November 2012: Motivation


Why am I embarking on this five or six year journey that is going to cost me more than I can afford?

A doctorate is a long-time goal that I am leaving pretty late in the career run. It’s now or never.

I love to study and a doctorate is the highest level of study I can do.

A doctorate to a life-long learner is like Everest to a mountaineer. You climb it because it is there.



  1. I remain torn on whether a doctorate should be thought of in this way. I often think of the trade apprenticeships, especially of the people who taught me letterpress printing, and what it means to be a master craftsman or a musician. That study never ends: with every improvement or new insight, the locus of learning rises to a higher level. Similarly, doctoral studies can be seen as just the beginning of your scholarly education. For the rest of your life, your study can keep rising further.


    • I suppose that’s my issue. I am nearing the end of my career- forty-two years of teaching, in fact. So to be doing doctoral research now is not exactly “beginning of your scholarly education.” However, what empirical research has done for me is confirm what I have learned from many years of experience. It’s more of an “I told you so.” And quite apart from that, I just love being a student, studying, writing, and yes, learning. I just hope that all my work will have some benefit to others as well as myself and my students.


      • This is indeed a dilemma for the very concept of the doctorate. It seems to me that we (i.e. academe) should be willing to judge doctorness from a publication record alone. We do that for the higher doctorates; indeed that’s typically the only way to get one — whether by petitioning with a wheelbarrow of publications to Registry or by waiting for an honorary degrees committee to do it unasked. So why not for the PhD?

        Is your doctoral process providing opportunities for you to spend more time on higher-level questions, though? Doctoral studies should go far beyond confirming personal experience; the process should draw us into the thick of the unknowns under current scholarly attention, into the large-scale arguments over the discipline’s future. That’s something that cannot always be shown by even a heavy publication record, and it’s something that is not always sustained even in an academic career. The vast majority of PhDs don’t continue on with PhD-level work — it’s a very special time of one’s life.

        I think that you can expect to gain a bit more than a mountaintop: it’s an understanding of the discipline that makes a doctor, not an understanding of the research project. The project is just the learning process by which we get there. I would be *very* grumpy with my supervisors had my project not been going that way!


      • You are right on two counts. Firstly, although my research has arisen from two Teaching As Inquiry (TAI) cycles undertaken during two consecutive years of classroom practice, working on this doctorate has given me not necessarily the time (up until this year I was still teaching full-time) but definitely the head space to work not on higher level questions but at a higher level on my questions. Comparatively, I just scratched the surface in my TAI cycles at school but they gave me the purpose. Secondly, as you say, it’s the depth of understanding of the discipline, of the fields in which one works, which is invaluable. Schools have such permeable boundaries – they are pushed and shoved by expectations from parents, communities, subject associations, political trends, successive governments. It’s nice to have the depth of knowledge and confidence to say, “No! That’s not how it is and this is why. Here’s a better way that I have found.” But will we be listened to? Will our voice even be audible over the uninformed voices that speak so loudly? I can remember returning to university to do my Masters and thinking: How come teachers don’t know this stuff about teaching? Why isn’t empirical academia influencing the chalkface instead of vote-chasing politicians, novices in our field, who constantly tell us what to do and how to do it? So bottom line, my pleasure and purpose in doing this doctorate has to be the joy of learning, the fulfilment of a life-long goal, education for the sake of education, personal pleasure. And it is.


      • As a resut of reading and writing this last week I have found in Feuerstein’s sociocultural stance an angle that underpins my stance in our conversation here. He says (2010) “It is our fundamental position that one needs both theory and practice. How we develop concepts guides our practices, and what we do (our practices) contributes to the shaping of our theory.”


    • Further to my initial response, I have remembered a previous post I did that referred to an article @LeadingLearner. There’s a really good diagram that looks at the interplay between research, experience and informed feedback. It argues that all three are essential for a teacher to become not just informed but wise. You might like it too.


      • That diagram proves especially provocative at this moment when I’m thinking about what to include in this year’s seminar on the research-teaching nexus, and the multiple meanings of “research-informed teaching”!

        Liked by 1 person

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