I’m writing about participating in the Thesis Whisperer’s Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), called “How to Survive Your PhD“. I wrote about getting started last week, when I couldn’t see how to document my progress through the course: I’m pleased to say that I have found it under the tab labelled “Progress”. Here, I found a link called “Wrap Up” which also had 3 tabs: the video of the live chat, final thoughts (i.e. the Storify for the week) and then the checklist where I could record my own progress. Phew!
I also got an e-mail this week offering me the (fee-based) verified certificate again. Apparently you can display such verified certificates on LinkedIn profiles, which I find interesting, but still not for me for this particular course.
On to my promised discussion of the course content thus far: don’t miss the tips on handling “imposter syndrome” at the end of this blogpost!
MEDIEVAL ROOTS & TRAINING FOR PHD SUPERVISION
Whilst week one set the scene, introducing concepts of emotional work and the pressures of academia, week two was all about the medieval roots of universities. It began with the astonishing fact that although its origins are older, the PhD as we know it has only been around for 150 years!
The key questions seemed to be, what is a research degree for? Do we see doctorates as an “apprenticeship” for a career in academia? What style of supervision is suitable for PhDs? Both the reading materials and the discussion looked at the value of “hands off” supervision, questioning whether this is freedom or abandonment. It seems that PhD scholars need to become independent researchers, “seeped in disciplinary traditions and values”, and the module’s reading investigated many issues relating to this. I particularly liked the Byrd paper (http://his.library.nenu.edu.cn/upload/soft/haoli/114/397.pdf) which suggests that the modern university is becoming more medieval, because of the focus on providing knowledge to as many people as possible, cheaply and efficiently! The MOOC, of course, is an example of the way this can happen.
This topic also highlights the need for professional development for research supervisors, which the course itself addresses, since it is not only suitable for PhD students but also for those who support them.
YOU CAN ACCESS COURSE CONTENT
One of the great things about the course content is that many of the materials are openly available outside of the course. The Storify shows how on Twitter last week, many folks shared photos of things they found at their own institutions (including modern ones), that stem from the middle ages, such as costumes, Latin mottos, architectural influences, and logos.
In the video of the livechat I learned that over 1100 people have joined the course from 156 countries. The gender balance of both the course and of academia was briefly discussed.
WE ARE DIFFERENT
The course co-ordinator Inger Mewburn shared ideas from participants, including the thought that medieval universities were built for celibate men who lived in a monastery: no housework, no children, no need to catch the bus! We shouldn’t always measure ourselves against the standards set by those from that culture when we live in a different one.
Differences between disciplines and nations emerged in the livechat. Australian universities don’t have a viva or public defence: someone asked why not and apparently the reason was that there weren’t enough scholars around in Australia in the early days, and they developed an alternative, blind peer review system. Other classic issues, such as the two disagreeing supervisors came up in the discussion.
HOW TO BOOST THE CONFIDENCE OF AN ‘IMPOSTER’!
Week three is all about the imposter syndrome, and confidence. I’ve always believed that one has to be supremely confident in order to be an academic: they seem to come across that way. And yet, at some points they may believe themselves to be an “imposter”. As researchers, they are investigating things that no-one else knows, and sometimes they take risks to do so. Many are or feel vulnerable, as the module’s video by Sally le Page evidences. Her suggested catchphrase of “It’s OK to feel rubbish sometimes” is a great phrase for academics to use to support each other.
The solution to the problem of “imposter syndrome” (from Twitter discussion and course materials) seems to be that academics should talk about their feelings of vulnerability. Also, we should remember that belief in our own stupidity is often what drives new discoveries, and that imposter syndrome is common in high achieving individuals! Lots of folks advocated going for a walk or taking time out from research in some way, and I can see how that would help when feeling low after a journal article rejection or grant knock-back.
Of course, the first step for those of us supporting researchers is to recognise the syndrome when it appears in others. The module’s reading (especially Cowman, S. E. & Ferrari, J.R. (2002). “Am I for Real?” Predicting imposter tendencies from self-handicapping and affective components. Social behaviour and personality, Volume 30(2). 119 – 126.) is really helpful in pointing out the behaviours, beliefs and coping strategies that those with the syndrome use. I’ve not got a PhD but I recognise myself in it: we are all vulnerable at times, and need to support each other.
So, when you reach out to make connections with other researchers through Piirus, don’t forget to be open and honest about your vulnerability, and to be supportive of each other!
Have you got any tips on how to stop yourself from feeling like an imposter? If so, we’d love to hear from you. You can leave a reply below, or get in touch with us directly.