Landing : Athabascau University

Apgar Score for Doctoral Programs


Wouldn’t it be loverly, if at a glance a wannabe doctoral student, a Dean of Graduate Studies, a doctoral researcher could tell the health and well-being of a doctoral program. Dr. Virginia Apgar, an obstetrician, developed the Apgar scoring system to assess the health of a newly born infant. According to legend, she hastily scrawled down the five criteria on the back of a napkin (of course) to solve the problem of obstetric personnel reliably and validly determining the vitality of any newly born baby (Kahneman, 2010).

Apgar’s scoring regime so summarized assessment of new born vigor that it became standard practice in delivery rooms.

For my doctoral project, I’d like to develop a scoring, shorthand system to assess the vigor of a doctoral program. For example, by looking at the program description and ascertaining some facts in a survey I would like to answer some or all of the following questions. To what degree does the doctoral program learn, adjust, and renew to reflect the nature of academic work and research in the (inter)discipline as of 2014? To what degree is communication within the program open, transparent, supportive, inclusive, and positive? To what degree are its assessments valid, reliable, consistent between department members, formative, meta-oriented (aka self-assessment) and reciprocally understood by all. What sorts of statistics does the program keep? For example how does the department keep/track/ study/let be known/show curiosity regarding time to completion, attrition rates, its alumni, doctoral researcher interests, publication records, etc.

I might develop a checklist. To what degree does the program support student effort;

  • to learn and master a much longer piece of academic writing than has (probably) heretofore been produced,
  • to develop a warrant for research,
  • to develop a context for research via a literature review,
  • to publish,
  • to edit,
  • to collaborate, to network,
  • to develop original or unique research?
  • To what degree are students encouraged to work together on a doctoral research project?
  • To what degree can the format of the dissertation be adapted to include multiple authors, multiple projects, and multiple collaborations?

I might develop some checklists and a rubric.

What might the doctoral program evaluation rubric look-like?






Renewal and redefinition of pedagogy

Practices of ongoing renewal to program structure, requirements, courses, practices; including attention to problems (for example attrition, time to completion, the non sequitur between course-taking and research stages) and ‘learning’ from student experience.

Allowance for the impact and redefinition of learning and teaching from the pervasive use of social and communications technologies (SAMR model)



Along a continuum that includes reliable, valid summative assessment both for grades and pass/fail; formative assessment practices, meta-assessment or assessment literacy practices, transparency, exemplars …



To students, between faculty members, within the university, with professional associations, within oral examination panels, with public


Department Culture

Student-centered vs Program-driven (degree by which students are treated as products or by-products of the system)

Inward orientation vs. Outward orientation of the department

Dysfunctional fiefdoms and infighting or co-operation, collaboration, communication

Degree of networked, leadership, and inter-relationships within discipline or across disciplines


Student Experience

Supervision, support, writing growth, turns at academic tasks like editing, reviewing, publication, conferences; turn-around time with dissertation drafts, participation in academic debate, conversations, and discourses/help with financing.



I’m going to get information from grey pages in Canadian university department web sites or literature and telephone interviews. I’ll vet index design iterations through communities of interest on social media. An auto-ethnographic aspect to the research will require me to address the assessment issues that the research uncovers. The overall goal of the project is to draw attention to doctoral pedagogy so as to create an interest in examination of same and also to provide a guide to considerations of graduate schools for potential applicants. The project may create a web application which invites doctoral students to “rate my doctoral program.” Perhaps in the process it will become known how doctoral students find their doctoral programs. Wait that’s another research topic…


By: SheriO
Posted: December 31, 2013, 12:35 pm


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