Degrees of openness about the doctoral journey

Leitch, R. (2006) Outside the Spoon Drawer, Naked and Skinless in Search of My Professional Esteem. Qualitative Enquiry 12 (2), pp1-12

Drake, P. (2010) Grasping at methodological understanding: a cautionary tale from insider research. International Journal of Research and Method in Education 33 (1), pp85-99

can of worms

a can of worms

For the Writing for Academic Practice unit we were asked to look briefly at Ruth Leitch’s autobiographical/ethnographic account of the EdD doctoral experience and compare it with the article by Pat Drake.

They are very different articles; for sure, they are both broadly about the doctoral experience, but while Drake reflects on her methods and outcomes, Leitch focuses purely on herself to the extent that the reader is left in the dark about the actual subject of her doctoral thesis. Drake focuses on one aspect of the doctoral journey whereas Leitch places the journey in the context of her entire autobiography. The honesty of Leitch’s piece is almost surreal when read alongside other items on the EdD reading lists, and by no means was it a comfortable read. At times I felt that the level of self-exposure in the autoethnography was almost exploitative; that in putting pen to paper Leitch had exploited herself (another interpretation of the phrase ‘academic prostitute’?). However, I also have a great deal of admiration for her openness; for taking a risk and going against the grain. Personally I feel that there are few worse things to be than boring.

I’m not sure the Leitch piece told me anything new. I imagine very few people would read this without seeing some aspect of themselves, or an experience of their own mirrored back at them. But perhaps this is its strength – it is rare that an academic paper gives us this perspective on ourselves. Is it practically useful? Perhaps… in exposing the resident elephants, letting us know that we are not alone in having such hang-ups, and throwing the emotions of our own students into sharp relief.

The Drake piece, in contrast, balanced personal narrative with interview data and citations from a range of relevant literature. I felt that there was more in it that was new to me, and more in terms of practical learning points too; I thought the observation that ‘very few people follow instructions in a conversational setting’ was particularly expressive (and concise).

It was suggested that we consider the ‘moves’ of the introductions of the two pieces; interestingly I felt that these were similarly structured, with Introduction, Purpose and Conclusions stated clearly, and the central section in each introduction focusing on the Product(s). In either case there is a lack of emphasis on Method as both these pieces are ‘spin-offs’ from the doctoral thesis; Drake speaks of ‘considering the examples’ while Leitch presents ‘a process of writing that explore emotional resistance’.

It was also suggested that we consider the ‘possible standards of acceptability’ in these two academic journals – Qualitative Enquiry and the International Journal of Research and Method in Education.

Both focus on methodological issues raised by research, although with IJRME this focus does not appear to exclude the content or results of research. Qualitative Enquiry – according to the journal website – actively courts ‘articles that experiment with manuscript form and content’, while IJRME encourages authors to ‘write in a lucid and accessible style’ and communicate to an ‘international readership of researchers, policy-makers and practitioners’. This suggests (to me) that IJRME, despite encouraging ‘dissent from the orthodox’ in the research it publishes, is after a more broadly accepted academic writing style. The take-home message is clear – the publicised ‘aims and scope’ of the journal need to be interpreted along with an overview of what has actually been published in it 😉

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