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Title: Becoming a scholar : feedback, writing, and the doctoral research proposal
Author: Inouye, Kelsey
ISNI:       0000 0004 9356 7478
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2020
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This doctoral thesis contributes detailed portraits of five PhD students in the social sciences as they learned and negotiated disciplinary and institutional expectations to craft their doctoral research proposals over time, in preparation for Transfer of Status. Transfer of Status, also known as upgrade in the UK or the proposal defense in North America, is a key institutional milestone that serves to consolidate doctoral students’ initial research thinking and signals the student’s passage into the next phase of research. Yet, while much attention has been paid to the thesis, little research has focused upon Transfer of Status despite its important role in doctoral education. Drawing on rhetorical genre theory, this thesis frames the research proposal as part of a genre system in which successful Transfer of Status is the goal. This genre system includes various feedback, drafts of the proposal, and institutional forms, as well as the student writer, the supervisor(s), examiners, and others, ultimately presenting the proposal as a complex site of learning and social interaction, which performs a specific institutional function: convincing examiners that the student is competent to carry out doctoral-level work and progress to the data collection phase of research. In turn, the Transfer system is encompassed by a larger genre system of which the final PhD thesis is part. Combining the conceptualization of the Transfer system with Emirbayer and Mische’s (1998) ‘chordal triad’ of agency, this thesis explores how prior experiences and personal goals influence the ways in which students approach and navigate the proposal stage of the doctoral thesis in relation to supervisor feedback and evolving temporal- relational contexts. In order to examine the individual trajectories of doctoral students over time, this thesis employed a qualitative longitudinal multi-case study, tracing the experiences of five first- year PhD students during the beginning of their programs through successful Transfer of Status. In total, data was collected over a period of 15 months (October 2018-December 2019). Participants came from three departments in the social sciences: Anthropology, Education, and Sociology. To create rich portraits of each participant’s experience and triangulate the findings, various sources of data were collected that reflect different aspects of the Transfer system, including semi-structured interviews, recordings of supervision meetings, copies of written feedback and drafts of the research proposal, a visual mapping exercise called the journey plot, and Transfer of Status examiner reports. The data was first analyzed within cases using a combination of a priori and emergent coding situated within an overall narrative analysis, and then analyzed across cases to detect patterns in participant experience. The findings suggest that prior experiences and goals for the PhD and/or future careers influence how first-year doctoral students approach their research proposals and theses overall, as well as, the extent to which they comply with or resist supervisor feedback. Further, the Transfer viva is a critical experience in which failure to pass on the first attempt leads students to reassess their practices and views of the PhD, often resulting in new (usually pragmatic) approaches to the thesis in which examiner feedback is privileged. The findings also suggest that supervisors (and examiners) are important representations of institutional structure, and the extent to which supervisors recognize and discuss the role of the research proposal in relation to the larger Transfer and thesis genre systems are instrumental in shaping students’ understandings of the purpose of Transfer.
Supervisor: McAlpine, Lynn ; Elliott, Velda Sponsor: Clarendon Fund
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: doctoral education ; higher education ; writing