PhD week fortifies scholarship

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“Life as a PhD scholar can be very lonely,” acknowledged Prof Rob O’Donoghue, explaining that because most of the Environmental Education doctoral students live outside Grahamstown, they lack the supervision and support of resident scholars. In order to ensure these students are able to work through their challenges and receive necessary guidance, the ELRC organises three PhD weeks every year, the first of which took place last week.

The ELRC was a hive of intellectual activity last week as 15 Environmental Education doctoral students, along with nearly 30 PhD students of Higher Education, gathered to discuss critical theories around education and to work through the particular challenges of their research. Rhodes’ Centre for Higher Education Research Teaching and Learning (CHERTL), together with representatives of the National Research Foundation (NRF), conducted workshops on methodology and modern social theory, which sought to enhance the scholar’s critical deliberation.

For many of the PhD students who have other professional commitments in and amongst their doctoral thesis, the week was a welcomed immersion. “Often your PhD is third or fourth down the list of priorities,” said Presha Ramsurup, who is writing her thesis while conducting research for the Department of Environmental Education. Ramsurup said that the space for dialogue and engagement has been crucial to her progress. “This is a learning space where you can deliberate ideas that you struggle with when you are alone. Here we are working in a community of practice, co-constructing meaning.”

For students like Bianca Currie, who has a background in Environmental Education and Resource Management, the CHERTYL and NRF workshops were a key to unlock the rhetoric of social theory. “It has been amazing. The interaction with sociology and theories opens up my thinking, providing me with language to talk social theory,” she said.

PhD week provides the disparate scholars with some much needed cohesion, allowing interaction with advisors, critical engagement and a stimulating environment – all of which can only enhance their independent work. “A PhD project is producing new knowledge,” said Rob O’Donoghue, “If producers of new knowledge are able to meet and bring issues to the table for deliberation, then their projects are likely to be strengthened.”