Enhancing Research Training through Stories of Resilience:Understanding the Human Dimensions of the Doctoral Journey

Year: 2018

Author: Brien, Donna Lee, Owens, Alison, Ellison, Elizabeth, Batty, Craig

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

There has been sustained interest in how to support doctoral candidates through the often-gruelling journey they undertake from enrolment to graduation. Although doctoral numbers and successful completions have been steadily increasing in Australia, and are now in fact heavily responsible for research block grant funding, the quality of candidate progression and outcomes has widely been interrogated and criticised. Our interest as highly experienced supervisors and research leaders in the creative arts and humanities, prompted a research project on how to better understand not necessarily what our candidates want, but what they actually need. The notion of the human dimension of doing a doctorate thus emerged as a core driver of this project.
In this presentation, we reflect on a project undertaken at Central Queensland University, Australia, which sought to unearth the human dimensions of undertaking a research degree, and how this might inform an approach to enhanced research training. Using a workshop-style focus group over a two-day period, 18 research candidates from three universities, all of whom were studying or had recently completed their studies in the creative arts or humanities, collaborated with four research supervisors, also from three universities, who operated as workshop facilitators and researchers. The aim of the workshop was to discover some of the key challenges experienced by candidates during their candidature, and the breakthroughs they had discovered, or were in the process of developing, to overcome those challenges.
Drawing on a previous study that explored possibilities for enhanced research training in the creative arts and nursing, this study was explicit in its focus on the human dimension, with candidates being asked to prepare and consider throughout the two days examples of the lived experience. Key findings from the project included the identification of critical aspects of the journey that can be mapped to the broad thematic descriptors of resilience, establishing and maintaining good relationships, and developing productive peer communities. The notion of transformation emerged as a key motif of the research candidate journey, particularly in recognition of the breakthroughs that had taken place; and as will be described, this transformation had both cognitive and emotional qualities. The implications for an improved approach to doctoral training are discussed in terms of holistic and integrated training strategies.