Is there room for a new Ph.D process?
The old process relies on grounding one’s work in existing data, existing thinking and existing research. It forces us to conform to Sameness, with only a tiny amount of Exception.
Our supervisors force us to conform to a process they were once forced to adhere to, and their supervisors before them adhered to. This creates a Sameness bias in their thinking. Any deviation from the norm is met with a cognitive dissonance which forces the student into those supervisor’s preconceived patterns of research.
There is no innovation, no lateral thinking and no dialectical thinking.
A research student is, by default, looking for Difference. A supervisor is looking for Sameness. Ever since universities became a business, they have picked supervisors who conform.
Ever since they created the PhD process where each stage is written down, whilst it is not useless, it is not a proper PhD process. There’s no dialectic. There is only challenge in the form of procedural adherence. If you are not good at sticking to a procedure, you might not value the process.
How could we change it?
The new process would be predicated on a future-oriented peer-review process, rather than a backwards-compatible referential process. Ideas are laid out, not back-checked to conform to previous research. I have met researchers who are studying a particular field of psychology only to realise they are offering nothing to the field at all. They are simply thinking about their field in exactly the same way that every researcher before them has thought about the field. This is not to say they are not contributing to the field: only that they are not contributing anything of worth to the field as their results will be on the same level as every other psychologist before them. They have no dialectic in their thinking. The supervisor is not challenging their cognitive complexity.
How it would work
A supervisor at a given university in a faculty has a maximum of six students under their wing.
The supervisor is in dialogue with each student individually, and collectively. They offer to challenge the student’s thinking, not their idea. They challenge the way in which the student thinks about how they think about their research idea. They can challenge the idea if they wish, but ultimately it will back the researcher into a defensive position rather than a dialectic position.
The ideas for each student’s research are mapped out collectively, discussed, laid down and thrashed out.
The principle is replicated across multiple universities in the same faculties, for example: psychology or human sciences.
The reciprocal process
Experimentation of ideas, principles and dialectic is undertaken and verified by peers.
Instead of having back-checking – or challenging – the premise of the question, it is given to a bunch of other students in other universities to discuss and debate.
If they like your conclusions or ideas, your PhD is passed
But if they debate it to the point where it’s challenged too much – the thinking and the dialectic – then it doesn’t until it’s reviewed…
As an aside, here is a similar view to mine but for school children. Check out Sir Ken Robinson’s ideas on divergent thinking.
And here is a research paper that discusses the current issues within the system.