22 SES 01 B, Drop-outs in Higher Education
Doctoral programs vary across countries and disciplines. Especially in Europe, some PhD programs provide students flexibility in terms of the research/study topics and completion times; yet, the problem of high attrition rate is visible (Martinsuo & Turkulainen, 2011). As Jones (2013) states, the attrition rate for PhD students range from 33% to 70%. Research shows that the lack of socialization and negative supervisor relationships (Ali & Kohun, 2007; Hunter & Devine, 2016), high anxiety and emotional exhaustion (Hunter & Devine, 2016; Pyhältö et al., 2012), and enrollment status- part time/full time (Gardner & Gopaul, 2012) - are among the reasons that students have intentions to leave their PhD programs.
As many other PhD programs, Geography PhD programs are also challenged with the delays in degree completion and high attrition rate (Adams, 2015; Monk & Solem, 2015). In Turkey, during 2015-2016 academic year, 353 students (72% men and 28% women) were studying at Geography PhD programs, constituting 0.4% of the all doctoral students in the country. At the same year, the number of graduates holding a Geography PhD degree was only fifteen (67% men and 33% women) (Council of Higher Education-Turkey, 2017). These numbers show that PhD in Geography is not very popular among the other PhD programs and these programs produce much less graduates compared to the number of students.
This study aims to explore why drop-out students in Geography PhD programs left their doctoral education, and to identify their experiences and the problems that they faced with during their PhD studies. The findings of the study are expected to be useful for the students who start their Geography PhD programs, supervisors and faculty members of the Geography PhD programs, and Graduate Schools offering Geography PhD programs.
A semi-structured interview form that was developed by the researchers were used as a data collection tool. It included 13 questions (i.e., reasons for leaving PhD, experiences and emotions during PhD). The data were analyzed using descriptive data analysis technique. The participants of the study were four people (2 women and 2 men) who finished their PhD courses, submitted their dissertation proposal, and quit their PhD programs in Geography. All of the participants were working as a geography teacher and their age ranged from 33 to 40. In this study, the participants are given nicknames to protect their identity. Brief narratives of the participants are presented below. Defne, is a 38-year-old woman and working as a geography teacher. She started her PhD in 2005 and dropped out in 2010 when she was at the stage of writing her dissertation. She was living in the city where she was studying for her PhD degree. For the first two years of her PhD program, she was not working but she had a scholarship. After two years, she started to work, she got married, and moved to another city. Meryem is a 40-year-old woman, and a geography teacher. She started her PhD program in 2007. Having a PhD was her dream and she wanted to make it real. When she started her program, she was working as a geography teacher, and she was married. In 2010, she gave up her dream about having a PhD degree and dropped out from her program when she was writing her dissertation. Ali is a 36-year-old man, a geography teacher. He states that “I love my job and Geography. I would not want to do anything else”. He was not working when he started his PhD in 2009. He was not living in the same city where he was studying but he was living close by. He got married one year after he started his PhD program. For the first two years, he was not working. His wife was supporting him financially. On the third year of his PhD, he started to work as a geography teacher and he left the PhD program during the dissertation writing process. Vedat is a 33- year-old man, and a geography teacher. He started his PhD program in 2009. He was living in the same city where he was attending his PhD program. He left his program when writing his dissertation.
The participants started their PhD programs for the reasons of having an academic career, finding a job in a university, and doing research. Participants had some positive experiences during PhD such as increasing their knowledge in the field, learning a foreign language, learning research methods, gaining analytical thinking skills, learning how to read articles, and learning how to take pictures. Participants reported that they had personal and institutional reasons for leaving PhD. Meryem and Ali could not move forward with their dissertation and they had problems with their supervisors. Meryem stated that if her supervisor could provide her more support she would stay in academia. Ali also stated that he had financial problems and he did not have enough knowledge on technical issues. He wished he had been provided more support from his professors. Defne lost her self-confidence and started to believe that she could not finish her PhD. She also had some problems at work that her work-load was too heavy to pursue her PhD. Vedat had started to see PhD as a waste of time and stated that if he did not have to learn a foreign language for his degree, he might have not left PhD. In order to understand the participants’ experiences during PhD, they were also asked to describe their PhD experience by using metaphors. The metaphors they used were a nightmare, climbing on a steep rock, boomerang, and a cell phone. “It was like a nightmare that I cannot escape from. I cannot reach the sunlight, I scream but not being heard” (Ali). “It was like climbing on a steep rock, the uncertainty that you cannot see what is on top, you do not have enough support around you and this makes everything even more tiresome “ (Defne).
Adams, J. S. (2015). Reality therapy for geography Ph.D. programs GeoJournal 80, 169. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10708-014-9572-8 Ali, A., & Kohun, F. (2007). Dealing with social isolation to minimize doctoral attrition – a four stage framework, International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 2(2007), 33-49, https://doi.org/10.28945/56 Council of Higher Education, Turkey (2017). Higher Education Information Management System, https://istatistik.yok.gov.tr Gardner, S. K., & Gopaul, B. (2012) The part-time doctoral student experience, International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 7(2012), 63-78, https://doi.org/10.28945/1561 Hunter, K. H., & Devine, K. (2016). Doctoral students’ emotional exhaustion and intentions to leave academia. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 11, 35-61. http://ijds.org/Volume11/IJDSv11p035- 061Hunter2198.pdf Jones, M. (2013). Issues in doctoral studies- forty years of journal discussion: Where have we been and where are we going? International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 8(2013), 83 – 104, https://doi.org/10.28945/1871 Martinsuo, M., & Turkulainen, V. (2011). Personal commitment, support and progress in doctoral studies, Studies in Higher Education, 36(1), 103-120, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03075070903469598 Monk, J. & Solem, M. (2015). Changing doctoral education: The case of US geography GeoJournal, 80, 187. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10708-014-9586-2 Pyhältö, K., Toom, A., Stubb, J., & Lonka, K. (2012). Challenges of becoming a scholar: A study of doctoral students’ problems and well-being. International Scholarly Research Network Education, 12, 1-12. doi:org/10.5402/2012/934941.
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