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What do examiners (really) want?

Dr Inger Mewburn
Director of research training The Australian National University & editor of the thesis whisperer blog
This workshop is part of the Research Masterclass series. The hashtag for these workshops is #anumasterclass

Researchers have studied how research degree examiners go about examining a thesis This research can tell us a lot about how to compose and write a thesis..
Most of this presentation is based on the seminal paper: Mullins, G and Kiley, M (2002) "It's a PhD not a Nobel prize" Studies in Higher Education, Vol 27, No.4

In this workshop we will:

Think about the history of the PhD and the thesis as a genre. Look at how examiners examine (and how they decide if a thesis is good or not) Work out how to fail your PhD (so that you won't)

Before we start... why did you come?

In groups of no more than four talk about any questions or concerns you have about the examination process. Together decide on your top three.

I'll ask you to share these with the rest of the group in about 10 minutes.

What is a thesis There are currently 3 main types of thesis handed in by research students: the Big Book the Bunch of Papers the Creative Exegesis There are some conventions around each type.

How long does the examination process take? How many words do I need? Can I fail my degree? Should I put my degree online?

... any others?

In Australia, examination happens by external peer review.

Examiners are asked to write a report on your thesis and make recommendations. Sometimes guidelines are sent to examiners to help them do this. ... but don't expect the examiner to read, or follow, these instructions!

How do examiners read a thesis?

Many: Read the abstract or summary Then read the introduction Then go straight to the conclusion Then look at the bibliography... Then read: either from cover to cover or skipping around the bits that interest them. What does this mean for us as writers?

What is a 'good' thesis?

A report of work which others would want to read Tells a compelling story articulately whilst pre-empting inevitable critiques Carries the reader into complex realms; informs and educates him/her

Be sufficiently speculative or original to suggest you would be an interesting future colleague

What is a 'bad' thesis?

Confused or inadequate theoretical framework 'Merely descriptive a data gathering exercise Researched the wrong problem Mixed or confused methodological perspectives Sloppy presentation Inconsistency between introduction and conclusion Lacking confidence in the writing Presenting work thats not original Not being able to explain at the end of a thesis what has actually been argued in the thesis

It's a simple matter of 'Academic Reproduction'

Like Yoda, we are in the business of training independent scholars

Why is all this so difficult?!

Your text is your academic 'avatar' You aren't there to talk to your examiner your text has to 'speak' for you

Writing a thesis is a bit like going to a party...

When we interact with others we form our opinion of them by how well they play the role we expect of them
What role are you playing in this text? "The independent scholar"

Design your own academic 'character' Think of an adjective you think best describes the academics in your discipline. Write them on the post it notes I have provided and stick them on the whiteboard

To finish: 5 ways to fail your PhD

1. Don't talk to your supervisors about who you think should examine your thesis. 2. Send your thesis to someone who has never examined before. 3. Write a bad literature review. 4. Have an introduction from one thesis and a conclusion from another. 5. Don't get a copy editor

Gee, thanks Inger.

Now I feel like this!

I need more help.

Try these books:
Gruba, P & Evans, D (2001) How to write a better thesis, University of Melbourne Press, Melbourne
Rugg, G and Petre, M (2004) The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research, Open University Press, Maidenhead. Booth, W, Gregory, C and Williams, J (1995) The craft of research, University of Chicago Press, Chicago Kamler, B & Thomson, P (2006) Helping Doctoral Students to Write, Routledge, New York

And these papers:

Mullins, G and Kiley, M (2002) It's a PhD not a Nobel prize" Studies in Higher Education, Vol 27, No.4 Winter, R, Griffiths, M & Green, K (2000) The 'academic' qualities of practice: what are the criteria for a practice based PhD?, Studies in Higher Education, 25, pp. 25 - 37

What can ANU do for me?

The academic skills and learning centre offer one on one assistance; visit their site for details. The ANU library can help you with referencing and bibliography formatting, some software problems, how to access the data commons and questions about copyright. You can employ a copy-editor, but they must conform to editing guidelines. The ANU offers a free and confidential counselling service to all current ANU students and staff and have a 24 hour hotline: 1800 629 354

Have I answered all your questions and soothed your fears?

If not, tell me about it in the feedback form (there's plenty of room on the back of the sheet). And/or make an appointment with the associate dean HDR in your college who is an expert on the process.

Thanks for listening!

Remember, we're here to help too. You can email the research training team in the office of the Pro vice chancellor anytime on: researchtraining@anu.edu.au Or talk to us on Twitter and Facebook.