131 Days and Counting

The topic of today’s blog is the highly contested concept… the ‘10,000 hour rule’.

Some people might be aware of this ‘rule’ that was originally conceptualised by Professor Anders Ericsson (1993) and later popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers. Gladwell stated that “… excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice … In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: 10,000 hours.” Essentially boiling down success in mastering a skill to hours practiced.

This is a topic that pops up every now and then in Doctoral studies as it is often discussed that the 3-4 year doctoral study is merely an apprenticeship in academic research. If the 10,000 hours applies to ‘mastering’ the skill of research, then a doctoral student practicing research 8 hours/day, 7 days a week for 3.5 to 4 years would become an ‘expert’ by the end of their doctoral program. This is quite the contrast to how academia sees the doctoral program.

I am nearing the end of my doctoral program and feel I will be close to reaching 10,000 hours of work. Do I feel like I have ‘mastered’ research? Absolutely not. I have learned much of the skills involved in research, but I do not feel I have mastered them in any way. Can I write a research paper? Yes. Is it considered ‘expert’ quality? No. Can I present my research at an academic conference? Yes. At an ‘expert’ level? No.

My other question regarding this supposed 10,000 hours is: what constitutes ‘practice’? Does teaching and the skills involved in this activity count towards the practice of academia? What about the various other activities that make up the roll of a creative-practice academic like: networking and collaborating, applying for funding, creative production (be it film, digital media, writing, art etc.)? I have been teaching for almost 10 years, practicing the creative arts for over 10 years, and have spent much of my life networking and collaborating on projects. In college I was on the school board, finance committee, year book publication team, and formal committee. I participated in school plays and musicals, created films, spent six months in the Young Achievers Australia program where we learned entrepreneurial skills and team work skills as we conceptualised, created and promoted a product (in our case a framed Centennial print celebrating Australia’s 100 years of federation, signed by leading politicians).

All of these activities involved ‘research’ in some form or another, and I believe have all lead me to be where I am today, undertaking a doctorate. But does this count towards the 10,000 hours? I would think not. Had I not undertaken these activities, would I have been less of a researcher today? Who knows. I don’t necessarily believe that practice makes perfect (because what is perfect?), but I do believe that practice helps. A willingness to dedicate yourself to consistent, sustained, quality practice must improve your skills. I wonder where predisposition comes into it? Does having an innate ability also help? I leave you to ponder!

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