonstrate key concepts to family and friends.
Doing past tests and practice essays is the closest you’ll get to real exam conditions. Past exam papers can indicate the types of questions the exam might contain, as well as how the exam could be structured. Practice essays not only improve your writing and ability to answer a prompt, but they can also help you to better manage your time. Ask your lecturer or tutor if they can give you access to any past exam papers, or check the library. If none are available, why not try writing your own based on your notes?
When it comes to practice tests and essays, it’s important to place yourself under exam conditions. Make sure you stick to the correct time limit, take away any distractions, and avoid looking at your notes. After you’ve completed the practice test, see if your tutor can mark it for you or offer any feedback.
Ask your lecturers or tutors for help with any gaps in your knowledge, or if you’re feeling a bit unsure about your upcoming exam. They may be able to direct you to past tests, extra exercises, or other materials that can help with your revision. Your university library might also run study sessions, or offer study help online.
Reaching out to family and friends is also a good idea during exam time, as they can help you with your revision or act as a comforting presence during a particularly stressful period. Although only you can sit the exam, you don’t have to prepare alone; there will be plenty of people willing to help you if you need to reach out.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

The PhD - Story-Telling Devices: Connecting Chapters

by Claire Aitchison, Doctoral Writing SIG:

Over the summer break I pack in as much reading for pleasure as I possibly can. This objective is in no small part a mechanism for disengaging from work and for propelling my brain into other worlds. This summer I read Barbara Kingsolver’s new book ‘Unsheltered’. I really enjoyed it. But here I want to talk about coherence devices she used which I think have relevance for doctoral thesis writing.

Barbara Kingsolver’s story is set in two time periods: 1871 and 2016, with chapters that take it in turns to develop two separate stories with different characters and events. The devices she uses for connecting these different worlds and times are clever and illuminating—and essential for avoiding confusion. At the beginning the reader (or at least this  reader) was mildly unsettled; the first chapter is neat and self-contained, but then into chapter two I found myself checking to see if I’d missed anything—what was I reading now? How did this connect to what I’d just read? Were the chapters to remain two parallel tales or would they come together, and how? Such an intriguing way to draw in the leisurely reader. I had many questions, but I had to suspend my curiosity and just keep on reading. I didn’t mind, I had all the time in the world–and I was already hooked in. I knew she was a good writer and my patience would be rewarded.

But would this work for a doctoral thesis? Unlike Barbara’s novel, the thesis is written for an examiner who is time-poor and who brings a clear set of expectations regarding not only the content, but also the style and form. Their purpose is to mark this manuscript against a set of criteria, and usually within a short timeframe. Nevertheless, while an examiner may not be reading for pleasure in the way I approached the novel, neither do they want to be bored to death! A little bit of suspense, of interest and difference can win over a weary examiner—but not too much; after all a thesis isn’t a detective story or a murder mystery. But, returning to the Kingsolver’s novel …

Connective devices include both content and form

In ‘Unsheltered’ the physical setting—the house and suburb—was the same for both sets of stories. Populated with unrelated people and instances, the parallel stories shared common themes (connection to place, courage and resilience). Similarly, in thesis writing, despite the different foci of each chapter, the parts of the thesis all need to connect to the main project, argument and/ purpose. But I mostly want to talk about the literary devices used to connect the chapters.

Chapter headings

I began to realise that Kingsolver’s chapter headings were subtle and yet powerful messages about the focus of the chapter, and that they played a role in sustaining the story and bridging the eras. Chapter headings were carefully chosen to signal content and/or theme. 

Connecting headings and content

Secondly, the first sentence of each chapter spoke to the title of the chapter in some way. For example, Chapter 1 is titled ‘Falling House’ and the first sentence reads: ‘The simplest thing would be to tear it down,’ the man said. ‘The house is a shambles.’ This pattern is repeated cleverly and subtly throughout.

Connecting chapters

The really neat thing about this book is the way that Barbara Kingsolver connected each chapter to the following by ‘topping and tailing’. The final sentence in each chapter contains a word or phrase which becomes the title of the next chapter. For example, Chapter 4 ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ finishes thus: ‘Thatcher closed the door behind him and felt like Odysseus as he stepped between the two beasts, drawing up the mantle of his worries, turning homeward, striking out.’ The title of Chapter 5 is ‘Striking out’. It is a beautiful device.
I’m sure other readers would have been as delighted as I was to discover this delicate and unobtrusive—and yet highly effective–set of devices.

So, what are the lessons for doctoral writers?

Firstly, remember what you do as a writer must match the purpose. You are writing a thesis, not a novel (unless you are!) so be aware of the norms and practices common to your discipline and research approach. If you want to stretch those expectations, do so carefully and with guidance from your supervisor.

You can play within the boundaries of most expectations by harnessing subtle and clever devices such as these. I guess I’m encouraging a mindful approach to our reading, so that whenever we find ourselves lost in a well-told story, we take a moment to consider what we can take into our own writing to make it more engaging.

However, beware: what you cannot risk is being too clever and/or obscure so that the examiner isn’t delighted, just lost and annoyed!

Good luck – and feel free to share your favourite writing devices.


Barbara Kingsolver (2018). Unsheltered.  Faber: London ISBN 978–0–571–34701–8

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Let's Make it Mandatory to Teach Respectful Relationships in Every Australian School

by Amanda Keddie and Debbie Ollis, The Conversation:

The Victorian government is rolling out respectful relationships education in primary and secondary schools across the state. from

Media reports of findings from the latest National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey caused a stir in recent days, with some highlighting the importance of education programs to teach young people about gender-based violence.

The survey of young people, aged 16-24, revealed some concerning findings. Nearly one-quarter of respondents agreed that women tend to exaggerate the problem of male violence. One in seven said women often make false allegations of sexual assault. One in eight weren’t aware non-consensual sex in marriage is a criminal offence.

But the 2017 survey also showed positive shifts in young people’s understanding of family violence compared to the survey in 2013. Young people showed an increase in their understanding of the different forms of violence against women and more respondents endorsed gender equality.

Schools play a significant role in educating young people about gender-based violence and helping change the underlying attitudes that lead to it.

The Victorian government began a rollout of respectful relationships education in primary and secondary schools in 2016. This is a whole-of-school program that aims not only to develop students’ gender awareness and respect but also to transform school cultures to be more gender-inclusive.

An evaluation of the program in secondary schools found positive results. One principal told researchers:
There were male teachers in positions of authority [who] used aggression as their method to get what they wanted. That just became unacceptable.

History of gender-based violence education

Schools have long played a significant role in teaching students respect and equity. Social and moral learning is embedded in the Melbourne Declaration, a 2008 document that sets out the agreed national goals of schooling. These values are also embedded in national and state curricula.
More than 25 years ago, the federal education department was commissioned to develop a position on gender-based violence education. This led to the development of “No Fear” – a teaching resource and whole-of-school approach to addressing the attitudes and behaviours that underpin gender-based violence.

Researchers in the mid-1990s highlighted the high levels of sexual harassment in schools, including early childhood settings. Others pointed to the broader gender equity and structural inequalities that impact girls’ options after leaving school.

All of this led to a high visibility and resourcing of gender (and other) equity reforms across Australian schools. By the late 1990s, however, anti-feminist backlash and government funding cuts led to a policy vacuum in this space.

Respectful relationships education

Governments have recently renewed efforts to address gender-based violence in schools through what is now referred to as respectful relationships education.

This kind of education is included in the Australian Curriculum but not all state and territory governments have been proactive in making it mandatory. Victoria’s 2016 Royal Commission into Family Violence recommended respectful relationships education be mandatory in every school from prep to Year 12.

The program is now being rolled out in more than 1,000 government, Catholic and independent schools in Victoria.

Respectful relationships education seeks to prevent violence before it occurs. This is fostered through supporting schools to challenge and find alternatives to the rigid gender roles that support gender inequality and lead to violence against women. It encourages schools to examine gender in terms of:
  • staffing (is there gender disparity in leadership positions, teaching responsibilities and extracurricular activities?)
  • school culture (does the school have an inclusive and welcoming climate?)
  • professional learning (are teachers provided with adequate and ongoing support to teach about gender, identity, power and violence?)
  • support (are schools well-equipped to deal with disclosures of violence?)
  • teaching and learning (how do curriculum and pedagogy foster students’ critical awareness of gender, power, identity and violence?)
  • community connections (how are schools working with their broader community, including families, local services and sporting clubs, to challenge rigid gender norms?).
Research conducted by the not-for-profit foundation working to prevent violence against women and children OurWatch, and Deakin and Swinburne universities, has highlighted the potential of this model to change attitudes and school structures. Students expressed thoughtful and informed views about gendered violence following their participation in the program.

One student said:
People think sexual assault is about sex, but it’s about power […] It’s about a sense of entitlement.
Another noted:
I think it’s a good idea to have this sort of program in more schools. It’ll stop the system; boys growing up thinking that they should be the more dominant person in the relationship and learning this now might stop that and make it less of a problem.
Teachers and school leaders also relayed positive accounts of the program’s impact. One teacher observed students were now more respectful of each other. Another said:
Respectful relationships education develops an understanding of the links between the language the students use with each other and how that leads to situations where women are not treated equally, undervalued or misrepresented.

There are still hurdles

Teachers, leaders and students have generally welcomed respectful relationships education. But there are still many challenges to ensuring the program is embedded in primary and secondary schools. These include:
  • addressing misinformation, resistance and backlash – for example that respectful relationships education is about “gender engineering” or that it alienates and shames boys and men
  • acknowledging the complexities of violence against women as intersecting with poverty, Indigeneity, ethnicity, culture, and disability, among other factors
  • adequate funding to support ongoing professional learning for school leaders and teachers in relation to implementing a whole-school approach
  • supporting schools to work with and educate families
  • supporting schools to better respond to disclosures and violence-related trauma.
Schools are not a panacea for transforming the ills of society. Ending violence against women will require major and far-reaching social change. The history of respectful relationships or gender-based violence education indicates schools can play a significant role in this process.

But it is clear short-term, inadequately funded approaches do little to recognise the complexity of change and the time it takes to bring an education community to a common understanding, awareness and commitment to change.

Editor’s note: this article previously referred to the not-for-profit foundation working to prevent violence against women and children, OurWatch, as a charity. This has now been corrected.The Conversation

Amanda Keddie, Professor, Education, Deakin University and Debbie Ollis, Associate Professor, Education, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Don’t Give Your Thesis Examiner a Bad First Impression

by , Patter:
My hunch is that I’m a lot like most thesis examiners. When we get sent a thesis we often don’t plunge in straight away. We have a bit of a look around first. That’s not an unusual response to a new text.
Think about book shop behaviours. Most people usually check out the title and the back cover and then have a bit of a flick through, perhaps reading some of the first chapter to get a sense of writing. ‘Look inside’ options in online bookshops encourage you to do this.
Or think what you do when you get a new book you’ve ordered on spec. Perhaps you read a few random pages or the start of several chapters. Whatever you do, your little foray into the text gives you an idea about whether the book is going to keep you interested. You also know whether it will be a good read. Then you go for the armchair and the coffee, book in hand.
The thesis examiner is probably no different. They do something equivalent to a bit of a bookshop browse. They pick up or click on the thesis and have a look around.
And what do they see first? The title. Is it dull? Too long? Too vague? Or is it – just right … first impression, right there.
Next, they are likely to look at some or all of – the thesis acknowledgements, the abstract, the table of contents and the reference list. Acknowledgements? Well yes, that’s in part curiosity, but acknowledgements do often give a pretty strong impression of the person who has written them. Thanking the dog and not the supervisor for instance is certainly a statement!
The abstract tells the examiner what the thesis is going to say and gives a glimpse of the writing style. So … stodgy writing with lots of long sentences and not much variation in style? Tentative claims or no claim at all? Nice turn of phrase and convincing argument? Depending on what there is, the examiner will start looking forward to the reading, feel a little concerned, or in rare cases, summon up the courage for a hard-to-get-through text.
The abstract, together with the table of contents, gives the examiner a pretty good idea of how the thesis is going to go. Add to this the reference list which shows what work has been cited in the text – in other words, the company the doctoral researcher has been keeping for the last few years and the scholarly conversations they’ve been engaged in – and the examiner has formed an initial view of what’s in store for them.
It’s not all bad if some of these initial bits aren’t riveting. Experienced examiners know to put their reservations on hold. For instance a table of contents that uses a lot of generic headings or seems to follow an inexplicable logic can suggest a poorly structured text. But most examiners can put that thought to one side. They know that you only really find out about structure when you get into the text proper.
So where is a poor impression actually made? Well, a bad thing is when the examiner finds typos in the acknowledgements or in the abstract. Or worse still, grammatical mistakes. Yes, careless proofreading, poor grammar and stylistic mistakes make the examiner wonder. They think to themselves –  if the writer has been careless here, then perhaps they have been careless elsewhere. They ask themselves whether there is a difficult read ahead.  They prepare to start noting corrections.
But equally tricky, if you have a scholarly-nerdy examiner like me, are when there are inconsistencies in the referencing – capitals all over the shop, erratic italics and various uses of : ;  , and pp. A sloppy reference list does make the examiner wonder about the quality of the scholarship they will encounter.  And it is an automatic correction, right at the outset.
The lesson here is simple. Don’t put your examiners off. Help your examiner browse. Steer them to focus on what matters – your research. Textual mistakes can easily distract examiner-readers from the substantive content. Present a clean text that meets the basic conventions.
Better still, use your writing to show a bit of yourself in your abstract, your headings and acknowledgements. Show the examiner what a pleasurable read they have in front of them. Make them interested in you and what you have done.
And the lesson. Don’t leave the things that create a good or bad first impression to the last minute. Spend time on the abstract. Think about your table of contents. Above all, proof read really carefully – and check that pesky reference list.
Do this, and your examiner will browse and start well disposed to the thesis, to you and to the viva.
(Yes, I’ve written about this before. Hey, after seven years and nearly eight hundred posts it’s still worth saying!)
Photo by Charlie Read on Unsplash

Monday, May 27, 2019

A History of Philosophy in 81 Video Lectures: From Ancient Greece to Modern Times

by Open Culture:

Above, you can watch 81 video lectures tracing the history of philosophy, moving from Ancient Greece to modern times.  Arthur Holmes presented this influential course at Wheaton College for decades, and now it's online for you. The lectures are all streamable above, or available through this YouTube playlist.
Philosophers covered in the course include: Plato, Aquinas, Hobbes, Descartes, Spinoza, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Sartre, and more.
A History of Philosophy has been added to our list of Free Online Philosophy courses, a subset of our meta collection,  1,300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

What is Plagiarism? And How Can I Avoid it?

by Dr Winnie Salamon, Insider Guides:

I was helping a student edit her upcoming assignment when she mentioned that her lecturer was obsessed with plagiarism.
“He talks about it all the time, in every single lecture,” she said. “It’s really boring.”
So maybe every lecture is a little excessive, but for anyone who teaches at an Australian educational institution, plagiarism is a huge and ongoing issue with no simple solution.


Plagiarism is when you take somebody else’s ideas or words and pass them off as your own. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines plagiarism as ‘literary theft’. Australian educational institutions consider plagiarism to be a serious act of ‘academic misconduct’. In other words, plagiarism is cheating.


These are some of the most common forms of plagiarism. I have used the popular Harvard (author-date) referencing style in these examples. Use the reference style recommended by your educational institution and stick to it. Never use more than one referencing style in a single assignment.


Whole essay plagiarism is when a student hands in an essay they have not written themselves. This includes essays bought from any sources that sell ready-made essays, or papers taken from the Internet, a book or a print article.


Paraphrasing is when you write what someone else has said in your own words. There is nothing wrong with this, but you must include a reference to show that you are referring to someone else’s ideas.  
For example:
Commodities are things produced as articles of commerce. Not all objects are commodities, as the category of commodity lexically marks the difference between an object and an object as merchandise. A consumer society is one in which the commodity orients social activity (Lofton, 2011, p. 23).
Reference list:
Lofton, K 2011, Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon, University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles.
We cannot say that all objects are commodities, as there is a difference between an object and an object as something to be sold. The definition of a consumer society is one where the commodity directs our social activity. Oprah, for example, is a commodity who influences the behaviours of her audience.
The ‘plagiarised source’ is considered plagiarism because, even though it is written slightly differently, it draws directly from Lofton’s work without referring to her.
We cannot say that all objects are commodities, as there is a difference between an object and an object as something to be sold. The definition of a consumer society is one where the commodity directs our social activity (Lofton, 2011, p. 23). Oprah, for example, is a commodity who influences the behaviours of her audience.


Oprah is a product, but Oprah’s product is not individual objects. Her patents are not mechanical innovations or engineering improvements. She does not design fabric or copyright personal recipes. Rather, her taste is her product (Lofton, 2011, p. 24).
Not all commodities come in the form of a physical object. Oprah is a product, but Oprah’s product is not individual objects. Rather, her taste is her product.
There are no quotation marks to indicate that this phrase is a direct quote.
Not all commodities come in the form of a physical object. ‘Oprah is a product, but Oprah’s product is not individual objects … Rather, her taste is her product.’ (Lofton, 2011, p. 24)


Information that is considered ‘common knowledge’ to your audience is not plagiarism.
For example, facts like Abraham Lincoln was the sixteenth president of the United States or that the moon is around 384,400 kilometres away from Earth are considered common knowledge because most people are aware of this information.
If you’re writing for a specific audience that is very familiar with your topic, you don’t need to provide references for common knowledge.
It gets a bit trickier when you’re writing something for an audience that might not know about your topic, such as a biology paper for people who know nothing about biology. If this is the case, always credit common knowledge to the right source.


Working on an assignment is an opportunity for you to learn and grow. It is a chance to increase your understanding of a particular issue or topic, as much as it is about the grade you receive in the end. By plagiarising, you are not only cheating your lecturer or tutor, but you are also undermining your own learning. When you substitute someone else’s words as your own, you are missing out on the chance to improve your own writing skills.


As you can see from the examples above, most cases of plagiarism can be avoided by correctly referencing all your sources. By clearly signalling where you have used someone else’s words or ideas, you are letting your reader know that you are drawing on your external research to help formulate your own ideas.
There is nothing wrong with being inspired by the work of others. The best way to learn is to look at what others have done before us, being inspired by successes and learning from past mistakes.


Never stop thinking. You should understand your material well enough to explain its meaning in your own words. When you do quote a source directly or paraphrase what someone else has written, ensure you that you reference where the information came from every single time you refer to it.


Another reason students plagiarise is that they lack confidence in their own abilities. If you are struggling with your assignment, ask for help. Your tutor, or your academic services at your institution can help you edit and plan your work so that you can build confidence in your own abilities.
Remember, you are a student. Nobody expects you to write in the same way as a seasoned professional with 30 years of experience. Develop your own voice and be proud of it.


When people are under pressure, they sometimes take short-cuts by cheating. It is hard, if not impossible, to produce strong, thoughtful and well-edited work at the last minute. Giving yourself time to take clear notes and to organise and understand your material will not only improve the quality of your work, but it will also help reduce your stress levels.


Different institutions have their own policies regarding plagiarism, but they all consider plagiarism to be cheating.
You will not pass your assignment – and possibly the entire subject – if it is confirmed that you have plagiarised. You may also be required to attend a meeting with your Head of School to discuss the matter and you will be issued with a warning that may or may not go on your permanent record.
At the very worst, you can be expelled from your educational institution and not receive your degree.


Your lecturer or tutor would much prefer to read an imperfect assignment by a student who has challenged themselves and worked hard to establish their own voice than a more fluent essay that is filled with someone else’s words.
It may be boring and obvious, but the more work you put in, the more you will get out of your studies in the long run. If you focus on the learning process rather than your final grades, you might be surprised by just how successful you become.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Top Terrors for PhD Supervisors: Things That Make Us Wake in Fright

It’s scary being a PhD supervisor.
Whatever the reason, there would be few supervisors who have not experienced anxiety and self-doubt at some point.
This post is about some of the ‘night terrors’ that can afflict doctoral supervisors. What scares you the most? Please feel welcome to add to this list - and share remedies!
Am I asking too much of this student?
During doctoral candidature there are inevitable ups and downs. Emotional turbulence for both student and supervisor can have their origins in the challenges of the research itself; the stresses around writing and giving and receiving feedback; or perhaps have nothing to do with the research and instead arise from financial, family or work concerns. Life gets in the way, damn it! It isn’t easy to know when to ease off and make allowances, or when to maintain the right level of pressure so that the PhD stays on the boil. How does one balance the personal vulnerabilities and demands on individual students against the institution’s completion-focused priorities? Furthermore, sometimes the needs of supervisors come into the equation - we too have lives, challenges, workloads and vulnerabilities!
Instead of waking with the hot sweats, alternate responses may include a reconsideration of the dimension of the project: Can the original scope/plan be revised and/scaled back? Does this research/topic need to be as complex as first imagined? Does it need to be so highly theorised? Can the data collection be simplified in some way to make it more contained, but still rigorous and robust? Is it possible to seek support with the writing - from institutional writing advisors or an affordable editorial helper?
Significant omissions
Horrors! What have we forgotten? For example, is the thesis missing an account of a significant piece of research or relevant theorist? Is the method accurately executed? You don’t know what you don’t know - and that can be doubly scary. Opportunities for not knowing multiply when we are working in interdisciplinary and mixed method research. Omissions can also occur when supervisory oversight is divided between panel members and it isn’t clear who has the knowledge or responsibility to ensure that all the bits are there.
Will our relationship be able to survive the criticism I feel I must give?
There is no doubt that the job of the supervisor is to push a candidate to achieve their potential. There would be few doctoral projects that have not surfaced (and survived) challenges. For example, student work may be slow coming in, the writing may be under par, sections may need serious revision to bring a more critical perspective to the discussion. Whatever the reason, delays can risk non-completion, and supervisors have a duty of care to point this out. The supervisor must decide when, and how, to act - hard judgements to make, and difficult conversations to have. With the growing awareness of mental health in doctoral study, it is appropriate that we should not take these responsibilities lightly.
But is the student - and our relationship - robust enough to handle criticism? Will rapport return? Will this criticism tip them over? What should a supervisor do if, or when, one’s student cries in distress or disbelief, shouts in anger or frustration, or simply refuses critique?
A confidential chat with more senior colleagues and/or other members of the supervisory panel can be a first and relatively simple step. In addition, institutions sometimes offer professional training, even if it is not specifically directed at PhD supervision. In my experience there’s usually something useful to be gained from ‘Leadership training’, or workshops on ‘Mentoring’, ‘Handling difficult conversations’ or ‘Negotiating skills’.
Will this ever end!? Or, when is enough, enough?
This concern is born of a desire for perfection - or could it be a fear of letting go? Whether the striving for perfection comes from the student or the supervisor, an over-emphasis on perfection can create endless delays and frustrations. That feeling of being stuck on an eternal treadmill of revisions, tweaks and corrections is debilitating. Good enough can be good enough.
My student is struggling - should I seek help now, or wait a bit longer? 
In regard to challenges with writing, sometimes writing acumen will improve considerably by virtue of the normal iterative cycles of writing and feedback, but sometimes the problems are bigger than the supervisor can handle. How and when such issues are raised can alter the course of the candidature. When is it too early to identify one’s concerns and potentially undermine confidence unnecessarily? On the other hand, the costs of leaving things too late can be devastating. Learning to write as a credentialised PhD student can take years, and for some, especially where English is not the strongest language, it is best if this support is structured into the program as early as possible. Many universities have a variety of writing development options. As a first step, the supervisor needs to be aware of what’s available, consider the level of need for support, and then sensitively discuss options. It’s better to be proactive than reactive.
Is it good enough to be submitted?
Is this thesis ready? How long is a piece of string? Have we really nailed the argument? Are the results sufficiently convincing? Did I check the Introduction and Conclusion speak to each other? What’s more important here - time spent on revising the Introduction or updating the literature review? Have we secured the ‘right’ examiners? And how will my own reputation be affected if this is under par?
Hopefully this is the final hard call a supervisor will have to make. Sometimes there is a happy agreement amongst all members of the supervisory team that this work is as good as it can be, and is ready to be examined. Equally, it is likely that not everyone will hold this view. Often compromises have to be made, and sometimes factors such as visa constraints, illness and completion deadlines force us to make decisions that we can be uncomfortable with.
And, finally, there is the really scary question that occurs late at night, alone, in corridors and behind closed doors. It is the question no one wants to speak about - does this student have what it takes (intellectually, emotionally and in terms of sheer grit and determination)?
But, wait - there is an even more confronting question.
The most scary question of all - do I have what it takes (intellectually, emotionally and in terms of sheer grit and determination)? Now that’s a thought enough to give one the hot sweats! …
No wonder supervising is difficult. It is a big responsibility managing humans, relationships and projects over an extended timeframe. But need all this be so terrifying? Perhaps we should acknowledge the limits of our responsibilities, skills and capabilities, and be more aware of where and what help is available, attend training where it is available - and begin to develop a community of practice and support. Supervising in isolation is a recipe for stress. Identify critical friends and institutional experts - for one’s doctoral students and oneself.
Do we supervisors speak to each other often enough? From whom do we seek help and advice? What are our avenues for developing supervisor knowledge and skills? What are our options for support?

Friday, May 24, 2019

Challenging the Commodification of Education


The growing obsession on the part of college and university administrations with secrecy, which I address in my recent Academe article, “Ohio AAUP Chapters Contend with Secretive Searches,” is indicative of a larger issue. The continual adoption of corporate models is undermining the academic mission at our institutions. Even corporations, when they allow themselves to get involved in too many things that are peripheral to the core business, ratchet their businesses back to focus on their core business.
Here is the important thing: This refocus on the academic mission is the kind of innovation that our institutions should begin to explore. What passes for “innovation” is too often just an acceleration of running down the same rabbit hole that is destroying higher education.
One of the truly frustrating things about working for reforms in higher education is to get college and university administrators to put education first and not allow the resources of the institutions to get hijacked for other purposes. The inability to focus on the real problems is widespread and yet the solutions are right there before everyone’s eyes. They only require the courage to address them.
The pressure to treat our public colleges and universities as though they were corporations designed to produce profits does a great deal to undermine the academic mission and take attention away from the institutions’ reason for existing. Top academic administrators are thoroughly sucked into this vortex for several reasons, including that their training is designed to make them fit the corporate model.
Take one of the most popular handbooks for administrators, Business Practices in Higher Education: A Guide for Today’s Administrators by Mark A. Kretovics. The book’s introduction makes it clear where the author stands:
It is my contention that higher education is an industry and that individual institutions have operated like a business. Our core business practice just happens to be that of educating students.
I think this commodification of education is in great part what has gone wrong. It distorts what is actually a pretty simple function, teaching and research. It also tends to remove the focus from educating students to all of the other peripheral functions of the university and promotes the idea that all of these activities—construction, education, non-academic staffing, teaching, athletics, restructuring, real estate development, research, and climbing walls—are all of roughly the same value. Higher education is a public good, not a widget.
Guest blogger John T. McNay is a professor of history at the University of Cincinnati at Blue Ash and is past president of the UC AAUP chapter and current president of the Ohio AAUP conference.