Different Journeys: Supervisor Perspectives on Disciplinary Conceptual Threshold Crossings in Doctoral Learning

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This article offers insights into supervisor awareness of conceptual threshold crossings in doctoral learning nuanced by researcher disciplines, and also considers supervisors’ related support for doctoral candidate development. First explored in undergraduate learning, threshold concepts highlight variation related to learning in the disciplines, identifying how realising the absolutely key concepts in disciplines cause troublesome, and transformative, learning, raising the cognitive levels of understanding and creation of new knowledge in that discipline (Meyer and Land, 2005). Building on work on undergraduate disciplinary threshold concepts, but focusing on research learning, particularly at doctoral level, conceptual threshold crossings have been identified (Kiley and Wisker, 2009) characterising significant stages in the learning journeys of doctoral candidates. At these stages, candidates evidence transformations in research learning above and beyond the frequent, everyday advances. They then work – research and write – in more conceptual, creative and critical ways, essential for PhD success, as defined by colleagues focusing on doctorateness (Trafford and Leshem, 2008) and examination (Mullins and Kiley, 2002). They cross conceptual thresholds. There has to date, however, been little exploration of specific discipline-related stages at which doctoral candidates cross such conceptual thresholds. Previous work (Wisker et al. 2009; Kiley and Wisker, 2010) focuses on supervisor awareness of conceptual threshold crossings, and of ways in which they might supportively persuade candidates to make such crossings or breakthroughs in learning, to enhance the quality of their research and thesis. In this new work, data from supervisor workshop discussions offers suggestions for moments when conceptual threshold crossing can take place. This new work focuses specifically on discipline-related practices and stages of conceptual threshold crossing in doctoral research learning and supervisors’ awareness and support for work arising from this.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCritical Studies in Teaching and Learning (CRISTAL)
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 16 Dec 2018


  • doctoral learning
  • supervision
  • conceptual threshold crossings
  • disciplines
  • threshold concepts


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