The Centre for the Study of Research Training and Impact (SORTI) is focused on understanding and developing research and higher order problem solving skills, and the impact of research training and research outcomes in a wide variety of contexts. SORTI is known internationally for its work in areas of doctoral examination and doctoral learners.

While SORTI was established out of the concern evident at national and international levels about the quality and impact of research and research training, the continued development of the Centre has also responded to the escalating interest in higher and professional education; higher order skills and thinking, and the acceleration of the use of information technologies in related contexts. Other areas of strength are in research ethics, epistemology and cognition, learning affect and emotional states, innovation and policy entrepreneurship and transformational leadership. To capture these changes we developed an overarching program framework: Research Training and Transformational Knowledge (RTTK).

SORTI brings together researchers from The University of Newcastle and national and international academics in the fields of Education, Science and IT, Psychology, Social and Cultural Studies, Business and Law, Evaluation and Measurement, Policy Studies, Curriculum, Philosophy, Creative Arts, Music, Mathematics, Research Management, and University Administration.

Research and Publication Highlights

The focus and substance of formative comment provided by PhD examiners

Holbrook, Bourke, Fairbairn and Lovat build on previous research on the examination of Australian PhD theses for this paper in Studies in Higher Education. Detailed examination of the formative text of Science and Education examiner reports identified nine categories of formative comment directed at three groupings of weaknesses or flaws: 'fundamentals', 'project' and 'argument'. While all were related to a less favourable recommendation, there were discipline differences. There was significantly more comment in Science pertaining to the data and analysis and the fundamentals of presentation while in Education there was more emphasis on improving argument.

Examiner reference to theory in PhD theses

In this 2015 paper, Holbrook, Bourke and Fairbairn show that reference to theory in PhD examination reports is not the overriding focus of examiners that some candidates might imagine it to be. While the analysis identified six specific categories of comment pertaining to theory, a fusion of most or all the categories in one thesis was rare and always positive. Based on these categories, the paper provides clarity in what candidates need to attend to with respect to theory. Read more about this research in Innovations in Education and Teaching International.

PhD candidate expectations: Exploring mismatch with experience

As part of a broader study, the data for this paper by Holbrook, Shaw, Scevak, Bourke, Cantwell and Budd published in International Journal of Doctoral Studies, were drawn from interviews with PhD candidates at Australian universities. The categories of initial expectations identified coalesced into three dimensions: the doctoral 'Task', the 'University', and 'Personal' factors. Where mismatch was found between expectations and subsequent experience, it was primarily in relation to the 'Task'. Negative mismatch was consistently related to candidate satisfaction with supervision, department/university provision, and their own preparation for the degree. To minimise the impact of such mismatches, the authors argue that it is important for university induction programs to be more explicit about the task and the norms of experience.

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