A Pilgrim’s Progress Report #4 – The Last Post

“I’m the champion” by Clement127. Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-ND

The story so far…

I have finally reached the finish line. I can now pick up my prize after 5 long years: the Doctorate in Education (EdD). In my last Pilgrim’s Progress Report, I had just submitted my thesis in January 2018. In March 2018, I had a mock viva, which went well and left me in a good place.

The actual viva, in April 2018, did not go as well (I still feel a little raw over that). The thesis passed with corrections. Everyone, but me, was pleased that I had passed – it was, after all, a major achievement (I just wasn’t feeling the love, if anything I felt deflated). It was this feeling of ‘deflation’ that prohibited me from writing another one of my ‘progress reports’.

Fortunately, I am a very resilient individual, so I picked myself up and got on with making the corrections to the thesis (as suggested by my two external examiners). The corrections were sent in July 2018 and in September 2018 I was informed by the Graduate School Office that the examiners approved the corrections and signed off the thesis as a ‘full’ pass.

What now Doctor?

It’s been just over a week since I have been informed that I now have an EdD. A recent Academics Anonymous article in The Guardian had the anonymous author fretting over “a case of post-doctoral melancholy” (The Guardian, 2018, para. 3), which included “difficulties in adjusting to losing touch with [their] academic community and an intellectual way of thinking” (ibid., para. 4). I’m already working in academia, so I am not sure that I will be succumbing to the ‘post-doc blues’ any time soon.

Though, undertaking a doctorate does seem to me to be a bit of a masochistic endeavour, see Allen & Bojesen’s (2018) paper on the matter. I, indeed others, have put ourselves through the mill (personally, professionally, mentally and physically) to attain a ‘piece of paper’ that entitles us to use the title of ‘doctor’ and post-nominal letters after our names. Back in 2014, I suggested that undertaking this doctorate would be a “liminal and intellectual pilgrimage”. More recently, there has been some discourse around doctorates and threshold concepts, alongside the struggles that doctoral students face with “troublesome knowledge” (Trafford & Leshem, 2009; Hall, 2018).

This got me thinking about the constitution of doctorateness, a term which has largely been perceived as an “immature unclarified concept” (Yazdani & Shokooh, 2018, p. 42).Though Yazdani & Shokook (2018, p. 42) have lent the following definition to ‘doctorateness’:

A personal quality, that following a developmental and transformative apprenticeship process, results in the formation of an independent scholar with a certain identity and level of competence and creation of an original contribution, which extend knowledge through scholarship and receipt of the highest academic degree and culminates stewardship of the discipline.

Hall (2018) argues that ‘doctorateness’ is a “critical and engaged process” (p. 5) that has “become a form of currency in the professions, where it operates as a signal of readiness for senior leadership” (p. 2). Trafford & Leshem (2009, p. 308) suggests that ‘doctorateness’ is a trans-disciplinary phenomenon. This notion of trans-disciplinarism is suitably captured in Boud et al’s (2018, p. 920) article on how the professional doctorate can influence and impact on professional practice and the workplace, broadly around:

  1. The creation and adoption of usable practices and products;
  2. The establishment of new processes, networks and relationships; and
  3. The generation of ideas crossing organisational or international boundaries.

The “alt-ac” movement

A couple of years ago whilst in the throes of the doctorate, I had come across, quite by accident, the term “alt-ac” or alternative academic, which was “an umbrella term to refer to full-time non-teaching and non-research positions within higher education” (Bethman & Longstreet, 2013, para. 3). The “alt-ac” term was also a “pointed push-back against the predominant (and in fact only) phrase, “non-academic careers”, [which was a] label for anything off the straight and narrow path to tenure” (Nowviskie, 2010, para. 1).

This notion of being (or rather becoming) an “alt-ac” came at a fortuitous time as I was beginning to think about how I would position myself professionally and within my institution once I had achieved the professional doctorate. As Bethman & Longstreet (2013, para. 4) note, the “alt-ac” was:

…proof that there is a third way – that one can remain within the academy outside of a tenure-track position; teaching, publishing, and living the ‘life of the mind’, are all possible if one is willing to consider the myriad number of staff and administrative positions available in the academy.

Being a learning technologist and an academic developer in an academic-related department, the notion of becoming an “alt-ac” sits quite comfortably with me and the role I currently inhabit at my university.

As the European University Association notes, a professional doctorate is basically a “doctorate that [focuses] on embedding research in a reflective manner into another professional practice” (EUA, 2007, p.14). In many ways, as a learning technologist, I am already doing this; it is hardwired into my DNA.

The EdD is now out of the way, I am currently preparing an application for Senior Fellowship with the HE Academy (now known as Advance HE). Over the next few months, I will be giving serious thought and consideration on how my career will move forward. As one door closes, another one opens…


Allen, A. & Bojesen, E. (2018) ‘The Economic Problem of Masochism in Education’, Confero: Essays on Education, Philosophy and Politics, pp. 1-30. DOI: 10.3384/confero.2001-4562.180910.

Bethman, B. & Longstreet, C.S.(2013) ‘Defining Terms’, Inside Higher Ed, 22.5.2013. Available at: https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2013/05/22/essay-defining-alt-ac-new-phd-job-searches [Accessed 29.9.2018].

Boud, D. Fillery-Travis, A. Pizzolato, N. & Sutton, B. (2018) ‘The Influence of Professional Doctorates on Practice and the Workplace’, Studies in Higher Education, 43(5), pp. 914-926. DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2018.1438121.

EUA. (2007) Doctoral Programmes in Europe’s Universities: Achievements and Challenges. Report Prepared for European Universities and Ministers of Higher Education. Brussels, Belgium: European University Association (EUA). Available at: https://eua.eu/resources/publications/652:doctoral-programmes-in-europe-s-universities-achievements-and-challenges.html [Accessed 29.9.2018].

The Guardian (2018) ‘I’ve just finished my PhD, and now I feel lost without academia’, Academics Anonymous, The Guardian, 28.9.2018. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/sep/28/ive-just-finished-my-phd-and-now-i-feel-lost-without-academia [Accessed 29.9.2018].

Hall, E. (2018) ‘Grasping the Nettle of ‘Doctorateness’ for Practitioner Academics: A Framework for Thinking Critically about Curriculum Design’, Studies in Continuing Education, pp. 1-16. DOI: 10.1080/0158037X.2018.1526781.

Jones, M. (2018) ‘Contemporary Trends in Professional Doctorates’, Studies in Higher Education, 43(5), pp. 814-825. DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2018.1438095.

Kearney, M-L. & Lincoln, D. (2018) ‘The Modern Doctorate: Purposes, Form and Pedagogy’, Studies in Higher Education, 43(5), pp. 807-808. DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2018.1436421.

Nowviskie, B. (2010) ‘#alt-ac: alternate academic careers for humanities scholars’, Bethany Nowviskie, 3.1.2010. Available at: http://nowviskie.org/2010/alt-ac/ [Accessed 29.9.2018].

Trafford, V. & Leshem, S. (2009) ‘Doctorateness as a Threshold Concept’, Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 46(3), pp. 305-316. DOI: 10.1080/14703290903069027.

Yazdani, S. & Shokooh, F. (2018) ‘Defining Doctorateness: A Concept Analysis’, International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 13, pp. 31-48. DOI: 10.28945/3939.