Identifying threshold concepts and proposing strategies to support doctoral candidates

Margaret Kiley*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    118 Citations (Scopus)


    In this article I argue that doctoral candidates undertake a form of rite of passage, generally incorporating several shorter rites of passage, during their candidature of three to five years. Furthermore, there are times during their research education when many candidates demonstrate through their writing, presentation, discussion, and even demeanour, that they have undergone a change in the way they understand their learning and themselves as learners. These changes, it is suggested, indicate that the candidate has encountered a threshold concept and has crossed that threshold. Encountering these concepts can be a challenging experience for candidates as they transform their ways of viewing knowledge and themselves. For many doctoral candidates there is at least one stage during candidature when they could be described as being 'stuck' as they encounter a particular threshold concept which challenges them. The experience of being 'stuck' can manifest as depression, a sense of hopelessness, 'going round in circles' and so on. This sense of being 'stuck' occurs at the time when a candidate can be described as being in a liminal state, the state prior to the crossing of a threshold. Having established this context I then discuss the role of communities of learners and research culture as ways to assist candidates in recognising this 'stuckness' and to assist them to become 'unstuck' and move on with a new sense of confidence and appreciation of themselves as learners and researchers.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)293-304
    Number of pages12
    JournalInnovations in Education and Teaching International
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2009


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