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Prof Liezel Frick: How to help unlock creativity through doctoral education
Author: Corporate Communication & Marketing / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie & Bemarking
Published: 02/05/2023

​​​Prof Liezel Frick, Vice-Dean: Research and Postgraduate Studies in the Faculty of Education at Stellenbosch University, recently delivered her inaugural lecture titled “Not just another brick in the wall: The role of doctoral creativity in educating future generations of researchers".

Frick spoke to the Corporate Communication and Marketing Division about how her work helps to improve our understanding of doctoral education.

Tell us more about your research and why you became interested in this specific field.

Though my research interests and that of my students are broadly within higher and adult education, I consider my work on doctoral education as an interesting intellectual project. This interest stemmed from my own doctoral study, which focused on the professional development of lecturers in the natural sciences.

My data showed the doctorate to be an important threshold into an academic career in this context, which also made me wonder about my own doctoral journey. I became particularly interested in the idea of making an original contribution, which is expected of work at a doctoral level across disciplines and national systems. Was my work original? Was it original enough?

I found very little literature on the topic, and a lot of anecdotal evidence that supervisors (and examiners) often had a tacit understanding of the concept rather than an explicit agreement that could be used to guide doctoral students. So, my real-world questions became an actual and sustained research focus.

How would you describe the relevance of your work?

Much of my work has centred on unravelling conceptual and practical conundrums within doctoral education, while at the same time considering the people (students and supervisors) behind the research work.

The work fills gaps within our understanding of doctoral education, but its relevance becomes clearer in the application of these scholarly contributions – often in the form of short courses to supervisors throughout disciplines, institutions, and national higher education systems.

I have had the privilege to present short courses, workshops, and keynote addresses at conferences throughout the world and to wide-ranging academic audiences that included doctoral students and/or supervisors. I believe it is within these engagements that the relevance of my work becomes more obvious.

What aspects of your work do you enjoy the most?

I enjoy collaborative research, particularly when we can cross boundaries (be it disciplinary or nationally) with such work. I also enjoy opening doors for others to collaborate and grow, particularly early career researchers. Networks make the academic world go round. I have always been a better collaborator than a competitor.

It can sometimes be challenging to work in higher education. What keeps you motivated when things get tough?

Being able to travel and engage with colleagues from around the world as we share interests and experiences and support each other in a variety of ways. It is easy to think the grass is always greener elsewhere, until you get to work in other contexts and get to know their challenges and concerns.

You have made your mark in the field of education. What would your message be for the next generation of aspiring female educationalists?

Having an intellectual project that can sustain your interest and draw others into your research is a useful place to start. It means finding your focus and your tribe; don't try to be everything to everyone everywhere. Make meaningful connections and collaborate – you don't need to change the world on your own. Don't close doors behind you; pay it forward. Think about how your work can benefit those who come after you. And, finally, there is no substitute for hard work.

Tell us something exciting about yourself that people would not expect.

If given a choice, I would either be painting or herding cattle on horseback than do anything else.

How do you spend your free time away from lectures and research?

I love spending time with my family, painting or herding cattle.