THE Scholarly Web

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

October 11, 2012

"Everyone loves dogs, don't they? How would dogs go about doing a PhD?" asks Peter Downton, professor of design research at RMIT University in Melbourne, in The Thesis Whisperer blog.

In order to answer the question, Professor Downton's post is written from the point of view of a "handsome poodle" named Florian, who has "some quite good advice for us human types".

"When you are new to the field, it is a lot of fun to rush around with friends doing random research. You can get hold of any ball and run with it," Florian says.

"Lots can be dug up, and all sorts of things can be found in corners, retrieved, and made your own. Finding where you buried these items can be hard later, of course, and you need to establish a good system early."

Whatever system is used, the poodle warns that you will be very busy.

"With so much activity, it is easy to get really excited and need a big drink, and a good lie down," Florian says in a sentiment recognisable to anyone who has done, is currently doing or has even considered doing a PhD.

"It is rare that dogtoral candidates can really choose their own supervisor and many find the relationship somewhat constraining," Florian continues.

"Most of the time, you find that the directions you are given are not as specific as they could be and you have scope for interpretation. As your relations with your supervisor mature, you will find (if you are like me) that you understand their words better, too.

"Looking back, I recall that turning up at classes with the other beginners was a bit daunting...Some of us were pretty nervous and growled too much; some of us did not manage to negotiate all the obstacles, but in the main we emerged with a better understanding of who we were as researchers."

One of the key things for any fledgling academic to learn is who to wag one's tail at, Florian advises.

"I was told not to jump up at everyone - even when they were philosophers with beguiling French accents. My tendency to do this had to be curbed through some stern supervision. It appears that licking them is better tolerated."

Florian is now well into his dogtorate and is working fairly steadily, "although I find I get a bit distracted by going out and reading my peemail", the dog somewhat crudely adds. "Often, I do this on my way to have coffee at an outside cafe with my supervisor. I know my place on these occasions, and don't say anything, while he employs words I cannot manage in his conversations with other supervisors."

However, Florian adds: "[My supervisor] is not able to access all sorts of relevant knowledge. Thus, like all dogtoral candidates, there are ways the reach of my knowledge extends beyond that of my supervisor."

In conclusion, Florian is now "clearer about my position in my research home" but is still "unclear about how my work will end". Having said that, the poodle is "pretty content with pats on the back and all the praise I can get".

Send links to topical, insightful and quirky online comment by and about academics to chris.parr@tsleducation.com.

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