It is now increasingly common in parts of Europe for PhDs in the humanities and social sciences to be awarded on the basis of publication. The norm seems to be three, but sometimes four, papers in international peer reviewed journals. At least one paper, but sometimes more, can be written with a supervisor. However, this is not the only way to incorporate publications into the PhD, and there are other issues at stake besides simply writing papers.
About eighteen months ago some colleagues and I decided to get together a symposium on the PhD and publication, and the PhD by publication. We were from Norway and the UK and were a group made up of supervisors and early career researchers. Our group represented some of the diversity of what the PhD by/and publication currently means. Norway has recently embraced the PhD by publication whereas in the UK the monograph still reigns. The UK PhD by publication is relatively uncommon – except for staff members (see this piece in the Times Higher on the state of play). Here is our group – a Norwegian and a UK supervisor plus:
Norwegian researcher 1: PhD as monograph in Norwegian. Published a book in Norwegian while doing the PhD, plus articles in Norwegian. Now working to convert PhD into English language articles for peer reviewed journals.
Norwegian researcher 2: PhD by publication, three papers published in international peer reviewed journals, written in English. Now doing postdoctoral work to extend research.
English researcher 1: PhD as monograph in English. One article in English published during PhD with supervisor, but two more single authored during PhD were subsequently published. Book from PhD.
English researcher 2: Academic staff member doing PhD by publication. One book and ten peer-reviewed articles in international journals plus ten thousand word exegesis were submitted for examination.
It is clear that there are very different experiences of doctoral research and publication distributed over just these four people in two countries. As a symposium we had to ask the question about parity between them.
It was pretty obvious that the UK model for staff PhD by publication was much more demanding than any of the other three. We understood that the UK PhD by publication had developed as a way of recognizing and rewarding staff who came into the university from professional backgrounds and then took up scholarly work in the same way as colleagues with PhDs. The publication route meant/means that they are able to aggregate these publications into an award. But these publications also of course contribute to institutional research performance, for example the REF, in a different way to PhDs.
But the career and post doc competition in both countries meant/means that thesis by monograph researchers were also writing articles and even books, as one of our symposium had, at the same time as producing the Big Book. While this wasn’t a requirement for the award, it was still an increasing practice. How would researchers with PhDs by publication fare in competitive contexts when compared with the PhD-with-the-lot? And is the unofficial ratcheting up of the PhD requirement fair – and what effect does writing other publications have on the monograph itself?
The language question was writ very large for the Norwegian PhDs. Writing in English was an additional requirement and was potentially more difficult than writing in mother tongue Norwegian. And it accelerated the international trend to move scholarly work into the English language, away from the plethora of European languages and their different modes of scholarship and genres of writing.
Our symposium was also interested in the differences between writing a journal article and writing an extended monograph of up to 100,000 words. The sheer challenge of constructing a sustained argument over this many words clearly prepared the PhD for the book in ways that writing journal articles might not. So was there also something here, we wondered, about the PhD by journal publication being a way of preparing the audit ready scholar, already primed to turn out articles for high status journals, as opposed to what might appear as the increasingly less audit valued process of producing a monograph?
It is important to put on record that our symposium wasn’t suggesting that the solution to this increasing diversity should be some kind of monolithic pan-European doctorate, an extension of the Bologna process that would involve massive amounts of moderation, record keeping and audit. This would be the simple knee jerk bureaucratic response to emergent diversity. We did think that there might be a set of questions to discuss about the criteria used to evaluate/examine doctorates, and some work at the edges of what were reasonable expectations and what were not. We were very clear that there ought to be a conversation among the scholarly community at large about diversity and equity – it wasn’t something just for national policy-makers to think about.
The changes we were addressing are of course not the only changes in the doctorate. There are also increasing pressures on narrow nineteenth century definitions of the thesis by monograph brought about via digital and arts informed scholarship, and these too need to be taken into account in any discussions.
At the time we presented our symposium we were thinking about a special issue of a journal, but we were unable to get any Editors interested. It was telling, we thought, that the ‘gateway’ to the academy was changing but it seemed to be of so little interest. We had something to talk about, but no venue. So I’ve decided to put a few of the key issues we talked about into blog posts, so at least some of them have an airing.
Next week I’ll post about the relationship between PhD by publication and the refereeing and publication process which – as you can imagine – is not straight forward.