Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Avoiding the A.B.D. Abyss: A Grounded Theory Study of a Dissertation-Focused Course for Doctoral Students in an Educational Leadership Program

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Avoiding the A.B.D. Abyss: A Grounded Theory Study of a Dissertation-Focused Course for Doctoral Students in an Educational Leadership Program

Article excerpt

People pursue advanced degrees for various reasons. For some the ultimate goal may be monetary; for others the objective may be service to the field; and still, for others, obtaining a master's or doctoral degree may be a personal or spiritual calling. No matter the motive, seeking an advanced degree is a risky endeavor. Nearly half of all graduate students leave their degree programs before graduation (Jimenez y West, Gokalp, Vallejo, Fischer, & Gupton, 2011; Sowell, Zhang, Bell, & Reed, 2008), a decades-old trend seen in graduate schools across the country (Hawley, 2010; Lovitts & Nelson, 2000; Tinto, 1993). Furthermore, many students originally enrolled in doctoral programs decide to complete only a master's degree (Bowen & Rudenstine, 1992; Golde, 1996), while some students become stifled after completing the required coursework to stay "all but dissertation" or "ABD" for years.

After working with graduate students in an educational leadership doctoral program for several years, the majority of who work fulltime outside of their graduate programs, we have heard their confusion and their frustration. These graduate students' primary complaint reflects a lack of time to work on their dissertations due to their fulltime jobs. A secondary complaint is that they have not been prepared through coursework to write a dissertation and therefore, have not acquired the writing skills to complete a quality dissertation. Because of the lack of time and preparation, many students drift off into what we call the ABD abyss, that is, after completing coursework they make little or slow progress toward completing the dissertation and in turn graduation.

The Dissertation Boot Camp (DBC) is a response to the call from students regarding their confusion and frustration surrounding the writing process and dissertating. Inclusively, the DBC is an opportunity that creates not only time for students to work on their dissertations, but institutes quality and (almost) immediate feedback on students' writing. The DBC, as a multi-day intensive writing workshop, (1) is designed to help students make significant progress toward the completion of their dissertations, thus reducing their time spent as ABD. We report on one DBC here through qualitative inquiry.

Background and Related Literature

Although there is no single cause that can be traced to attrition (Millett & Nettles, 2006), students cite various reasons for stifling progress, opting for a lower degree, and for early departure from graduate programs. These reasons often include the high cost of tuition, the significant time commitment, and family obligations. However, there are less understood causes that contribute to the noteworthy attrition rate, including anxiety surrounding the writing process (Foss & Waters, 2007) and the relationship between the student and primary advisor (Austin & McDaniels, 2006; Curtin, Stewart, & Ostrove, 2013; Lovitts, 2004). Moreover, Ahern and Manathunga (2007) suggested that students are unlikely to openly discuss their anxiety or their relationship with their advisor for fear of appearing inept and unprepared in the high stakes environment of academia. An inability to access or communicate with faculty has been reported to influence disillusionment with doctoral study (Mah, 1986). Relatedly, graduate schools and specialized departments alike often lack institutional support systems for graduate students who experience difficulties in the writing process or in the relationship with their advisor (Jimenez y West et al., 2011). As the transition from coursework to independent research is a key point in the doctoral process--a lack of advisement and support almost ensures that it will be the most protracted stage (Mah, 1986; Mullen, Fish, & Huntinger, 2010). Other associated challenges include a lack of research skills and the lack of structure in the dissertation phase (Austin & McDaniels, 2006; De Valero, 2001; Golde & Walker, 2006). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.