The number of students who fling names around as if they are fashion labels (Dior, derrida, givenchy, gramsci) is becoming a problem. I also feel sorry for the students who are attempting a deep engagement with these theorists. I am working with a postgraduate at the moment who has spent three months mapping Michel foucaults Archaeology of Knowledge over media-policy theories of self-regulation. It has been frustrating and tough, creating at this stage only six pages of work from her efforts. Every week, i see the perspiration on the page and the strain in the footnotes. If a student is not prepared to undertake this scale of effort, they must edit the thesis and remove all these words.
PhD and Master Programme technische Universität
A doctorate may be described in many ways, but it has no connection with everyday watts modes of communication. Use discourse, ideology, signifier, signified, interpellation, postmodernism, structuralism, post-structuralism or deconstruction without reading the complete works of foucault, Althusser, saussure, baudrillard or Derrida. How to upset an examiner in under 60 seconds: throw basic semiotic phrases into a sentence as resume if they are punctuation. Often this problem emerges in theses where semiotics is cited as a/the method. When a student uses words such as discourse and ideology as if they were neutral nouns, it is often a signal for the start of a pantomime of naivety throughout the script. Instead of an analysis, postgraduates describe their work as deconstruction. It is not deconstruction. They describe their approach as structuralist. It is not structuralist. Simply because they study structures does not mean it is structuralist. Conversely, simply because they do not study structures does not mean it is poststructuralist.
This bibliographical flattening and reduction in quality sources unexpectedly affects candidates writing styles. I am not drawing a causal link here: major research would need to be undertaken to probe this relationship. But because the students are not reading difficult scholarship, they are unaware of the specificities of academic writing. The doctorates are pitched too low, filled with informalities, conversational language, generalisations, opinion and unreflexive leaps between their personal journeys (yes, it is like an episode of The x factor) and research protocols. I asked one of these postgraduates in their oral examination to offer a defence of their informal writing style, hoping that the student would pull out a passable justification through the Aca-fan, disintermediation, participatory culture or organic taxi intellectual arguments. Instead, the student replied: i am proud of how the thesis is written. It is important to write how we speak. A phD must be written to ensure that it can be examined within the regulations of a specific university and in keeping with international standards of doctoral education.
This is a new problem I have seen in doctorates over the past six months. Throughout the noughties, online sources were used in PhDs. However, the first cycle of PhD candidates who have studied in the web.0 environment are submitting their doctorates this year. The impact nurse on the theses I have examined recently is clear to see. Students do not differentiate between refereed and non-refereed or primary and secondary sources. The google Effect the creation of a culture of equivalence between blogs and academic articles is in full force. When questioned in an oral examination, the candidates do not display that they have the capacity to differentiate between the calibre and quality of references.
Finally, we located a clear section in one chapter that was original. He signalled it in the abstract. He highlighted it in the introduction. He stressed the importance of this insight in the chapter itself and restated it in the conclusion. Needless to say, every examiner noted the original contribution to knowledge that had been highlighted for them, based on a careful and methodical understanding of the field. He passed without corrections. Fill the bibliography with references to blogs, online journalism and textbooks.
Dr jie zheng at, ntu - home
Write an abstract without a sentence starting my original contribution to knowledge. The way to relax an examiner is to feature a sentence in the writing first paragraph of a phD abstract that begins: my original contribution to knowledge is If students cannot compress their argument and research findings into a single statement, then it can signify flabbiness. It is an awful moment for examiners when they desperately try to find an original contribution to knowledge through a shapeless methods chapter or loose literature review. If examiners cannot pinpoint the original contribution, they have no choice but to award the script an MPhil. The key is to make it easy for examiners.
In the second sentence of the abstract, ensure that an original contribution is nailed to the page. Then we can relax and look for the scaffolding and verification of this statement. I once supervised a student investigating a very small area of queer theory. It is a specialist field, well worked over by outstanding researchers. I remained concerned throughout the candidature that there was too much restatement of other academics work. The scholarship is of high quality and does not leave much space for new interpretations.
Generalisations infuriate me in first-year papers, but they are understandable. A 19-year-old student who states that all women think that Katie price is a great role model is making a ridiculous point, but when the primary reading fodder is heat magazine, the link between Jordans plastic surgery and empowered women seems causal. In a phD, generalisations send me off for a long walk to beachy head. The best doctorates are small. They are tightly constituted and justify students choice of one community of scholars over others while demonstrating that they have read enough to make the decision on academic rather than time-management grounds. Invariably there is a link between a thin bibliography and a high number of generalisations.
If a student has not read widely, then the scholars they have referenced become far more important and representative than they actually are. I make my postgraduates pay for such statements. If they offer a generalisation such as scholars of the online environment argue that democracy follows participation, i demand that they find at least 30 separate references to verify their claim. They soon stop making generalisations. Among my doctoral students, these demands have been nicknamed Kent footnotes after one of my great (post-) postgraduates, mike kent (now Dr Kent). He relished compiling these enormous footnotes, confirming the evidential base for his arguments. As he would be the first to admit, it was slightly obsessive behaviour, but it certainly confirmed the scale of his reading. In my current supervisory processes, students are punished for generalisations by being forced to assemble a kent footnote.
Ntu, immunology, phD, program
Just as cooks are judged by their ingredients and implements, we judge doctoral students by the calibre of their sources. The moment examiners see incomplete references or find that key theorists in the topic are absent, they worry. This concern intensifies when in-text citations with no match in the bibliography vegetarianism are located. If examiners find ten errors, then students are required to perform minor corrections. If there are 20 anomalies, the doctorate will need major corrections. Any referencing issues over that number and examiners question the students academic abilities. If the most basic academic protocols are not in place, the credibility of a script wavers. A bibliography is not just a bibliography: it is a canary in the doctoral mine. Use phrases such as some academics or all the literature without mitigating statements or references.
Examining PhDs is both a pleasure and a curse. It is a joy to nurture, support and help the academys next generation, but it is a dreadful moment when an examiner realises that a script is so below international standards of scholarship that there are three options: straight fail, award an MPhil or hope. When confronted by these choices, i am filled with sadness for students and supervisors, but this is matched by anger and even embarrassment. What were the supervisors resume thinking? Who or what convinced the student that this script was acceptable? Therefore, to offer insights to postgraduates who may be in the final stages of submission, cursing their supervisors who want another draft and further references, here are my ten tips for failing a phD. If you want failure, this is your road map to getting there. Submit an incomplete, poorly formatted bibliography. Doctoral students need to be told that most examiners start marking from the back of the script.
minor corrections for one typographical error in footnote 104 in the fifth chapter of an otherwise cleanly drafted 100,000 words. It was submitted ten years ago and I still remember it with regret. Another examiner enjoyed a thesis on cult but wondered why there were no references to madonna, grading it as requiring major corrections so that Madonna references could be inserted throughout the script. Examiners have entered turf wars about the disciplinary parameters separating history and cultural studies. Often they look for their favourite theorists generally pierre bourdieu or Gilles Deleuze these days and are saddened to find citations to michel foucault and Félix guattari. Then there are the lets talk about something important lets talk about me examiners. Their first task is to look for themselves in the bibliography, and they are not too interested in the research if there is no reference to their early sorties with louis Althusser in Economy and Society from the 1970s. I understand the angst, worry and stress of supervisors, but I have experienced the other side of the doctoral divide.
My postgraduates cannot understand why i am so picky. They want to submit and move pelleas on with the rest of their lives. There is a reason why supervisors are pedantic. If we are not, the postgraduates will live with the consequences of major corrections for months. The other alternative, besides being awarded the consolation prize of an MPhil, is managing the regret of three wasted years if a doctorate fails. Every correction, each typographical error, all inaccuracies, ambiguities or erroneous references that we find and remove in these crucial final weeks may swing an examiner from major to minor corrections, or from a full re-examination to a rethink of one chapter. Being a phD supervisor is stressful.
Text data mining of PhD theses - has anyone tried it?
My teaching break between Christmas and the universitys snowy reopening in January followed in the footsteps of drinking Goldilocks and the three bears. I examined three phDs: one was too big; one was too small; one was just right. Put another way, one was as close to a fail as I have ever examined; one passed but required rewriting to strengthen the argument; and the last reminded me why it is such a pleasure to be an academic. Concurrently, i have been shepherding three. PhD students through the final two months to submission. These concluding weeks are an emotional cocktail of exhaustion, frustration, fright and exhilaration. Supervisors correct errors we thought had been removed a year ago. The paragraph that seemed good enough in the first draft now seems to drag down a chapter.