Anti-editorial: Living the PhD Journey...

Oliver Germain* (Guest editor), Pei Yi Wang, Julie Delisle, Kamila Moulai, Clarence Bluntz, Ea Hog Utoft, Sara Dahlman, Tamara Mulherin, Jannick Fris Christensen, Thomas Buro, Helen Taylor

*Corresponding author for this work

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As the director of a doctoral programme in business administration, I sometimes wonder if I do anything but reproduce or even accelerate the shitshow. The PhD is a liminal space where learning prepares a student’s transition to an academic role. However, we have collectively naturalised a set of institutional pressures, as if the typical experiences an academic will go through during his or her career were to be considered normal. We kindly and elegantly say that there are ‘codes’ or ‘tricks of the trade’ or ‘routines’ to be learnt – rites of passage. Academic language, when used to collectively narrate ourselves, is coupled with muted violence. Thus, it seems to be desirable to internalise certain socially accepted practices to avoid a shock upon entering academic life, between natural selection and an evolutionary approach. As Pi related his adventures, we theorise the doctoral journey to make it bearable by reinterpreting its trials, cultivating a ‘sufferer’ vision of the thesis.

2The thesis beyond the academic test, as a moment of life, provides anaesthesia for the pain to come. Heroism has the advantage of confining the thesis to an extraordinary space, and by placing it out of ordinary life, we accept practices that elsewhere would be considered questionable. These practices escape common decency and create situations of unacceptable mental suffering. This confinement outside ordinary life also allows the continuous play on the tension or lack of boundaries between personal and professional life. Being pregnant, taking holidays, being a doctoral student after having had a professional career, settling one’s migratory situation, eating … All these situations, with their various associated challenges, take an uncontrollable dimension because we have collectively put in place institutional arrangements that allow all (and any) overflows, that our discourse maintains in order to make life acceptable. It follows that what we call identity work today is simply overwork and weariness, putting students at risk: just read the numerous documented studies on student suffering … even if that – of course – only concerns other universities.

3Giving back its true extraordinary meaning to the doctoral journey means putting exploration back at the heart of the project. For that, we must allow everyone to cultivate their ordinary life. Such naivety, some will say. This is nothing new to the realm of academic capitalism. It is nevertheless interesting that we ask organisations to pay more attention to our research and that we repeat questionable evidence-based management mantras, while our daily practices, at the heart of institutions’ transformation, are the opposite of what we preach from the comfort of our observer’s role. Giving voice to the doctoral students who live this life on a daily basis, letting them out of this bourgeoisly inflicted silence, would be a very modest first step. We do not have to tell ourselves stories like “The Life of Pi”.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)102-141
Number of pages39
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2020
Externally publishedYes

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