Thinking with feeling in PhD candidature

Year: 2012

Author: Scevak, Jill, Budd, Janene, Holbrook, Allyson, Cantwell, Robert, Bourke, Sid

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


The doctoral journey is an intellectual, emotional and personal journey. As with any level of educational study this experience has a profound impact on the individual student. Doctoral study is intended to produce new knowledge in various fields, such as scientific, human, cultural, moral and ethical. In order to make these contributions doctoral students need to become skilled at research which implies the ability to question existing research and conventional understanding, ability to recognise problems, anticipate or forecast problems and the ability to define ill structured or unstated problems.  If the expectations associated with doctoral study are concerned primarily with making a significant contribution to the field, the question remains as to what developmental changes in the quality of thinking are required to generate an original contribution.

The doctoral task requires a change in the development and focus of students' ways of thinking: from problem solving to problem discovering. This change in focus requires a level of thinking beyond Piaget's Formal one thinking. Kramer (1989) spoke of the need for doctoral students to engage in new ways of thinking reflective of an increasingly sophisticated epistemological awareness. The characteristics of these new ways of thinking involve, at least at the higher conceptual level, an awareness and understanding of the relativist, non-absolutist nature of knowledge, an acceptance of contradiction as part of reality, and the integration of contradiction in an all-encompassing system (Kramer. 1989)

The aim of this study was to explore individual doctoral students' conceptions of doctoral study and the implications that this may have for a successful experience as well as the implications for supervisory pedagogy. Interview data was collected from doctoral students at varying stages of candidature (early, middle, and late). The results revealed differences between students' perceptions of the doctoral task similar to the differences identified in the cluster analysis reported in Paper 1 of the symposium 'Findings from the metacognitive influences on success in doctoral candidature study'. Many students enter the world of doctoral study with naïve conceptions of the intellectual demands of doctoral study. The mismatch between their expectations of the task and the requirements has implications for how they cope with the intellectual and accompanying emotional challenges that they will face. It also has implications for supervisor pedagogy to facilitate and support the development of students' new ways of thinking and the emotional turmoil that accompanies this change.