Career paths and other ruminations

I’m currently enrolled in a coursework + project masters. The choice of course was made at the time based on the fact I had no guaranteed position at the university, and felt that a full research masters would be less relevant if I went back to teaching. Now, though, I’m one semester in and have a permanent job on an academic classification. While my current course does allow entry to a PhD on completion, I’m starting to wonder if it would be of more direct relevance to switch to a full research degree. If I am being completely honest, the coursework component has felt a little like ticking boxes – I can’t say that I have really learned anything outside of basic research methods. Which is not the fault of the course since it’s not designed for people in my line of work, but has been frustrating nonetheless. The decision to switch courses is based on the fact that a full research program is more directly relevant to my career and allows me scope to develop as a researcher rather than just marking time (and carries no HECS…!), but the converse argument is that sticking w/ the current course will be faster and easier, so I can then get on with a doctorate.


2 Replies to “Career paths and other ruminations”

  1. I have a number of thoughts.

    First, I said on Twitter this was an interesting question, and I didn’t mean just for you (though it is that), but also that it goes to the heart of the question as to the “academic” vs “professional” nature of what we do. Traditionally, research degrees are seen as contributing to one identity, coursework to the other. And as you can imagine, any sentence that starts with “traditionally” is one I’m going to want to poke holes in. Neither model of PG degree, in its most caricatured form, is quite satisfactory: the 100,000 word PhD thesis “Through their thick skulls: a creative misreading of the subversive literature on trepanation as a staff development tool in the contemporary university” that nobody reads; or the box ticking approach:

    Assessment design 101: Final Examination

    The most effective assessment tool to ensure validity and reliability of results would be
    a) a multiple choice examination with clear and unambiguously differentiated alternatives (e.g. i) black ii) white)
    b) a waffly and pretentious humanities-style essay, boo hiss
    c) a hammer

    The second thing that occurs to me is that you have probably answered your own question in your post above. You talk about the lack of relevance of your current coursework program three times – your frustration is palpable – and you say “The decision to switch courses is based on …” (indicative) rather than “the decision to switch courses would be based on …” (subjunctive) and a grammar Nazi like you wouldn’t do that without it meaning something. But most of all, I think you answer the question in your own very thoughtful post on the nature of research.. I get the sense that you have made your mind up; but that the real question is how to frame and construct a research project that doesn’t fall into a wholly different type of irrelevance: the holy mystery of True Research as something beyond and opposed to your mucky and mundane daily professional activities. Stuff belonging in a journal rather than in the real world.

    So, thirdly, this leads me to reflect that educational development is like music, in this tension between academically respectable research outcomes and things that actually matter to practitioners. Just as we have to fight the battle to demonstrate that a composition, or an informed and intelligent performance can be a creative work of the intellect comparable to a piece of academic musicological research, so we have to fight the battle to demonstrate that scholarly informed professional educational discourse (such as while developing new courses; developing new online tools; or this conversation on a blog)is as legitimate a research activity than an article.

    The same is true of Law, by the way: which is more important – that “research”, as in scholarship, intelligence, evidence-based argument, and reflection, inform the articles that appear in journals, or inform the laws that are written by our parliaments and the judgments that are made in our courts? I know what I think.

    Fourthly, it occurs to me that your probably like my comments better on Twitter, where they are limited to 140 characters 🙂

  2. For what it’s worth, reading on twitter I agreed with @clairebrooks and @s_palmer, it depends on your reasons.

    I also agree with Jonathan’s comment above, it seems you’ve made your decision. Or at the very least, that the current course work program isn’t working for you. Working full-time and studying on top of that is hard. If you’re not engaged in what you’re doing, it becomes really hard. So go with what engages you. Especially something that is complementary with your work.

    On the other hand, thinking in terms of your career it comes back to your reasons, what do you want to achieve career wise? Is it important enough to put up with a lack of engagement if it is pragmatically a quicker way to get where you want?

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