Doctoral Students' Perceptions of Barriers to Reading Empirical Literature: A Mixed Analysis

Article excerpt

Introduction

Studies of doctoral students seem to have a relatively small representation in the academic literature; yet, even so, there is one clear and compelling point often noted: the attrition rate among doctoral students ranges from 30% to 50% (see, for example, McAlpine & Norton, 2006). More specifically, as many as 50% of doctoral students do not complete their dissertations and, hence, their degree programs (Bowen & Rudenstine, 1992; Cesari, 1990). Further, even within the limited studies that examine doctoral students, the focus tends to center on issues such as graduation rates and provides little insight on what happens to doctoral students along the way. One notable example of a study that does indeed look more closely at the doctoral student experience is Nettles and Millet (2006), who examined issues of socialization, productivity, and financing; yet, an area of doctoral studies that has received little attention is what we consider the emerging scholar.

In providing a rationale for the term emergent in the construct of emergent literacy, Teale and Suzlby (1986) noted the importance of emergent as signifying "it is 'forward looking.' It suggests development, that there is a direction in which children are progressing" (p. xx). Thus, just as an emergent reader/writer is continuously making growing discoveries about print, an emergent scholar is continuously making growing discoveries about research. Unfortunately, little is known about this process in doctoral students. Further, the focus in doctoral programs tends to center on mentoring/training students to become producers of research. However, the emerging scholar is learning to become both a consumer and producer of research. In order for emerging scholars to become astute consumers of research, it is necessary to understand a wide range of research methodologies, which requires them to read a vast amount of research in the form of empirical literature, which does not only comprise text but also statistical data and information displays such as tables and figures. In 2003, the U.S. National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) (Kutner et al., 2007) assessed the three types of literacy that are foundational in becoming critical readers of empirical literature: prose, document, and quantitative. Although the findings indicated that scores increase as a function of educational level, the average score of participants who had either received some graduate level study or a graduate degree still fell well below proficient, which was defined as the level at which a reader is able to perform complex reading tasks. Specifically, only 41% of post-graduate participants were proficient on prose literacy, 31% on document literacy, and 36% on quantitative literacy. Even more disturbing, since 1992, post-graduates' prose and document scores have declined by 10% and 14%, respectively. However, it is important to note that the number of adults who have reached the highest level of education increased during that time period. Perhaps, it is assumed that at the doctoral level, all students fall within the proficient range on all three literacy types and are, therefore, outstanding readers and able to comprehend complex studies. Interestingly, though, virtually no researcher appears to have studied reading ability among doctoral students.

Several researchers have demonstrated a link between reading ability and academic performance among undergraduate students (Lammers, Onwuegbuzie, & Slate, 2001 Van Lanen, Lockie, & McGannon, 2000). For example, Lammers et al. (2001) reported that reading was the weakest area of academic skill among the 366 undergraduate students in their study. Moreover, reading ability consistently has been a significant predictor of academic achievement among undergraduate students (Baker, 1985, 1989; Brown & Day, 1983; Du Boulay, 1999; Van Lanen et al., 2000; Wood, 1982). However, only a few studies have been conducted in which reading ability has been examined among graduate students, likely because their instructors, advisors, and mentors, for the most part, assume that they are competent readers (Collins & Onwuegbuzie, 2002-2003; Onwuegbuzie & Collins, 2002). …