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Learning styles, and the fallibility of grown ups - Sally's Journal
December 12th, 2005
10:40 am

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Learning styles, and the fallibility of grown ups

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From:emperor
Date:December 12th, 2005 12:42 pm (UTC)
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From what I can gather, PhDs are mostly about confidence(/arrogance) and procedural issues, rather than actual research

Bollocks. PhDs are about learning to be a researcher, and doing research. Part of learning to be a researcher is about realising you're not an undergraduate any more, and that your supervisor may well not "know the answer"; your relationship with your PhD supervisor is much more about working together to try and understand whatever it is you're working on. Another part is learning to communicate your ideas to others, and having those ideas discussed (although in some subjects you do this before you graduate).

This isn't a confidence/arrogance thing, it's about dealing with problems in a different way. You can't any more do the undergrad thing of "I've spent a week on this example sheet, and these are the answers I get. What should I have done?", and instead, as atreic describes, have to say something like "I've spent this week looking at this data, and from observations a, b, and c, combined with theories d, e, and f, think that X, Y and Z are going on. Does that make sense?".

No-one should ever take my word as gospel, because argument by authority is almost always the wrong approach.
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From:king_of_wrong
Date:December 12th, 2005 12:53 pm (UTC)
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Bollocks. PhDs are about learning to be a researcher, and doing research.

Learning how to find answers for yourself is research? Learning how to get a paper published is research? Learning how to present said paper at a conference, and field audience questions, is research? Those aren't "procedural issues"? Standing up in front of a room full of experts and, basically, saying "this is what I think, I'm fairly sure about it, and it's quite important so you should pay attention" doesn't take confidence?

Yes, it's about becoming a researcher... I'd say that's got very little to do with actually doing research. That comes later.
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From:emperor
Date:December 12th, 2005 12:57 pm (UTC)
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Extending your argument would state that reading other people's papers, and indeed doing experiments are procedural issues too, at which point you're just saying that the entire endeavour of doing research is "procedural issues".

If I'm a professional chef, then chopping carrots part of cooking, reading recipies is part of cooking, as well as dropping things into a hot pan for 20 minutes. Similarly, reading papers, writing up your findings, and presenting your work is as much research as having brilliant ideas is.
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From:king_of_wrong
Date:December 12th, 2005 01:19 pm (UTC)
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Extending your argument[...]
... leads to a great danger of presenting a straw-man argument. Reading journal articles is clearly a part of research - you can't advance the state of the art without knowing what it is - but learning (once!) how to write a literature review is professional training. Continuing your chef analogy, one might consider the things that have to be done once (learning what "Julienne" means for carrots) vs things that have to be done all the time (chopping carrots).

To sum up: I say that a PhD is mostly about learning how to do research professionally, not about doing research.
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From:ilanin
Date:December 12th, 2005 01:57 pm (UTC)
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Except that keeping up to date with your field, writing up your fidnings, and presenting your ideas are "things that have to be done all the time" and are very definitely part of the process which is called "research".

Learning how to write a literature review is not, usually, something done during a PhD. My undergraduate degree, for example, has three of them in.
From:feanelwa
Date:December 12th, 2005 03:49 pm (UTC)
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Three? I only had to do one when I did that degree. And now I have to do one during my PhD and I'm having to learn how to do it as well. (How do you?)
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From:3c66b
Date:December 12th, 2005 12:58 pm (UTC)
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It had better come at some point in the course of the PhD, or all the rest will have been for nothing.

As a matter of fact, since you're examined on the thesis and not on any of the stuff you mention, it's perfectly possible to get a PhD without knowing anything about any of these `procedural issues', though I hope it's rare.
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From:king_of_wrong
Date:December 12th, 2005 01:16 pm (UTC)
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Ah, but the "significant contribution to knowledge" examined is usually a lot smaller than most people would expect that to mean. Most of a PhD is professional skills, which is why it's usually funded from a Doctoral Training Account and not from an individual research grant.
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From:3c66b
Date:December 12th, 2005 01:21 pm (UTC)
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As someone who's both co-supervised and examined PhDs, I can tell you it's very definitely non-zero. The funding councils like to think of it as training (which of course includes training in how to be a researcher) because it helps to persuade the government that it's doing something useful in funding ten times as many PhDs as we actually need in academia. But I'm afraid the research element is essential to getting a PhD.
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From:king_of_wrong
Date:December 12th, 2005 01:32 pm (UTC)
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Oh, I'm not disputing that. Trivially a PhD involves some research - how else could one be certain that the graduand could actually do research?
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From:3c66b
Date:December 12th, 2005 04:08 pm (UTC)
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OK. Well, I further assert that you can get a PhD without being able to do any of the peripheral stuff that you mentioned (writing papers, giving talks...), although in practice it's unusual, and it's obviously undesirable.
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From:thecritick
Date:December 12th, 2005 02:02 pm (UTC)
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Yes, it's about becoming a researcher... I'd say that's got very little to do with actually doing research. That comes later.

No, doing research comes first. Finding out how to be a researcher comes later, with experience. That's the point of a PhD - doing original research facilitated by discovering the best techniques to get the most out of the time you spend doing the research. It's not about learning, it's about doing research.
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