Reframing the PhD for Australia’s future universities | About
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About the Project

This project has now (February 2018) been completed. A copy of the Final Report is available from this site.

Abstract: This research project will deliver practical strategies and resources that re-frame and integrate (i) the PhD research project, (ii) its supervision, (iii) the disciplinary community the PhD occurs in, and (iv) universities’ doctoral research skills and teaching development strategies, to better prepare graduates for employment in both academia and industry. The project addresses the role of the PhD in preparing the future academic workforce, especially in relation to higher education teaching. While it pays particular attention to the preparation of doctoral students for careers in academia, it does so in a way that will also better prepare them for careers in industry and elsewhere. As a result of collaborations with international researchers, the project brings a much-needed academic tenor to the national conversations about the PhD. Through the nation’s Academic Boards, it will engage academic communities in shaping a different way of thinking about the research ‘heart’ of the PhD borrowing from, and extending, the Carnegie Foundation’s idea of ‘stewardship’.

The project runs from 2015–2018 and starts with the recommendations from a range of recent research studies and national reports that raise questions about:

  • How well the PhD is preparing graduates for the contemporary industry and academic employment.
  • The scope of universities’ current ‘curriculum’ strategies to effectively broaden the learning experience of the PhD  – especially in light of completion time limitations and increases in numbers of students – and what is known about the effectiveness of those strategies in other higher education contexts.

It focuses in particular on the preparation of future academics – and in particular their preparation as teachers – but it does so with a view to prompting new ways of thinking about the development of the full range of skills and attributes the PhD seeks to foster. It builds on the idea of scholars as ‘Stewards of the discipline’ (Golde 2006).  As scholars, academics will ‘creatively generate new knowledge, critically conserve valuable and useful ideas, and responsibly transform those understandings through writing, teaching and application’ (p5).  The concept of ‘Stewardship’ involves both competence with the roles and skills of a discipline and a sense of moral purpose.

Drawing on this perspective, the project re-examines the range of learning experiences that contribute to the PhD – the research project, its supervision, skills development strategies and the disciplinary learning communities in which the PhD is situated with a view to identifying how, collectively, those might be reframed and re-integrated to provide a more effective strategy for achieving the desired outcomes. The research adopts a conceptual methodology and draws on data from interviews with students, supervisors and early career academics.  It includes opportunities for broad scale academic community participation through national symposia on new ways of thinking about and integrating the components of the doctoral curriculum and university conversations hosted by Academic Boards across the country.

Golde, C. (2006). Preparing stewards of the Discipline. In C. Golde & G.E. Walker (Eds.), Envisioning the Future of Doctoral Education: Preparing stewards of the discipline – Carnegie Essays on the Doctorate (pp. 3-20). San Francisco: Carnegie Foundation.

Support for this project has been provided by the Australian Office for Learning and Teaching, an initiative of the Australian Government. The views expressed in the project do not necessarily reflect the views of the Office for Learning and Teaching.

Project Team

The project team includes:

  • Simon Barrie – Project Leader (Western Sydney University)
  • Tai Peseta (Western Sydney University)
  • Keith Trigwell (The University of Sydney)
  • Peter McCallum (The University of Sydney)
  • Lee Partridge (University of Western Australia)
  • Joe Graffam (Deakin University)
  • Jeanette Fyffe (La Trobe University)
  • Alistair Kwan (The University of Auckland)

International collaborators:

  • Lynn McAlpine (Oxford University)
  • Paul Blackmore (Kings College London)
  • Ann Austin (Michigan State University)


  • Margaret Kiley (Aust National University)