The PhD experience

As I am preparing my Thesis Proposal Review. I have been reflecting not only about my tiny study and the challenges I have to overcome, but also about the entire Phd experience. I can see that it is a complex activity that goes beyond the metaphor of a journey, it is not only related to the transition from one place to another, from the student to the researcher world. The PhD experience comprises a numerous sets of actions, folds a web of relationships, contains several tensions and contradictions. I´ll analyse this activity using Activity Theory.

The PhD experience as an activity. The Phd experience is an activity or a system of activities which comprises a “constellation” of relationships. The PhD is a goal oriented and artifact mediated collective activity. Students pursue doctoral studies to get a higher degree and the entire experience is shaped by the relationships developed among the students themselves, supervisors, academics, family, by the expectations and rules of the department the students are part of, by the different roles PhD candidates have to play, students,researchers,tutors,husbands, by the courses, seminars, and other tools they use to learn. Students pursue doctoral studies, not only to get a degree, to become academics, to do research, to contribute to new knowledge, to make the world a better place to live. This goal orients everyday actions and shapes relationships students develop with their community. The community relates according to rules, expectations and roles, and students actions are shaped by these as well.

Doctoral students engage in different activities as part of their PhD. They attend reading groups, writing groups, get engaged in to trainings to improve research skills, communicational skills, writing skills and anything research centers see as useful for PhD students. Research centres have expectations,participate in meetings, seminars, contribute to teaching and research; supervisors and academics believe PhD academics should behave in specific ways, PhD students should write daily,weekly, read, present,etc. And the university as a whole frames the phd experience to a limited period of time, to a panel, to an examination process,etc. Of course the activity contains contradictions and tensions, these tensions could motivate change and improvement. The way I see the PhD experience is a collective learning experience which is continually shaped and re-shaped by doctoral students and a complex net of relationships mediated by tools.

phD experience activity(adapted from Engestrom 1987)

Is this analysis another way of procrastination or my own rationalization of the experience I am going through?


About Malba Barahona

Educational researcher, language educator. PhD from Australian National University. Passionate bushwalker and mountain lover. I procrastinate reading fiction, hiking, doing yoga, riding, having a beer and more recently decolonizing my existence. I write in English and Spanish in different blogs especially with the purpose of encouraging my students to write.

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