Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

Developing Care and Socio-Emotional Learning in First Year Doctoral Students: Building Capacity for Success

Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

Developing Care and Socio-Emotional Learning in First Year Doctoral Students: Building Capacity for Success

Article excerpt


As research into human learning increases the academy's capacity for facilitating academic success, the limitations of the traditional developmental approach to doctoral student preparation become more prominent (Pallas, 2001). The unique demands of doctoral study and the evolving expectations of future scholars call for a better integration of improved models of learning and researcher preparation. A fuller understanding of the role of care and socio-emotional learning in the success of first year doctoral students provides an important move in this direction. As such, we sought to explore the following research questions: 1) How does care, both informal and formal, support learning in doctoral students? (2) How does the relational aspect of teaching and learning present itself in doctoral study? (3) What characteristics of socio-emotional learning are visible in doctoral students and how does student use of these traits contribute to success?

In understanding the effects of care on first year doctoral students and exploring how their use of socio-emotional skills increases success, the traditional model of doctoral student preparation can be improved. This study contributes evidence that caring relationships can provide the support needed for first year doctoral students to achieve success and that the foundation upon which these relationships are built is socio-emotional learning (SEL). Examining the nature of the care doctoral students receive and their development of effective socio-emotional abilities may provide institutions with data necessary to add specific supports to graduate orientation programs and/or introductory doctoral courses that will mitigate problems these beginning students face and lead to future success.

Elias (2003) defined socio-emotional learning (SEL) skills as "a set of abilities that allows students to work with others, learn effectively, and serve essential roles in their families, communities and places of work" (p. 3). SEL demands caring, teaching life-skills, using goal setting and varied instructional techniques, and increasing empathy through participation in the community (Elias, 2003). Elias (2006) argued that "social and emotional learning (SEL) is the capacity to recognize and manage emotions, solve problems effectively, and establish positive relationships with others, competencies that clearly are essential for all students" (p. 234). While most research and instruction involving SEL has focused on K-12 learners, this study investigates how the experiences of doctoral students reflect the importance of addressing the emotional side of learning at all levels of education.

In her work in the area of care in education, Noddings (1988, 2002, 2005) suggested that caring relationships between teachers and students are essential. She combined elements of agapism and contemporary feminism in developing her notion of the ethics of care and argued for an alternative approach to teaching and learning that focused on trusting relationships built over time (1988). She claimed:

[U]niversity educators and researchers are part of the problem. Our
endless focus on narrow achievement goals, our obsession with
sophisticated schemes of evaluation and measurement directed
(naturally enough) at things that are relatively easy to measure, our
reinforcement of the mad desire to be number one - to compete, to win
awards, to acquire more and more of whatever is currently valued - in
all these ways we contribute to the proliferation of problems and
malaise. (Noddings, 1988, p. 226)

This study examines the caring relationships of students in two education doctoral programs, supporting Noddings' position on the importance of care in education, including at the highest level.

Feeley's (2010, 2014) work on learning care in literacy instruction highlights the importance of care in supporting learning as she argued that "'learning care' is not some kind of nebulous good intent but rather a skillful, respectful, empowering approach to facilitating learning. …

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