Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

Equity Theory Based Strategies for Students on Overcoming Problems in Ph.D. Dissertation Committees

Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

Equity Theory Based Strategies for Students on Overcoming Problems in Ph.D. Dissertation Committees

Article excerpt


Equity is the art of one individual being fair and impartial in social interactions with another individual (Adams, 1965). It is an art because it requires an individual to have a skill. The skill resists the ease that comes with selfish interests in order to facilitate an effective relationship with another individual's goals in mind. We are not suggesting equity in relationships result in one person's demise over another's success. This would be contrary to the idea of equity. Equity results in symbiotic relationships that help both individuals. An example of this is 'Guanxi', which is a Chinese concept referring to relationship networks where individuals carry obligations to facilitate exchange of favors (Ambler, Styles, & Xiucun, 1999; Leung, Heung, &Wong, 2008; Lovett, Simmons, & Kali, 1999). Therefore, equitable action toward one individual might reciprocate to the acting individual.

In doctoral programs, more so than in any other educational program, professor and graduate student interaction should be both consistent and as frequent as is necessary, whether working in a classroom seminar or on papers and/or research projects. In most cases, doctoral students are assigned to professors or advisors who are expected to aid them in day-to-day research training. The professional relationships that result from these interactions will help not only the doctoral students in their future careers, but also the professors in their growth as educators and researchers (Carter & Whittaker, 2009). However, this is only the case when trust and equity are present (Chan, 2008). If an inequitable exchange results either from the professor's actions or the student's, it can be costly to a student's career. Inequity is costly to the student in terms of obtaining the doctorate from the institution, finding a job, ability to publish in a prestigious journal, or eventually receiving tenure or a permanent full-time position. With student dropout rates in doctorial programs estimated between 40 and 50 percent (Smallwood, 2004), relationship factors that can lead to keeping students in school are critical for students and faculty. Indeed, attrition rates in doctorial programs can negatively impact the professor's reputation and in some cases the institution's, school's, or doctoral program's reputation (McWilliam, Singh, & Taylor, 2002; Smallwood, 2004). To overcome these potential negative outcomes it is important to understand how equity impacts relationships between doctoral students and professors chairing doctoral dissertations. It is also important to understand what makes an effective student-professor relationship in a Ph.D. program in maintaining equity in professional relationships.

Literature Review

Equity Theory in Higher Education

One way to understand an equitable relationship between a doctoral student and professor is to study the theory that underlies equity. One of the most explicit and rigorously developed models explaining how individuals evaluate social exchange relationships is John Stacey Adam's "Equity Theory" developed in 1965 (Cosier & Dalton, 1983). Equity works like a system with inputs and outputs. Adam's (1965) "Equity Theory" describes what equity is in relation to a system. The inputs are factors that a person has accomplished (i.e., past experience, education, and work) and perceives to be worthy of some return. The outputs are the returns to the individual's job investment (Cosier & Dalton, 1983). For example, Person p that has worked for a company for 40+ years and has helped to improve the reputation of that company views his work as an input. Whereas an output would be how person p is treated by his superior or how person p is compensated. In all of our cases, we will denote equity and inequity in the context of fair or unfair actions in treating other fellow human beings, rather than equity or inequity in the philosophical aspect of equal in terms of qualifications, status, and/or rank. …

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