Interview with G+PS Dean on why and how doctoral education needs to change

Dr. Susan Porter, past President of the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies and Dean & Vice-Provost of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies at the University of British Columbia(UBC), shared her reflections on why and how doctoral education needs to change to better serve academia and society in the 21st century, at the 4th UKCGE International Conference on Doctoral Education and Training.

One of the historic aims of doctoral education has been to replenish the academic disciplines, as you put it – to create academic ‘clones’. Could you explain how the purpose of doctoral education has now changed?

Since its beginnings, the research PhD has served to nurture the scholarly habits of mind and deep subject-matter expertise to enable individuals to extend the boundaries of knowledge, moving society beyond a reliance on received wisdom. Clearly, it is no longer solely a vocational degree for the professoriate, but otherwise, I believe its original purpose is still relevant; what has changed quite dramatically, though, are the definitions of ‘scholarly’ and ‘knowledge’.

I very much appreciate the term ‘the formation of scholars’ as the Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate’s descriptionof the purpose of the 21st century PhD. They make the case that our graduates in all societal sector are ‘scholars’, in that they rely on highly developed intellectual expertise and knowledge, and have common obligations and commitments. Our task is to ensure that we are effectively preparing our graduates for scholarly work that may look very different from traditional academic forms.

You say that doctoral education needs to reform in order to respond to the changing relationship of academia to society. Could you explain how that relationship has changed?

We’ve seen a shift in the last few decades of our understanding of the role of the research university, away from one focused on creating and transferring new knowledge to society, to one more engaged in partnership withsociety, often co-creating and mobilizing new knowledge with external collaborators.

While basic and curiosity-driven research is still essential, there has been a great diversification in approaches to research; its subjects, goals, and partners; how its quality is assessed; and what ‘counts’ as scholarly work. We face in our era a host of extraordinarily complex and urgent problems, and this diversification of research approaches is critical if we are to have any chance at addressing them.

Ernest Boyer played an important role in the 1990s in arguing for a more ‘capacious’ view of scholarship in the academy, in part to address these challenges, but also to restore the vitality of the professoriate and to reverse what he considered overly narrow faculty reward systems developed after World War II. I believe we need to revisit these arguments, particularly with respect to doctoral education.

Read the full interview on the UK Council for Graduate Education website

Monday, 03 February 2020