Creating a more structured and accountable PhD experience was the first thing I set about doing.
There was no formal coursework requirement for new PhD candidates, nor was there a formal presentation of proposal. I developed a set of departmental milestones for the first six months of candidature. These included two masters level courses on methods and theory, which new candidates had to ‘audit’. Not all candidates and supervisors were happy with this. If they had just done honours they would say ‘oh we’ve done this’, so it was about ‘yeah but you do it in a different way’ so most of the time the job was to explain it to them. It was about helping them to realise that they have different goals through the PhD. That was always going to be an issue and you just have to trust the supervisors a bit more in those cases if it’s not a conventional PhD. And then finally, these courses culminated in a formal proposal presentation to the entire department.
The university had an annual review process, but it hadn’t been taken very seriously by other candidates or supervisors in the department; for instance, there wasn’t consistent follow through. So I focused on sorting out these issues in the early stages of my HDR role. Other departments in the faculty had scaffolded departmental processes through the annual review, so I followed their example. There was an annual interview in conjunction with the university report, as well as an additional departmental form for budgeting and timelines. And I involved other supervisors in the interviews, creating an opportunity for a sharing of PhD experiences. We always had HDR matters on our department meeting agendas which they’d never had before. We used to have retreats, we used to have workshops, we had two-day workshops that we actually did with colleagues at Newcastle so every year we did a two-day workshop for our postgrads. Sometimes the retreats would be around writing, or we would bring someone in to talk for a day. These involved both supervisors and candidates.