Juggling competing activities: academic staff as doctoral candidates

Jan Smith , Jennie Billot, Deanne Clouder, Virginia King

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article explores the experiences of a group of established academic staff in New Zealand and the United Kingdom, as they undertake a doctorate in their home institutions. Our interest is in how individuals negotiate this dual status from a cultural historical activity theory (CHAT) stance which explores how rules, tools, community and divisions of labour, and interacting activity systems, shape doctoral experiences. The focus in this article, having analysed their detailed narrative accounts, is on how academics experience three interdependent activity systems: those surrounding the thesis, the institutional context, and the home-life spheres. Issues related to time, workload and supervision issues, variability in collegial support and impact on personal priorities and time emerged. There is a range of particularities – from easy access to resources/supervisors, to inflexible institutional regulations – applicable to this group of doctoral candidates. Negotiating life as an academic with concurrent doctoral candidature provides positive outcomes in terms of teaching, research confidence and general personal and professional development. However, a range of difficulties can also be encountered, particularly in relation to personal and professional relationships, and workload management.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)591-605
Number of pages15
JournalHigher Education Research & Development
Issue number3
Early online date11 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2020


  • academic work
  • doctoral education
  • doctoral supervision
  • professional development
  • Academic work

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education

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