A social PhD

I’m waiting for approval of my change of topic and conversion from a practice based PhD to a conceptual one. In the meantime, I am thinking about how to get some impact from the process, some findings that matter for people in work in universities.

I am sure I can write a good theoretical PhD but that’s no longer enough. I know few people read PhDs and from the beginning I have wanted to avoid excessive ‘academic research speak’ even though I know that’s part of the PhD game. I know I can write and publish papers that will be ready by more people. What I want to leave behind from my PhD experience though is impact in the organisation that is the university.

When this thought emerges to the surface of my thinking my response is variously: silly, ambitious, just get the PhD and get on with your life, altruism isn’t part of the PhD equation. Then I think about why I’m doing this PhD and why I’ve struggled since 1998 across four universities to finish it. What has kept me going?

My belief in the university and it social role.

The most important word here is social. The university has always had a social role although the visibility of that role has varied over the centuries. My view now is that this social role has assumed primary importance as a criticial uncertainty for the future university. The primacy of the idea of the university that has underpinning our understanding of universities – and been challenged and reframed over the years – needs to provide more than a fit with its external operating environment and shape the culture that underpins how a university works. It needs to start with people, it needs to shape a culture that means something to everyone. The idea of the university needs to move beyond an academic concept to become a social concept, one that engages everyone who works in a university.

Anyway. More about that in later posts.

Having moved beyond a practice based PhD, I no longer need to gather data from practitioners. That streamlines the PhD process which is a good thing when I have only finite time to do it. It also leaves a gap in the process for me that I can’t ignore anymore. I can’t ensure an impact at the end of the PhD on my own. I need to create that impact with people who work in universities. I have to find a way to bring people back into my PhD. I need to make it a social PhD.

Here’s my plan:

  • regular updating of this blog on what I’m doing at least monthly,
  • using social media to share my emerging ideas and seek responses/views/critiques – I’ll try and do this weekly,
  • publishing papers in open journals as far as I can, and
  • sharing my self-reflections.

This is a a validity process (member checks) for me and a way to address a limitation of the research. Foresight projects are people based. Foresight is a congitive capacity and good projects involve working with people and their views of the future. Those processes allow individual views of the future to be surfaced and shared. My research is a solo process and to my mind, one mind is not enough.

I bring my view of the future university to this research. I know there are any others and I acknowledge that. I must ensure I take them into account in my thinking. I will get diversity  of views from the literature and I want to also get that diversity from people in the field.

I’m using Cho and Trent (2006) as my guide here. One of their key points follows:

Cho and Trent (2006) identified two types of validity in qualitative research in education that are applicable in this research – transactional validity which is “grounded in active interaction between the inquiry and the research participants” (which incorporates the typical social constructionist validity measures (Crotty 1998) of credibility, transferability, dependability and confirmability), and transformational validity that judges the research to be valid “only if it signals that validity achieves an eventual ideal” (Cho and Trent 2006, p. 320). They propose a holistic view of validity as a process in qualitative research, integrating the research purpose with validity criteria. For practice based research, that purpose is praxis/social with validity determined via inquiry with participants and validity criteria of member checks, critical reflexivity of self and redefinition of the status quo (Cho and Trent 2008, p. 236).

Please let me know what you think. Comment and share your views about what I should be looking at when considering the future of the university. Help me build that impact.

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