Cross disciplinary research in engineering and educational sciences. A Swedish case study
Paper in proceedings, 2009

In this position paper the authors argue the benefits and the pitfalls in carrying out cross disciplinary PhDs that combine studies in the Engineering sciences with pedagogical studies. The paper traces the history of such studies in Sweden and provides a specific case study to illustrate key aspects of their argument. In 2002 the third author defended his thesis, half of which was a conventional physics study and half a pedagogical analysis of aspects of physics education. In 2005 the second author successfully defended her thesis which also comprised two parts. The first part, defended at the licentiate level, consisted of research into InAS quantum dots for laser applications. The second part was an analytical, critical, reflective study of the pedagogical, gender and multicultural issues that confronted her as a woman migrant studying to be an engineer. Both theses began as conventional physics theses but for professional and personal reasons the candidates to focus on engineering education. They received assistance from pedagogical experts who in fact, if not on paper, became their main supervisors. The resultant PhDs caused a good deal of controversy. This was partly because they were unconventional and crossed the science/social science boundaries. In Ferdos case there was another element. The pedagogical part of her thesis included a critique of sexism within engineering education and was reported in the press. Her findings contributed to a reform of workplace practices, especially in the area of doctoral studies at Chalmers. Those who felt threatened by some of the findings sought to discredit the work by arguing that the thesis lacked rigor. The fact that both theses were ‘hybrids’ assisted those who were opposed to the mixing of science and humanities at the doctoral level in an engineering university. Their opposition, and the assumptions underlying it, highlights the need for a more carefully structured engineering education research process, one that, hopefully, will open up a career path for engineers who are interested in improving engineering education by carrying out research into how engineers learn best. This paper offers some possible ways of solving problems that arise when new and innovative PhDs, such as mixed engineering and education PhDs are attempted.


Michael Christie

Centre for Competence and Knowledge Building in Higher Education (CKK)

Chalmers, Applied Information Technology (Chalmers)

Tom Adawi

Centre for Competence and Knowledge Building in Higher Education (CKK)

Chalmers, Applied Information Technology (Chalmers)

Proceedings of the 37th SEFI Annual Conference, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, 1-4 July, 2009

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Pedagogical Work


Learning and teaching

Pedagogical work

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