The purpose of the PhD: Theorising the skills acquired by students

Susan MOWBRAY, Christine Margaret HALSE

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlespeer-review

80 Citations (Scopus)


In the past decade there has been a marked push for the development of employability skills to be part of the PhD process. This push is generally by stakeholders from above and outside the PhD process, i.e. government and industry, who view skills as a summative product of the PhD. In contrast, our study interviewed stakeholders inside the PhD process – twenty final‐year, full‐time Australian PhD students – to provide a bottom‐up perspective into the skills question. Using grounded theory procedures we theorise the skills students develop during the PhD as a formative developmental process of acquiring intellectual virtues. Drawing on Aristotelian theory, we propose that theorising the PhD as a process of acquiring intellectual virtues offers a more robust and conceptually richer framework for understanding students’ development during the PhD than the instrumental focus on skills evident in contemporary debates. Copyright © 2010 HERDSA.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)653-664
JournalHigher Education Research and Development
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2010


Mowbray. S., & Halse, C. (2010). The purpose of the PhD: Theorising the skills acquired by students. Higher Education Research & Development, 29(6), 653-664.


  • Aristotle
  • Doctorate
  • Intellectual virtues
  • PhD
  • Skills

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