22 SES 08 C, Doctoral Students and their Education
In this paper we want to reflect on doctorateness (Murray, 2003; Poole, 2015; Wellington, 2013) and how doctoral students experience their learning processes. The intention is to focus on some of the success factors and challenges associated with completing the education. Our concern is with the quality universities offer their students during their doctoral education and how universities communicate expectations to doctoral students. In order to get more knowledge about learning processes in doctorateness, we are doing a qualitative study based on interview data. Our informants are doctoral students, representing different academic disciplines, at the University College of Southeast Norway.
In the last decades in Norway, the number of postgraduate students has increased. In 2016, statistics show that 1410 students completed their doctoral studies (NIFU, 2016). The doctoral study is supposed to take three to four years, but the average time use on completing, is five years. Statistics of 2016 show us that 34% of students that started their doctoral process in 2009, had not completed their thesis after six years; some of these students will complete their thesis later, others will drop out. According to the statistics, there are differences between academic disciplines when it comes to dropping out. Why it is so, little knowledge is available.
The reason why some students choose to interrupt their study, are many and complex (Rudd, 1984; Jacobsson & Gillström, 2006). Supervision is identified as an important factor (Ives & Rowley 2005; Jacobsson & Gillström, 2006). Understanding why some students consider dropping out, is essential to reduce the dropout rate.
Our main research question:
What factors have impact on doctoral candidates’ completion of their doctoral thesis?
We will focus on following questions:
- How do they experience the doctoral process?
- How do they experience supervision?
Supervision is a key factor in completing the doctoral-thesis. Supervision, guidance, coaching or mentoring are concepts used as synonymous. In Norway, the overall concept is supervision. The concept is “ill-defined, poorly conceptualized and weakly theorized” (Colley, 2003:13). Roberts (2000) studied the concept as a phenomenon and points at some essential attributes: The most characteristic is the processual form. This process could be identified as supportive, helping, teaching-learning, reflective and career development.
There are different approaches toward supervision; a judgmental approach (Lejonberg, Elstad & Christophersen, 2015), a transmission or conventional approach and a knowledge transforming, developmental or educative approach (Cochrand-Smith & Paris, 1995; Lejonberg et al., 2015). These different approaches are based on different paradigms of learning (Sfards, 1998), and it varies whether the supervisor is seen as the judge, the expert or a critical friend, and whether the candidate is seen as a passive or an active part in the partnership. In an ongoing study on doctorateness (XX et al., 2016), there were no demands of formal qualifications in supervising doctoral students.
Ismail, Majidb & Ismail (2013) and Manatunga (2007) draw attention to the power imbalance in the relationship that is often related to both the term supervisor, suggesting a power differential and the knowledge of doing research degree, disadvantage the student. However, there is also considerable uneasiness among academic staff about the extent of their supervisory role and functions. In a series of workshops in several tertiary institutions, problem areas were discussed with supervisors, both experienced and inexperienced; and practices and strategies were explored which facilitate effective supervision (Murray, 2003).
In our study, we will interview doctoral students about their experiences and what they think about their learning processes. We are aiming to get more knowledge about how they experience support from the University, their view of supervision and what they think about the doctoral programme where they participate. The interview data will be collected in spring 2018. Our informants are at different stages of their doctoral study. However, all of them will at this point have experiences with supervision, scientific courses in the programmes and academic writing. Our methodological approach is inspired by narrative research (Czarniawska, 2004). Czarniawska defines narratives as a specific type of qualitative design, “in which narrative is understood as a spoken or written text giving an account of an event/action or series of events/actions, chronological connected” (p. 17). The procedures for this research consist of focusing on studying individuals, gathering data through the collection of their stories, reporting individual experiences, and chronologically ordering the meaning of those experiences (Cresswell, 2013). In our study, we use interview, asking our informant to tell about their experiences as doctoral students. This means an indirect form (Moshuus & Eide, 2016; Moshuus, 2012), relying on narratives to bring out the doctoral students’ own stories about their doctoral education and process. According to Mooshus (2016), the method makes the interview more like a conversation, allowing the informants to tell open-ended stories about their current situation, their past expectations, and future plans. In analyzing the data, it might be necessary to “restory” the informants’ stories into a framework that make sense (Cresswell, 2013). According to Cresswell (2013), this framework may consist of gathering stories and analyzing them for key elements of the story (e.g. time, place, plot, and scene), and then re-writing the stories to place them within chronological sequences.
According to earlier research findings, we will mention some challenges such as expectation and lifestyle mismatch (Corner, Löfström & Pyhältö, 2017), problems with supervision (Ismail, Majidb & Ismail, 2013; Manatunga, 2007) and discrepancy between academic demand and students’ competences, e.g. academic writing (Rudd, 1984). In analyzing the collected data, we will focus on the stories of the single individual and individual experiences on the doctoral and learning processes, and their experiences with supervision. However, we are also expecting to find some common experiences among the doctoral students. Identifying, negative and positive elements in the students’ doctoral studies, will be of importance. Hopefully, the findings of our study might help our institution to develop the quality of doctoral programmes in accordance with the aim which is to support doctoral students so they can achieve their doctoral degree. Knowledge from our study might be of interest to the international research fellowship on doctorateness. At the same time, we see the need for further research. How the learning process for the doctoral students affects their completion, is a question worth pursuing.
Cochran-Smith, M., & Paris, P. (1995). Mentor and mentoring: Did Homer have it right? In J. Smith (Ed.), Critical discourses on teacher development (pp. 181-202). London: Cassel. Colley, H. (2003). Mentoring for Social Inclusion: A Critical Approach to Nurturing Mentor Relationship. Oxford: Routledge. Cornér, S., Löfström, E., & Pyhältö, K. (2017). The relationships between doctoral students’ perceptions of supervision and burnout. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 12, 91-106. Cresswell, J. W. (2013) (3rd ed.). Qualitative inquiry and research design: choosing among five approaches. London: Sage publications Ltd. Czarniawska, B. (2004). Narratives in social science research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Ismail, H. M., Majidb, F. A., & Ismail, I. S. (2013). “It’s a complicated” relationship: Research students’ perspective on doctoral supervision. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 90, 165-170. Ives, G., & Rowley, G. (2005). Supervisor selection or allocation and continuity of supervision: Ph.D. students’ progress and outcomes. Studies in Higher Education, 30(5), 535-555. Jacobsson, G., & Gillström, P. (2006). International postgraduate student mirror: Catalonia, Finland, Ireland, and Sweden. Högskoleverket, Swedish National Agency for Higher Education. Report 2006:29. Lejonberg, E., Elstad, E. & Christophersen, K.-A. (2015). Mentor education: challenging mentors’ beliefs about mentoring. International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, 4(2), 142-158. Manatunga, C. (2007). Supervision as mentoring: the role of power and boundary crossing. Studies in Continuing Education. Vol 29(2), 207-221. Moshuus, G.H. (2012). Skulle jeg latt være å intervjue Sandra? Om etnografi på barnefattigdom og snøballen som stoppet. In Backe-Hansen & I. Frønes (Eds). Metoder og perspektiver i barne- og ungdomsforskning. Oslo: Gyldendal Akademiske. Moshuus, G. A., & Eide, K (2016). The indirect approach: How to discover context when studying marginal youth. International Journal of Qualitative Methods January-December 2016, 1–10. Murray, R. (2003). How to survive your VIVA. Berkshire, UK: Open University Press. NIFU (Nordisk institutt for studier av innovasjon, forskning og utdanning)(2017). FoU- statistikk. Doktorgrader. Poole, B. (2015). The rather elusive concept of ‘doctorateness: a reaction to Wellington. Studies in Higher Education 40 (9), 1507-1522. Roberts, A. (2000). Mentoring Revisited: a phenomenological reading of the literature. Mentoring and Tutoring, 8 (2), 145-170. Rudd, E. (1984). Research in Postgraduate Education. Higher Education Research and Development 3 (2), 109-120. Sfards, A. (1998). On two methaphors for learning and the dangers of choosing just one. Education Researcher, 27 (2), 4-13. Wellington, J. (2013). Searching for ‘doctorateness’. Studies in Higher Education 38 (10), 1490-1503.
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