Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

Experiences of Disengagement-A Study of Doctoral Students in the Behavioral Sciences

Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

Experiences of Disengagement-A Study of Doctoral Students in the Behavioral Sciences

Article excerpt

Introduction

Pursuing a PhD is always a highly inspiring and challenging journey. Earlier research on the doctoral experience has shown that while many students find their doctoral process rewarding, some face serious challenges including personal sacrifices, intervening life experiences, departmental problems, lack of support, difficulty in completing the dissertation, as well as a lack of funding (Appel & Dahlgren, 2003; Jairam & Kahl Jr., 2012; Protivnak & Foss, 2009; Spaulding & Rockinson-Szapkiw, 2012). For instance, Lee (2009) found that nursing students enrolled in doctoral studies perceived multiple responsibilities, financial issues, difficult relationships with faculty members or advisors ,as well as a lack of academic self-discipline and negative academic self-image as detracting factors in their study process.

The challenges provided by doctoral studies are not necessarily negative; in fact, solving complex ill-defined problems can be seen as essential to creating new knowledge. At best, such challenges can be positive forces that encourage students to progress in their doctoral process. They may, however, also become stressors if adequate support is not given to the student. At worst, they can become insurmountable obstacles that lead to delays or even dropping out from doctoral studies. Some evidence shows that problems in doctoral studies often originate not from the research process itself but from the relation between the doctoral student and the scholarly community (Pyhalto, Stubb, & Lonka, 2009). For instance, doctoral students' experiences of social isolation from their scholarly communities, with respect to overlapping communities, groups of supervisor-students dyads, other senior researchers, or academics within and across departments, faculties, or institutions (Ali & Kohun, 2006; Lovitts, 2001), and mismatches between students' expectations and those of the community, have been suggested to cause withdrawal from doctoral studies (Golde, 2005; Hoskins & Goldberg, 2005; Tinto, 1993). Moreover, there is also evidence of doctoral students often experiencing reduced wellbeing and distress while pursuing their PhDs (Hyun, Quinn, Madon, & Lustig, 2006; Kurtz-Costes, Helmke, & Ulku-Steiner, 2006), and a remarkably high number of students, 30-50% or even more in different contexts and countries, decide to leave their studies (Golde, 2005; McAlpine & Norton, 2006).

Previous studies on the doctoral experience have provided information about factors associated with students' persistence, time-to-the-doctorate, and attrition (Golde, 1998, 2005; Hoskins & Goldberg, 2005; Lovitts, 2001; Tinto, 1993; Wao & Onwuegbuzie, 2011). Moreover, there is an extensive body of literature on disengagement among undergraduate students (Pekrun, Goetz, Frenzel, Barchfeld, & Perry, 2011; Salanova, Schaufeli, Marti'nez, & Breso, 2010; Schmitt, Oswald, Friede, Imus, & Merritt, 2008; Schreiner, Noel, Anderson, & Cantwell, 2011) as well as among employees in work settings (Demerouti, Bakker, Nachreiner, & Schaufeli, 2001; Hakanen, Bakker, & Schaufeli, 2006; Schaufeli, Salanova, Gonzalez-Roma, & Bakker, 2002). However, little is known about what disengages (and ultimately withdraws) doctoral students from their studies and the kinds of episodes that are associated with disengagement. Accordingly, there is a need for a better understanding of the nature of the experiences that reduce doctoral student engagement during the doctoral process and the dynamics that contribute to disengagement. Analyzing these disengaging episodes will make it easier to identify the central developmental objectives in doctoral education. This may help to prevent the disengaging experiences that may be associated with delays and even students abandoning their doctoral studies. The present study focuses on exploring doctoral students' experiences of disengagement from the doctoral process in various environments within and outside academia. …

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