Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

Dealing with Isolation Feelings in IS Doctoral Programs

Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

Dealing with Isolation Feelings in IS Doctoral Programs

Article excerpt


The high rate of attrition (or drop-out) among doctoral students has been the subject of research in numerous literature. Most of the literature agree on the severity of this problem and the effect it has on students as well as on doctoral programs in general (Bowen & Rudenstine 1992; Hawlery, 2003; Lovitts, 2001). A number of studies found different factors that contribute to increasing the rate of attrition among doctoral students. Some of these factors are directly related to the students themselves while others are related to the design and structure of the doctoral programs as well as the demographic specifics of their student population (Bourner, Bowden, & Laing, 2001; Hockey, 1994; Lewis, Ginsberg, Davies, & Smith, 2004; Mehmet & Ekrem, 2000).

The feeling of Isolation among doctoral students is a major factor that contributes to the high attrition rate at doctoral programs. Yet despite this recognition, the feeling of isolation has yet to be addressed fully in the design of some doctoral programs. In other words, most programs do not include specific design features that help to handle this feeling among matriculated students (Bess, 1978; Hawlery, 2003; Lovitts & Nelson, 2000).

This paper provides a broader explanation about isolation feelings among doctoral students and how it contributes to the rising rate of doctoral attrition. The paper is divided into five sections. The first section explains about attrition rates in doctoral programs. Section two elaborates on the feelings of isolation and its' formation. The third section suggests counter measures to isolation feelings as introduced from the practical experience of other universities. Section four highlights the design issues of one doctoral program (Robert Morris University, 2004) that was able to achieve a graduation rate that is substantially higher than the national average. Finally, the fifth section tackles the issue of doctoral program quality and suggests that doctoral programs can be designed in a way that deals with the issue of isolation without jeopardizing the quality of the program.

About Doctoral Attrition

Doctoral student attrition generally refers to when students drop out of their doctoral program prior to completing their degrees. This includes the students who do not finish their dissertations known as ABD's. Attrition from doctoral programs happens at various stages in the process of obtaining the degree. It could take place at the early stages when the student has less investment in the process; or it could happen near the end of the doctoral program at the dissertation stage when the student is immersed in the program and the negative consequence of dropping out may be more substantial.

The problem of doctoral student attrition is a well-documented and has been discussed in various studies. Yet, despite the extensive coverage, this problem receives little attention in doctoral programs at various colleges and universities. Some termed this problem of doctoral student attrition as the "invisible problem" because the students drop out of the program silently without making much noise. Barbara Lovitts (2001) explains about this:

"To say that doctoral attrition is one of academe's best kept secrets would be to speak a fallacy. The statement would only be true if the attrition rate were a guarded secret. It's not. The situation is worse than that. For large segments of the country's faculty and administrators, the problem does not exist because the problem--and the student who leaves--is largely invisible (p 1)".

The invisibility part of the problem according to the above statement is related to the fact that doctoral students leave the program silently and become one of those labeled ABDs. Thus, leaving without making much noise may contribute to the perception that the students departed due to other factors related to the students themselves. …

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