My PhD is on the future of the university as a social institution. The primary research question is: how does the idea of the university as constructed today enable and constrain possible futures for the university as a social institution?
What follows is some background about how I ended up doing this particular PhD right now. Click the button if you want to read the blog posts I've written at various times in my PhD journey instead.
I started my PhD journey in the late 1990s. I got to the stage where I was about to collect data when, after yet another baffling interaction with my supervisor, I decided to withdraw. The short version of a long story is we had agreed that I'd do some writing, and after three months we met so I could get his feedback. He asked me why I did this writing. I reminded him we had agreed to do this, and he said he must have had a bad hair day at the time. Red flags had gone up before this, but now I knew I couldn't continue. I was starting a new job, I could never get a straight answer about what he thought was so wrong with my research and well, I decided I didn't have to put up with it anymore - I was doing the PhD for me, not because I wanted an academic career. In 2003, I tried again, and was accepted to another university. Same topic - administrators and academics, this time by distance education (which I've done before). No problems, until I tried to interact with my supervisor - another baffling experience. I didn't actually start because I was told I had to go to the university and well, I couldn't right then. I was working and it was peak season for me. Next time I attempted to get in touch with my supervisor - no response. Ah well, maybe next time. I withdrew.
So third time lucky, or not as it turned out. I started a professional doctorate in Higher Education in October 2011. The course was offered 100% online, which is what attracted me to it. I like online learning, having had what I regard as one of the most intense learning experiences of my life in the first year of the Masters in Strategic Foresight at Swinburne University of Technology.
Alas, this PhD experience fell over, for a couple of reasons - one was the restricted way in which the learning management system (LMS) was used, and the second was my very belated realisation that I wanted authentic conversation in my learning process. Not conversation structured by restrictions to post this many times, reference everything, don't talk about that, oh, and don't use social media, just the LMS. I lasted five weeks and wrote about my experience here.
I had started my own business, Thinking Futures, in 2007 and that has absorbed much of my brain space, and it will to come. After some pondering, I decided that a traditional PhD was probably not the right way for me at the time when I enrolled. While I know I am disciplined, it's too easy to put off the research, the reading, the writing, particularly when you are a part-time student, and when there's another client deadline to meet. The online doctorate was supposed to provide me with a structure which I think I need if I was going to balance running my own business with studying again. I found out other things mattered more.
I set up this blog to record my learning and reflections on my online learning journey. My reasoning was that not only is sharing experiences what you now do, but also because I hope it will widen the community that accompanies me on my doctoral journey - and I suspect, the more help I can get, the better it will be!
I also remembered that my friend and colleague, Heather Davis, had told me about her aim to use online technologies during her PhD - which she has done at her blog on leadership literacies. I decided to emulate her, so thanks Heather!
I promised myself I'd finish this PhD, and as the universe would have it, the day after I withdrew from the online doctorate, an email arrived telling me that the new PhD by Professional Practice was available at Swinburne. I'm enrolled, I'm liking it, and I'm still blogging about the experience.
Most recently, I applied to convert from the PhD by Practice to a theoretical PhD - that is explained in The real work starts now. I am starting to write up as I start this (September 2018), so it's been a long time since I started but I'm glad in so many ways. This PhD experience has changed my thinking, deepened my understanding of academic work and its grounding in history, and allowed me to see where our current understanding of what a university is probably won't help any of these social institutions prepare for the future.