Student reflections on doctoral learning : Challenges and breakthroughs

Journal article


Owens, Alison, Brien, Donna Lee, Ellison, Elizabeth and Batty, Craig. (2020). Student reflections on doctoral learning : Challenges and breakthroughs. Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education. 11(1), pp. 107-122. https://doi.org/10.1108/SGPE-04-2019-0048
AuthorsOwens, Alison, Brien, Donna Lee, Ellison, Elizabeth and Batty, Craig
Abstract

Purpose
There has been sustained interest in how to support doctoral students through the often-gruelling journey they undertake from enrolment to graduation. Although doctoral numbers and successful completions have been steadily increasing globally as well as in Australia, the quality of student progression and outcomes has been widely interrogated and criticised in the literature that is reported in this paper. The authors’ interest as experienced research higher degree supervisors and research leaders in the creative arts and humanities prompted a research project that aimed to better understand the challenges and breakthroughs involved in completing a doctorate from the perspective of candidates themselves.

Design/methodology/approach
This was implemented through an action learning collaboration with 18 students from three Australian universities facilitated by four research supervisors.

Findings
The main findings presented in this paper include the necessity for maintaining, brokering and supporting a range of relationships; understanding expectations of research study and embracing the need for agility in managing these; and finally, using techniques to improve personal agency and ownership of the transformative journey of research higher degree candidature. The importance of establishing an understanding of the multidimensional human experience of doing a doctorate and providing appropriate support through enhanced forms of research training emerged as a core finding from this research project.

Research limitations/implications
The relatively small number of research participants in this study and the discipline-specific focus prohibits generalizability of findings; however, the collaborative, action learning method adopted represents an approach that is both productive and transferable to other contexts and disciplines.

Practical implications
Further research might investigate the relevance of the findings from this research to doctoral students in other disciplines and/or institutions or apply the collaborative action learning approach to doctoral training presented here to a range of contexts and cohorts.

Social implications
Improving doctoral training options to support the multidimensional needs of candidates can better assure the mental and emotional well-being of doctoral students (essential to their continuing intellectual development and sense of agency) through developing sustainable relationships and realistic expectations. This in turn has the potential to address the consistently high attrition rates in doctoral programmes.

Originality/value
This research contributes new insights from doctoral students on the challenges and breakthroughs experienced by them as they pursue original research through formal study and present a novel, collaborative and empowering approach to doctoral training that can be applied in diverse setting.

Keywordshigher education; doctoral training; research higher degree; transformation; research training; multidimensional training; doctoral journey; human experience
Year2020
JournalStudies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education
Journal citation11 (1), pp. 107-122
PublisherEmerald Group Publishing Ltd
ISSN2398-4686
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.1108/SGPE-04-2019-0048
Scopus EID2-s2.0-85079013495
Open accessPublished as green open access
Page range107-122
Author's accepted manuscript
License
All rights reserved
File Access Level
Open
Publisher's version
License
All rights reserved
File Access Level
Controlled
Output statusPublished
Publication dates
Online29 Jan 2020
Publication process dates
Accepted25 Nov 2019
Deposited04 Jul 2023
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