Language of the doctorate: Doctorateness as a threshold concept in doctoral literacy

Eli Bitzer


In academia, the definition of literacy has evolved from a focus on reading and writing to encompass more inclusive and expansive perspectives. Such perspectives have come from researchers involved in exploring literacy among diverse populations and across traditional divides such as cultural, political and socioeconomic boundaries. Changing definitions of literacy include usage in expressions such as ‘computer literacy’, ‘civic literacy’, ‘health literacy’, ‘cultural literacy’ and others. Recently, new directions in literacy research were foregrounded by critical questions that seek to discover how literacy functions in doctoral studies and within research communities. For instance, what does it mean to be ‘literate’ as a doctoral member of a research culture, within a field of research, within the academic profession and so on? In addition, doctoral candidates often grapple with what may be termed ‘threshold concepts’.  Such concepts include the meaning of the doctorate as a qualification, its aims, its narrative and the level of literacy required to succeed with a doctorate. Against this background the article explores firstly how the concept of being literate has been broadened to include literacy for doctoral learning; secondly, it explains why doctorateness remains a threshold concept for many doctoral candidates and supervisors, and thirdly it provides some evidence from at least five years of working with doctoral education and doctoral supervisor development workshops to support an argument for doctoral literacy. Finally, the article provides some implications which emerged from a better understanding of the language and requirements of doctorateness as an essential literacy requirement for doctoral candidates and their supervisors.



Doctoral literacy; threshold concepts;doctoral education; critical literacy;doctoral supervision

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