Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

Striving to Obtain a School-Work-Life Balance: The Full-Time Doctoral Student

Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

Striving to Obtain a School-Work-Life Balance: The Full-Time Doctoral Student

Article excerpt


Doctoral level education in the United States is considered to carry significant public and private benefits. For example, as students reap social and financial rewards associated with their degrees, which utlimately extend beyond the individual (Baum, Ma, & Payea, 2010), doctoral degree production enables the country to remain globally competitive (Wendler et al., 2010).

Additionally, doctoral recipients' respective colleges and universities garner prestige (Morphew & Huisman, 2002; O'Meara, 2007). In terms of doctoral degree production in the United States Wendler et al. (2010) noted:

   The US has produced the vast majority of doctoral degrees
   conferred around the globe. Our graduate schools and their
   research facilities have been consistently
   ranked among the best in the world (e.g., the Times of London
   Rankings and the Shanghai Jiao Tong University Rankings), and from
   1997 to 2009 over half of the Nobel Prize winners in chemistry,
   physics, medicine, and economics had received their graduate
   degrees in the US. (p. 2)

Nevertheless, these achievements are marred by high student attrition rates. Of the number of students enrolled in doctoral programs across U.S. colleges and universities, successful degree completion is unlikely for approximately 50% (Jairam & Kahl, 2012; Walker, Golde, Jones, Bueschel, & Hutchings, 2008). Previous studies centered on doctoral students have identified national attrition rates ranging from 40 to 60% and varying by field of study (Bair & Haworth, 2005; Council of Graduate Schools, 2008; Di Pierro, 2007; Walker et al., 2008). Identified as "the central issue in doctoral education in the United States today" (Smallwood, 2004, para. 8), doctoral student attrition has led to a number of concerted efforts to counter student depature (Gardner, 2009). Despite programmatic and institutional efforts to support and retain doctoral students (Di Pierro, 2007; Offerman, 2011), as well as national initiatives such as the Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate (Walker et al., 2008), national attrition remains high (Jairam & Kahl, 2012).

Given the consideration of measures that are accepted as predictors of academic outcomes (e.g., test scores) and the degree of screening students undergo prior to admission into a doctoral program, the rate of student attrition is puzzling. As suggested by Golde (2000), "paradoxically, the most academically capable, most academically successful, most stringently evaluated, and most carefully selected students in the entire higher education system--doctoral students--are the least likely to complete their chosen academic goals" (p. 199). Nonetheless, it is important to note that student attrition extends beyond academic issues (Brus, 2006; Offstein, Larson, McNeill, & Mwale, 2004) and is influenced by multiple factors (Gardner, 2009). According to Gardner (2009) student attrition is "multifaceted" since " ... there is no one reason why students leave" (p. 97).

Doctoral student departure has been linked to financial constraints (Kluever, 1997), stress (Lovitts, 2001; Offstein et al., 2004), negative social support (Jairam & Kahl, 2012), matters of advisor incompatibility (Golde, 1998), isolation (Ali & Kohun, 2006), and unmet expectations (Golde, 1998). As Hadjioannou, Shelton, Fu, and Dhanarattigannon (2007) maintain "doctoral work is challenging on a variety of levels, stretching often excessively, the minds as well as the emotions, the stamina and the finances of doctoral students" (p. 160). Doctoral education also involves the stretching of time as doctoral students carry various and often competing roles and responsibilities, each demanding time and attention (Brus, 2006; Haynes et al., 2012; Moyer, Salovey, & Casey-Cannon, 1999; Stimpson & Filer, 2011). Therefore, as suggested by Brus (2006), doctoral students "struggle to balance their academic pursuits with their personal lives and responsibilities" (p. …

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