Finding the right Metaphor for the Postgraduate Research Experience: customer, client or pawn?

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Gary and Henry Chasing Butterfly, Beafort, SC, 1996 © Rodney Smith

This post has been re-blogged (in an edited form) from Lee Fallin’s Blog. He offers a detailed run down of the three days of the Doctoral Symposium in three blog posts over the next few weeks.

Please read his full account. I have copied and posted a section if it here: Malcom Tight’s metaphors for the Learning journey – seems to have struck a powerful chord with many of us. Max post on the “Confident Companion” has generated further thoughts.

Metaphors for the Postgraduate Research Experience – Professor Malcolm Tight, University of Lancaster

This presentation gripped me from the start to the finish. Prof. Tight discussed metaphors as a communicative technique for the doctoral process. Often the doctoral process is introduced as a journey, implying a lengthy process. This could be a quest, a long, troublesome journey with a prize at the end or it could be a voyage into the abnormal, ending with an escape to normality. Could it be argued the PhD is the quest for a doctorate with the EdD as a voyage – dipping into the abnormality of academia while still working full time.

We all agreed the journey wasn’t particularly effective.

So if not a journey – how can you use metaphor to describe the doctoral student experience?

From the keynote, here are a few suggestions for student metaphors:

  • ‘The Child’ Too young to have responsibility and is therefore treated as children by their professors who have authority over them.
  • ‘The Employer‘ In early universities the students used to employ staff. More recently, students used to pay the lecturer on entry to a lecture. If you were not any good, people wouldn’t show up.
  • ‘The slave’ Doctoral students must do as they are told. This resonates with the sciences as a lot of research is predetermined due to funding. You just go along with the topic as told.
  • ‘The apprentice’ Serve your apprenticeship, then have opportunity to become a master.
  • ‘The disciple‘ Follow your leader, you can succeed them one day.
  • ‘The vampire follower’ One day you hope to be sired and when you are, you can make your own vampires!
  • ‘The co-producer’ A partner – assuming the student wants this!
  • ‘The Family member’ Seeing the supervisor as a father/mother figure to look up. Suggests a close relationship – even friendship.
  • ‘The client‘ A constant need to negotiate – thrash out what you will get and when.
  • ‘The customer’ The idea may be very much linked to UG but it will eventually come to PG.
  • ‘The consumer’ Suggests impassivity. Consume then regurgitate to pass.
  • ‘The pawn’ A small player in a much bigger game. Student has little power and can be sacrificed.
  • ‘The worker’ Write this, have targets and finish it early. Get it done. Research is time consuming.
  • ‘The rebel’ None of the above 🙂

That is it for day 1

My challenge is to now finishing organising my thoughts for the rest of the symposium…

While we wait for Lee’s view of day 2 and day 3 of #DSHull, Professor Malcolm Tight has long been interested in metaphors and learning. He has written and published work abut this for those who’d like to explore further:

Hughes, C., & Tight, M. (2013). The metaphors we study by: The doctorate as a journey and/or as work. Higher Education Research & Development32(5), 765-775.

Hughes, C., & Tight, M. (1996). Doughnuts and jam roly poly sweet metaphors for organisational researchersJournal of Further and Higher Eduction20(1), 51-57.

Tight, M. (2013). Students: Customers, Clients or Pawns. Higher Education Policy, 26(3), 291-307.


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