WEBINAR FOCUSES ON PHD JOURNEY AND THE CONCEPT OF DOCTORATENESS IN THE ARTS FIELD
25 October 2023
Recently, the Visual Arts Forum of Educators in Southern Africa (VAFESA) and the Vaal University of Technology (VUT) organised a webinar titled “Conversation with SADC PhD Holders: The Notion of Doctorateness” which provided valuable insights into the PhD journey and the concept of doctorateness in the field of arts. This event was open to students, faculty, and the public in the region.
The distinguished guest speakers for the day were Dr. Folasayo Olalere, a Senior Lecturer at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) in South Africa; Dr. Ida Razafindrakoto, a Program Manager at the Global Development Network in France, and CEO of Arterium in Madagascar; and Dr. Andrew Mulenga, a Zambian art historian and Deputy Vice Chancellor of Open Window University for the Creative Arts in Lusaka.
The webinar was structured around the following guiding statement: “According to Trafford and Leshem (2009), ‘evidence shows that candidates who do not know what is expected of them may not have had the implications and technicalities of doctoral study adequately explained to them.’ To succeed in the PhD studies, whether it’s a general PhD or Professional PhD, and Post Doctorates, certain standards and expectations are necessary. The Council on Higher Education (CHE) report (2022: 22) categorizes graduate attributes in a doctoral level in South Africa into two categories: knowledge attributes (original contribution of a PhD research project) and skills attributes (application of relevant research methods and procedures to solve research problems). In this context, we invited PhD holders to share their insights on their completed PhD research projects, knowledge contributions, challenges, tips, and motivation regarding project identification, proposal development, and potential opportunities post-PhD.”
The conversation was skilfully moderated by Dr. Anneke De Klerk, a senior lecturer at the VUT Department of Visual Arts and Design.
According to Mashaole Makwela, the organizer and facilitator of these series of webinars, two main expectations for this event involving PhD holders were met. Firstly, it aimed to provide an understanding of the overall meaning of doctorateness as a journey, and secondly, it sought to suggest focused ideas for post-PhD research.
Throughout the presentations and discussions, several key themes emerged, including knowledge attributes, skills attributes, the human aspect of the journey, and funding. Dr. Olalere emphasized the importance of completing PhD studies within eight years to maintain project relevance. He also highlighted that a PhD project should demonstrate the application of research methods leading to knowledge attributes in theory and practice, with an impact on research and the economy, especially in post-doctoral work that may require funding for production, such as artifacts.
Dr. Razafindrakoto’s presentation focused on the human aspect of the PhD journey, drawing from her lived experiences. She discussed the motivations and pressures individuals face when deciding to pursue a PhD, including economic reasons, family pressures, and candidates not being ready for the professional world. She also shed light on gender-related challenges and stereotypes, emphasizing the dilemma that women often face when balancing family and a PhD. She pointed out that outside academia, PhD holders might encounter difficulties applying their scientific research knowledge to roles involving managing people or projects.
Dr. Mulenga shared his motivations and challenges in navigating his PhD studies. Availability of scholarships and funding played a crucial role in his decision to pursue his PhD. His PhD project, as an Art historian, focused on critiquing Zambian art within the broader context of Africa, which was often seen as being behind in artistic development. One of the challenges he highlighted was the lack of frameworks to document and interpret African art from African Art History perspectives, particularly in contrast to the more established frameworks from the global North.
Overall, the conversation provided a deeper understanding of the notion of doctorateness, emphasizing that it encompasses both the academic aspects, lived experiences, and the real-life impact of research.