The quest for the PhD: a better metaphor for doctoral education

Alistair McCulloch
2013 International Journal for Researcher Development  
Purpose -The paper seeks to propose the adoption of an alternative metaphor to that of the "journey", currently the most pervasive characterisation for the student's experience of doctoral education. Design/methodology/approach -The paper adopts a conceptual and rhetorical approach. Findings -The paper offers a critique of the journey metaphor as a characterisation of the student's doctoral experience and proposes instead the metaphor of the Quest, a cultural and literary form found in most
more » ... m found in most societies. It argues that the six elements of the Quest identified by W.H. Auden resonate with the contemporary doctoral experience and emphasise the uncertainty involved in research rather than the linearity implied by the journey metaphor. Social implications -The paper argues that the quest metaphor offers a cross-cultural basis for both staff and student development activities through which sense can be made of the research experience, student concerns can be surfaced, and potentially difficult issues raised for discussion in an unthreatening way. Originality/value -The paper is the first to apply the quest as a metaphor for the student's doctoral experience and offers a new way of interrogating that experience which will be of use to those involved in supporting research students. Keywords Doctoral education, Metaphor and the PhD, Research as quest, Research student experience, Support for research students, The research journey, The doctoral experience, Research student orientation Paper type Conceptual paper By mutual confidence and mutual aid -great deeds are done, and great discoveries made (Pope's Homer, cited in Ransome, 2012). A new metaphor is needed for the messy process that most students experience while they study for a PhD. The current dominant metaphor is that of the journey, the sub-text of which is that whilst studying, the doctoral student starts from point A and moves to point B, at the end of which period of travel they are awarded a PhD and The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
doi:10.1108/ijrd-05-2013-0008 fatcat:tfdgao3lfne3lm7y6z2lzh3q3i