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Evaluation and instruction in PhD examiners’ reports: How grammatical choices construe examiner roles

Published on Dec 1, 2017in Linguistics and Education1.516
· DOI :10.1016/j.linged.2017.07.008
Sue Starfield12
Estimated H-index: 12
(UNSW: University of New South Wales),
Brian Paltridge20
Estimated H-index: 20
(USYD: University of Sydney)
+ 4 AuthorsHedy Fairbairn6
Estimated H-index: 6
(University of Newcastle)
Source
Abstract
Abstract One of the principal roles of a PhD examiner is to judge ‘both the potential of the researcher and the quality of the research’ ( Holbrook, Bourke, Fairbairn, & Lovat, 2014 , p. 986). While examiners may be guided by criteria supplied by universities, the descriptors they are provided with can often be open to interpretation. Interpreting an examiner's report can present a challenge to students and their supervisors, exacerbated by the often ambiguous use of language in the reports. This article examines the discourses of evaluation and instruction in 142 PhD examiners’ reports on theses submitted at an Australasian university. The paper draws on systemic functional linguistics, in particular transitivity ( Halliday & Matthiessen, 2014 ), in order to examine the reports. The study revealed that examiners can adopt up to 10 “roles” in their reports, each of which can be co-present in a single report. The inability to differentiate between these roles, we argue, is potentially frustrating for the audience of the reports (candidates, supervisors, departmental heads, etc.), particularly when interpreting whether a comment in the text represents an evaluation, an instruction, or an aside. By revealing these multiple, yet co-present, roles in examiners’ reports and their associated linguistic realisations, we hope to raise examiners’ awareness of the implications of the language they use when writing their reports as well as draw thesis supervisor and institutional attention to the ambiguities inherent in this underexplored genre.
  • References (30)
  • Citations (2)
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References30
Newest
#1Vijay Kumar (University of Otago)H-Index: 8
#2Elke Stracke (University of Otago)H-Index: 8
AbstractDoctoral examiners judge the quality of a thesis and give the student assessment feedback if the student fails to reach certain goals. This paper investigates if and how examiners take on the evaluator or teaching role. We analysed doctoral examination reports from three disciplines. Most examiners provided assessment and feedback, but this often took the form of summative assessment. Such assessment does not include expectations or guidance on how a candidate can fix critical issues in ...
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#1Sue Starfield (UNSW: University of New South Wales)H-Index: 12
#2Brian Paltridge (USYD: University of Sydney)H-Index: 20
Last. Terry Lovat (University of Newcastle)H-Index: 6
view all 8 authors...
Despite their high stakes nature, examiners’ reports on doctoral theses are a relatively unexplored genre. Very little work has been done, further, on how evaluative language constructs meanings in the reports. To better understand the evaluative language used in the reports, this study analyses the examination criteria established by a university in New Zealand and draws on the appraisal framework to examine 142 examiners’ reports from that institution. We explore the examiners’ reports through...
8 CitationsSource
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#2Allyson HolbrookH-Index: 13
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#2Sid Bourke (University of Newcastle)H-Index: 18
Last. Terence Lovat (University of Newcastle)H-Index: 17
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In practice and process PhD examination is distinctive, reflecting the high expectations of students whose learning has been directed to their becoming researchers. This article builds on previous research on the examination of Australian theses that revealed that examiners in Science (n = 542) and Education (n = 241) provide a substantial proportion of formative comment in their reports, much of which is constructed in a way that anticipates reflective engagement by the student. Detailed examin...
11 CitationsSource
#1Sid Bourke (University of Newcastle)H-Index: 18
#2Allyson Holbrook (University of Newcastle)H-Index: 13
The examination of research theses has only relatively recently attracted research interest that has focused on what examiners do and how consistent they are. The research questions in this study address firstly whether PhD and research masters theses were treated by examiners as qualitatively different on 12 indicators of importance across the areas: contribution of the thesis, the literature review, approach and methodology, analyses and results and presentation. Secondly what was the examiner...
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#1Vijay Kumar (University of Otago)H-Index: 8
#2Elke Stracke (UC: University of Canberra)H-Index: 8
Abstract Traditionally, examiners’ reports on theses at the doctoral and Master’s level consist of two components: firstly, summative assessment where a judgement is made about whether the thesis has met the standards established by the discipline for the award of the degree, and, secondly, the developmental and formative component, where examiners provide feedback to assist the candidate to revise the thesis. Given this dual task of providing assessment and feedback, this paper presents the fin...
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#1Deliang Man (Guangdong University of Foreign Studies)H-Index: 1
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Abstract Assessment is a crucial part of degree programmes in higher education. While previous research has been primarily concerned with PhD thesis assessment practice in western countries, this article considers the focus and assessment criteria of 40 examiner reports on master’s dissertations in translation studies at a Chinese university. The results indicate that these examiners structured their reports in four rhetorical moves: ‘preparing the candidate for a decision’, ‘expressing an evalu...
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Getting published in academic journals is increasingly important for research students in terms of gaining employment when they complete their studies and, in the future, for tenure and promotion applications once they have obtained an academic appointment. In this paper, I discuss some of the challenges that student (and early career) writers face when submitting articles to academic journals and, in particular, how they might better understand and respond to the reports they receive on their w...
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