22 SES 02 B, Students' Perspectives and Support
Doctoral candidate satisfaction has historically focused substantially on satisfaction with supervision (Harman, 2002; Zhao, Golde, & McCormick, 2007). However, other aspects such as university infrastructure support (Tennant, 2008), finance (Bowen & Rudenstine, 1992) and employment (Gittings, 2010) have also been found to be important to candidate satisfaction. This reflects a tendency in the literature to focus on supervisor characteristics and training over and above learner characteristics and development of learning skills, when in effect doing the research and the demands of the task are the concerns that have the greatest potential to affect student expectations, well-being and satisfaction. That is not to say supervision is not a concern, it figures highly in satisfaction, however supervision needs to be given less overall emphasis, and more attention needs to be paid to what students bring to the degree and articulation of their preparedness to engage with the doctoral task. Much of the variation in satisfaction with advisers has been attributed to a general decline over the period of candidature related to failure to meet expectations in a number of ways (Russo, 2011).
Until candidates are engaged in the complexity of the task it is difficult to grasp the intensity and the depth of thinking required to manage the uncertainty of the doctoral task (Cantwell et al., 2015). There are a number of factors which exacerbate the emotive nature of the task, including expectations, personal pressures and predisposed learning dispositions. In terms of doctoral candidate satisfaction, the supervisor has long been seen as a crucial factor in a ‘satisfactory’ candidature. However, models of supervision are changing which move the focus back to the nature of the task itself. Satisfaction can be seen as an outcome measure, but it is also important to gauge satisfaction at different points of candidature. Satisfaction in this sense can be envisaged as a consequence of expectations and experience in higher degree research, and given the longer period of engagement in a research degree, satisfaction can vary as expectations and experience with the task change over time. There are a number of stages to candidature, whereby satisfaction with the experience may vary. Research has indicated that satisfaction with a doctoral program, especially the candidate’s realisation of their expectations, is critical for doctoral completion (Bair & Haworth, 1999). There is further evidence that misalignment or mismatch between expectations and experience during candidature can lead to dissatisfaction and attrition (Bair & Haworth, 2004; Golde, 2005)
The interplay between expectations about candidature and satisfaction has been seen to indicate a mismatch that can occur, particularly at the start of candidature. Holbrook et al. (2014), found that initial expectations explored through analysis of the interview data coalesced into three dimensions, the doctoral task, the university and personal factors.
The data used for this paper was part of a larger international research project with a focus on the reconceptualization of the role of metacognition in high-level adult learning, specifically PhD candidates. Two types of data were collected. The quantitative data encompassed a range of questionnaires to determine the candidates’ metacognitive profile, and level of satisfaction, as well as demographic and candidature characteristics. With the exception of the satisfaction and expectations measures, all instruments were developed from established measures (see Cantwell, Bourke, Scevak, Holbrook & Budd, 2015). The “satisfaction” instrument, newly developed for the study, was subjected to principal components analysis and scale scores computed, with the three scales of ‘university’, ‘preparation’ and ‘university’ the focus of this paper. The second strand of data collected was qualitative. Initially one hour semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted with 407 participants who volunteered to participate. These were conducted at two time periods - approximately four months after the on-line survey then a follow-up interview 18 months later. Telephone interviews were transcribed and all interviews then entered into and analysed in QSR NVivo qualitative software. Candidates enrolled in a PhD at 34 Australian and 24 universities internationally, participated in the study (n=1,374). Two types of data were collected. The quantitative data encompassed a range of questionnaires to determine the candidates’ metacognitive profile, and level of satisfaction, as well as demographic and candidature characteristics. With the exception of the satisfaction and expectations measures, all instruments were developed from established measures. The largest representation was from Arts/Humanities/Social Science with 28% followed by Health (28%) and Science/Architecture (17%). For nearly 80% of students (1,082, 78.9%) English was their first main language. In terms of stage of candidature (measured by effective time enrolled) nearly 40% were mid candidature and just over a third in the early stages of their PhD. The majority were studying part-time. Based on a two-step cluster analysis of 18 of the of metacognitive scales in the survey, three clusters were derived: Travelling OK or Constructively Engaged (36%), Trying to Cope or Struggling to Engage (42%) and Giving up or disengaged (22%) (See Cantwell et al. 2015 for further details).
Doctoral education is the highest level of education and, given the longer period of engagement in this research degree, satisfaction can vary as expectations and experience with the task change over time. This study found significant differences in satisfaction with the university in terms of demographics (age, English speaking background) and the length of engagement in the program. There are a number of stages to candidature where satisfaction with the experience may vary, and findings indicate that students are most dissatisfied at the end of their candidature with their supervisors and with the university as a whole. More attention to later stages of candidature where students are grappling with the complexities of data analysis and writing up their thesis is required. The largest cluster was those students “trying to cope” with just under half the sample (42%), followed by those who were “travelling OK” (36%) and the smallest group of students falling into the “giving up” group (22%). There were significant differences between these three groups on all satisfaction scales with the “giving up group” least satisfied on all three scales. Analysis of the interview data indicates that these candidates are struggling to engage with the doctoral task and are not coping, whereas the students who are travelling ok are drawing on support from family, peers and their supervisors and are more satisfied with their preparation and progress. Research has indicated that satisfaction with a doctoral program, especially the candidate’s realisation of their expectations, is critical for doctoral completion. Further individualised support resources are needed to support doctoral students in their learning, especially for those students who are struggling and giving up.
Cantwell, R., Bourke. S., Scevak, J., Holbrook, A., & Budd, J. (2015). Doctoral candidates as learners: A study of individual difference in responses to learning and its management. Studies in Higher Education. published online 01 May 2015 DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2015.1034263 Holbrook, A., Shaw, K., Scevak, J., Bourke, S., Cantwell, R., & Budd, J. (2014). PhD candidate expectations: Exploring mismatch with experience. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 9, 329-346.
The programme is updated regularly (each day in the morning)
- Search for keywords and phrases in "Text Search"
- Restrict in which part of the abstracts to search in "Where to search"
- Search for authors and in the respective field.
- For planning your conference attendance you may want to use the conference app, which will be issued some weeks before the conference
- If you are a session chair, best look up your chairing duties in the conference system (Conftool) or the app.