Research Projects

Dr Lynette Pretorius conducts mixed methods and qualitative interdisciplinary research. At the moment, she is particularly interested in how educators and academic institutions more broadly can improve the educational experiences of graduate research students. She is currently working on the following major research projects.

Collaborative online doctoral writing groups as spaces for academic social practice

Academic writing is a key component of doctoral success and is closely linked to a researcher’s sense of identity. Increasingly, the focus on doctoral writing development stretches beyond mastering the thesis genre and toward academic publishing. However, the academic publication process is fraught with complexity and layered with tacit knowledge. As a consequence, writing for publication is often linked with significant anxiety for doctoral students, leading to imposter feelings and career development concerns. This project is a Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) experience for Monash University and Warwick University where doctoral students from both institutions have the opportunity to work collaboratively to develop a peer-reviewed article for publication under the guidance of experienced staff. Key outcomes of the project include developing participating students’ skills and publishing identities as well as developing and disseminating an established model for forming future COIL writing group collaborations. This project is funded by the Monash-Warwick Alliance Education Fund.

Doctoral students’ experiences of navigating academia

PhD students learn various transferable skills and disciplinary knowledges during their research studies. Additionally, these early career researchers need to learn how to navigate the complex world of academia, with its many unspoken structures and rules. My previous research has shown that the complex interplay and often-times contradictory natures of these skills, knowledges, and systems contribute to creating poorer educational and mental health outcomes for PhD students. This project seeks to extend this research to better understand how these skills, knowledges, and understandings of academia are developed. In particular, this study seeks to better understand how individual students’ diversities, cultural and social resources, and past experiences influence their sense of identity and belonging within academia. Importantly, this study focuses on providing the students with a platform where they can tell their own stories. In this way, this study sheds light on the often-times hidden culture of academia and provides researchers and policymakers with insights into how to improve the experiences of these early career researchers in academia. This project has resulted in the following publications:

Fostering doctoral student wellbeing by establishing doctoral learning communities

Recent research highlights that there is a mental health crisis in academia, particularly for PhD students, with a significantly higher incidence of a variety of mental illnesses, including anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. Given the high incidence of mental illness in doctoral student cohorts, this study seeks to explore the everyday experiences of PhD students as it relates to their mental wellbeing. Importantly, this study explores whether participation in collaborative projects and peer groups such as writing groups can help mitigate the feelings of inadequacy experienced by many PhD students through reflective practice and acknowledgement of the affective nature of academic writing. This project has resulted in the following publications:

Writing groups as vehicles of pedagogical reform in doctoral training

The teaching practices employed in doctoral training programs have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years. Predominantly, doctoral training programs still follow the master and apprentice model, where a student conducts an independent research project supervised by a team of experts in the field. This means that the focus of a doctoral training program is usually on the discipline-specific content of the student’s research project. An area that is often not a major focus of training programs is the development of students’ transferable skills. Educational commentators highlight that doctoral students often have a very narrow educational experience that does not effectively prepare them with the transferable skills needed to succeed in their future careers. As a result, there is a need for educational reform in doctoral training. This project focuses on developing learning experiences that are designed to explicitly teach doctoral students key transferable skills in a doctoral writing group environment. In this way, this study contributes to improving the educational experiences of doctoral students and developing graduates with the ability to apply their knowledge to various contexts. This project has resulted in the following publications: