Graphic Novels for Doctoral Researcher Development?

A draing of Matthew sitting at a computer, next to a pile of books, a lamp and a cup of coffeeThose who have dropped by my office in the last few months will have been bored by my incessant chatter about the value of graphic novels.  The main reason for my interest is that one of my MA in Higher Education Practice assignments involves this format as part of the assessment, and there is an academic value to working with images in education.

So what’s the big deal? Well, for me, drawing is not just putting pencil to paper, it is about drawing on memories of events, emotions, people and things. An excellent example is Art Spiegelman’s Maus (Spiegelman 2011). The great thing about the page of the graphic novel is the layout: panels and spaces between panels. These influence how we view the narrative (McCloud 1994, 94-117), but take a step back from a specific panel and our brains do some amazing things with words and images. The open awareness of our visual field synthesizes the images and text much more rapidly than reading alone (Sousanis 2015, 61-67), so we see both sequentially and simultaneously. This is great for thinking holistically about your research, teaching and learning in general. Try it. You might like it!


  • McCloud, S. 1994. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: HarperCollins.
  • Sousanis, N. 2015. Unflattening. Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University Press.
  • Spiegelman, A. 2011. MetaMaus: A Look Inside a Modern Classic, Maus. London: Viking.
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Applying cognitive apprenticeship theory to academic networking

We are approaching our part-time and distance student weekend at the University of East Anglia, one of the real highlights of our year. This year we will be focusing on academic networking, delivering a paper for the first time, articulating research methodology and exploring methods, tools and approaches in the digital humanities.

I am very excited about adapting some of my previous personal and professional development sessions on academic networking for this event, in particular the way in which the students will conduct group and pair work. I’ve drawn on the work of Ann Austin, whose wonderful work on cognitive apprenticeship (Austin 2009) has recently attracted the attention of those working with doctoral students who are starting to teach (Greer, Cathcart and Neale 2016).

I think the personal/professional domain of networking is an important area for researchers to consider because it is so important for the conduct of research and career advancement. To develop peer-led approaches in teaching and learning are important here for two reasons. The first is that teacher-led “this is what happened to me” stories sometimes lead to disconnect, i.e. that students may not identify readily with the community of practice that a more established scholar inhabits; they simply haven’t experienced it yet, even if it is something they try to imagine. The second is that doctoral students in the humanities come from a wide variety of backgrounds and personal and professional experiences drawn from different sectors. It would be more fruitful to draw on this variety of life experience in the session to allow the students to model, coach, scaffold, articulate, reflect and promote the transfer of learning (Austin 2009, 175-176) amongst themselves. I’ve certainly found structuring my session in this way (as a teacher) and the learning behaviours of the students (as peer mentors) has opened up new ways of being more inclusive, and remaining true to some of the principles of andragogy and heutagogy.


  • Austin, A. E. (2009) Cognitive apprenticeship theory and its implications for doctoral education: a case example from a doctoral program in higher and adult education, International Journal for Academic Development, 14:3, 173-183.
  • Greer, D. A., Cathcart, A and Neale, L. (2016) Helping doctoral students teach: transitioning to early career academia through cognitive apprenticeship. Higher Education Research & Development, 1-15.
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Research-led teaching or teaching-led research?

As part of my work towards module 4 of the MA in Higher Education Practice at the University of East Anglia, I have been engrossed in the research/teaching “nexus”. For graduate education on my focus on researcher development, this presents an interesting challenge. Most universities will declare that their undergraduate programmes are research-led or research-informed, but how to think about personal and professional development at postgraduate research level (what has been termed in the sector “doctoral training”)?

The primary aims of researcher development involve modelling research skills, behaviours and attributes that more established researchers have internalised at an earlier stage and in the course of their practice. The teaching may involve treatment of methods, tools and approaches, and allow students to apply this to their own research activities. Many colleagues would probably argue that researcher development is inevitably research-infused, but is it led or informed by research on education? That is to say, do practitioners (researcher developers) consult existing studies on the doctoral process to inform their teaching? Do they design and conduct educational research using, for example, methods such as action research, to evaluate the impact of their teaching in this area? Do the results of such studies inform future teaching decisions and curriculum design? This may be a lot to expect in team-teaching situations, but those designing researcher development programmes should aim to develop a pedagogy that is responsive and evidence-based.


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