I think this needs to be considered in context.
I went to a regional university for my PhD which had a world leading department in the field of study I was investigating. It is considered a truly world class research department. However, the university itself? Not so much. And therein lies the problem. Although my PhD was recognised as coming from a “big name department”, the university itself offered little in the way of skills development, teaching opportunities, or workshops.
Upon graduation, I was lucky that I found a postdoctoral position in a department where people knew of the high quality research being done in the department where I did my PhD. And I had the right technical skills – which I developed myself through trial and error during my PhD project. However, without that, I would have been in trouble. I had little in the way of teaching experience, I had undertaken no generic skills courses (they weren’t offered), and as I didn’t do my PhD at a Group of Eight university, we very rarely had workshops or seminars on offer.
We need to face the reality that unless you’re at a major/Go8 university in Australia, then the ability to develop yourself outside of your PhD project can be extremely limited.
In a recent lecture at ANU, the esteemed research education expert Dr Margaret Kiley claimed that if we set out to design the Australian PhD from scratch we wouldn’t start from here. The PhD assessment (in most cases, a long form thesis), she argued, does not not necessarily develop the full panoply of skills we expect in a working researcher, inside or outside of academia.
One of the clever students in the audience absorbed the implications of Margaret’s lecture straight away and asked:
If that’s the case, what should I spend my time on? At the moment I spend most of my time reading and writing because that’s what I’m being assessed on. Should I be doing more?
The student’s question went right to the heart of an issue that has been frustrating me…
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