Gender, power and PhD examination in Australia

Year: 2006

Author: Monfries, Melissa, Lovat, Terence

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Previous analyses revealed that even when PhDs were given the highest evaluations, they were frequently accompanied by negative remarks. It has been argued that examiners’ beliefs about their role may obstruct them in free acceptance of the original contributions to knowledge deemed to lie at the heart of the PhD. The resulting thought is that we may have constructed unwittingly a conservative doctoral regime that is more intent on protecting and maintaining extant structures than supporting innovation. Furthermore, research in social psychology has demonstrated that people in positions of power are motivated to maintain their high power base. The combination of these philosophical and psychological tenets guided the analysis of the discourse used in the examination of PhDs in the current study. A particular focus of this study was on gender differences in examiners’ comments with respect to the working of institutional and personal power. The results reinforced previous findings that both male and female examiners function predominantly in a conservative mode and so tend towards protesting and maintaining a custodial doctoral examination regime rather than encouraging innovation. There were differences, however, in the balance of expression between male and female examiners. Textual analysis seemed to imply that men were more interested in personal power than were female examiners.