01 SES 04 A, Wellbeing, Mindset and Professional Development
The academia and the university context are characterized by the high levels of demand in terms of research, pursuit of excellence, competitiveness within the sector, difficulties to access to a position, etc. Facts that imply that academics must dedicate a large part of their time to achieve excellence within their field of study which entails: a work done alone most of the time, great dedication of their personal time, isolation, situations of stress, frustration, etc. that sometimes ends in abandonment of the doctoral studies.
The beginning of a professional career as an academic starts with the PhD that will lead to research and teaching tasks in the university context. For this reason, analyzing the challenge of completing a PhD in a satisfactory manner is of vital importance for the professional development of students as future academics that barely have institutional support in that sense.
In the literature we find authors as Bazrafkan, Shorkpour, Yousefi and Yamani (2016) that show how doctoral students experience stress and anxiety during the completion of the doctoral thesis. In the same way, Levecque, Anseel, Beuckelaer, Van der Heyden and Gisle (2017) examine the prevalence of mental health problems among PhD students compared to those of other areas and employees in other organizations. And it can also be considered the research of Stubb, Pyhalto and Lonka (2011) who study how the experiences of students in their communities at an academic level influence their performance. These authors also analyse the levels of stress, fatigue and anxiety of these students and how they perceived them. However, the literature on the well-being of PhD students is limited, which makes it necessary to study how students develop as researchers and the feelings associated to it, that is the needs and demands of the formative process.
Taking into account figures in the Spanish context, according to the latest report published by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport (2018), we have a total of 27617 PhD students in public universities. At the institutional level, a significant amount of money is devoted to the training of PhD students. The latest data indicate that 47,371,741 euros are the amount awarded in predoctoral research scholarships by the government. As it can be seen, investments for the training of PhD students are made, however we still have 26.8% of the teaching and research staff in Spanish universities without having completed their doctorate studies.
This is a problem that emerges in many universities worldwide, therefore through this study we have the intend to offer future strategies to incipient academics about how to deal with situations of stress in their performance as PhD students. Thus, the general objective of this research is to study the factors that influence the academic performance of PhD students in order to improve their professional development and well-being and compare Spanish PhD situation and coping strategies to Norwegian PhDs as a way to develop a comparative study that will enrich future practices in Spain.
This project’s overarching aim is to generate new knowledge about PhD students’ well-being and professional development as future academics.
- Increase awareness and knowledge about the well-being of PhD students and their motivations.
- Identify the daily stressors that influence their academic performance.
- Study the existing relationships between self-efficacy and academic performance.
- Analyze the influence of social support to deal with stress situations in the academia.
- Identify the coping strategies used in the realization of his doctoral thesis.
- Develop a cross cultural comparative study.
The research is based on the interpretive paradigm (focused on the description and understanding of the individual behaviours of the phenomena). Therefore, it is a qualitative study that aims to give a better understanding on the PhD students situation and the circumstances underneath their academic performance. To that end a semi-structured interview was designed. The study has an international character as the data has been collected in three universities that belongs to two different countries, Spain and Norway. This a pilot study through which we intend to define the variables that we will study in the second phase of it (with the participation of more universities and quantitative instruments). Participants: Participants have been selected through incidental sampling, determined according to established criteria for the collection of data that have been: students currently doing their PhD, students who have successfully completed doctoral studies in time and students that left their doctoral studies year ago and go back to them. The participants will be made up of 6 PhD students participants from Spanish Universities (University of Seville and University of Santiago de Compostela) and 7 PhD students from University of Oslo (Norway). Instrument, data collection and analysis: The data collection has been made through three different phases from June of 2017 to October of 2018 as it has been required to travel to every university in order to collect the data. The study is based on the application of an in-depth interview of 45 minutes that has been designed ad-hoc for the research. The interviews are made up of different sections as a brief introduction of specific questions that they can take as as a point of reference and made their speech about the issues they considered more important in the topic. The sections were focused on the following topics: 1. Motivations and expectations in the realization of a PhD. 2. Experience as a doctoral student and their perception about the process 3. Coping strategies 4. Social relationships and relationships with the supervisor They were arranged with the participants in their universities (personal desks or meeting rooms).The interviews were taped for later transcription. For the data analysis it was used content analysis through the design of a category system.
These results are based on the perceptions and experiences of the interviewees and it might not be possible to generalize to the population. We consider the testimonies are from different contexts and it is a section that explain the main differences founded regarding this topics. Data covers five topics of study: 1. Supervision styles: from a controlled style with an exhaustive follow-up of the students’ tasks, establishing deadlines, to a laisse faire style based on the promotion of the autonomy. Halfway between both, there are supervisors whose work is based on guidance, advice and accompaniment. 2. Typology of students: we can establish students’ profiles that in the future can be reached as typologies. A first approximation: recent graduates vs. people who access PhD after performing a job; research fellows vs. no research fellows; people with knowledge about research methodology vs. people without this knowledge; people motivated towards the thesis vs. people who perceive the thesis as a way to achieve an end. 3. Well-being: the degree of perceived well-being by PhD students. The difficulties encountered are: economic, bureaucratic, access to the sample, formative needs in methodology, lack of knowledge of a second language and lack of a research objective. 4. Social support: on one hand those students that “needs” the loneliness of the writing process, however, on the other hand we find students that need guidance, support and share experiences with other colleagues. 5. Suggestions for improvement: participants demand improvements related to the promotion of social support among new researchers through the creation of support networks between students and between principals and students through doctoral programs. Other demands also arise, such as training needs in research methods, time management an and training in general themes such as the organization and management of time or in facing situations during the process.
Bazrafkan, L., Shorkpour, N.; Yousefi, A.; Yamani, N., (2016). Management of stress and anxiety among PhD students during thesis writing. A qualitative study. The Health Care Manager, 35 (3), 231-240. Levecque, K.; Anseel, F.; Beuckelaer, A., Van der Heyden, J. Y Gisle, L. (2017). Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students. Research policy, 46, 868-879. Stubb, J.; Pyhalto, K. Y Lonka, K. (2011). Balancing between inspiration and exhaustion: PhD students’ experienced socio-psychological well-being. Studies in continuing education, 33 (1), 33-50.
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