Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

The "Journey" of Doctoral Study in Applied Psychology: Lived Experiences of Students in Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology Programs

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

The "Journey" of Doctoral Study in Applied Psychology: Lived Experiences of Students in Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology Programs

Article excerpt

Doctoral-level graduate study engenders many challenges and obstacles, including integrating to the culture and community of a new environment (Austin, 2002; Nesheim, Guentzel, Gansemer-Topf, Ross, & Turrentine, 2006; Nyquist et al., 1999) maintaining a family and work balance (Haynes et al., 2012; Mason, Goulden, & Frasch, 2009), and managing peer dynamics (Haynes et al., 2012; Ulku-Steiner, Kurtz-Costes, & Kinlaw, 2000). As such, the graduate school process is influenced by a multitude of factors resulting in a multilayered, subjective, and complex experience of doctoral studies.

Although the aforementioned issues permeate the graduate student experience across disciplines (Gardner, 2010; Mason et al., 2009), past scholarship has identified graduate study as a largely individualized experience (Gardner & Barnes, 2007; Neisheim et al., 2006). Neisheim et al. (2006) remarked that "Graduate and professional students are an extremely heterogeneous group of people pursuing degrees beyond the baccalaureate in diverse institutional, geographical, disciplinary, and cultural settings" (p. 6). Due to these explicit differences shaping the overarching experience of graduate study, we set out to explore whether any commonalities existed among the students themselves. As psychologists, both in training and in a professional role, we became curious about how students within our field experienced their journeys to and in graduate school. Additionally, Anderson and Swazey (1998) identified a need for doctoral programs to annually investigate the experiences of their students in order to take remedial action when/if problems are uncovered.

Moreover, the doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in applied psychology maintains a unique distinction from other psychology subfields in that students are concurrently training for both academic and clinical practice. Therefore, by giving voice to these students, unique inroads can be made into understanding the experience of those balancing multiple professional trajectories. It is this balance in applied psychology, the negotiation of dual expectancies of teaching and research with clinical practice that is explored in this study. Further, this research is not only an effort to respond to Anderson and Swazey's (1998) call for continual investigation into training experiences but also to provide insight across applied psychology disciplines as to students' process and subjective needs. Thus, the basis for our current investigation is twofold: (a) to understand the graduate student experience within the context of an education in applied psychology, and (b) to investigate individual student processes in an effort to support academic institutions as they craft training experiences.

Literature Review

Graduate Training Experience at the Doctoral Level

Tinto (1993) (as cited in Barnes & Gardner, 2007) outlined a three-stage model of graduate persistence: the Transition phase, wherein the student attempts to integrate the norms and culture of the academic program, the Candidacy phase wherein the student perseveres to attain competent levels of skill, and finally, the Doctoral Completion phase wherein the student has finished coursework and moved into their doctoral research, specifying their connections with particular mentors and preparing for emergence into a professional role. This persistence model takes place alongside an intentional socialization process into the academic setting where faculty effectively train students to take on their responsibilities and roles (Austin, 2002; Gardner, 2010; Gardner & Barnes, 2007; Nesheim et al., 2006; Nyquist et al., 1999). However, this system is not without its pitfalls as high levels of dissatisfaction and unmet expectations have been found to permeate doctoral education (Gittings, Bergman, & Osam, 2018; Nyquist et al. 1999). Specifically, disruptions to the student-to-faculty pipeline can be seen by examining the attrition rate in doctoral education; Gardner (2008a) reported an attrition rate among doctoral students across disciplines to be between 40%-70%. …

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