An Inquiry into the Exigency of a Beginning Doctoral Cohort in Educational Leadership

By Miller, William D.; Irby, Beverly J. | College Student Journal, September 1999 | Go to article overview

An Inquiry into the Exigency of a Beginning Doctoral Cohort in Educational Leadership


Miller, William D., Irby, Beverly J., College Student Journal


Thirteen doctoral students from a regional university in Texas were interviewed to explore the anxieties they experienced in the initial stages of their program of study. Two focus groups were used to discuss anxieties encountered, recommendations for relieving anxieties, and the role of the cohort structure in minimizing anxieties. The anxieties encountered were attributed to time, responsibilities, assignments, uncertainty and use of technology. There were practical recommendations given and all agreed the cohort played a positive role in helping diminish anxieties. This study provides prospective and beginning doctoral students with a resource of practical ways to minimize anxieties in their doctoral pursuit and should provide colleges of education additional information regarding the use of cohort structures in graduate programs.

Anxiety and stress affect everyone at sometime during their lives, and some people have chosen to compound these feelings by undertaking the rigorous task of pursuing a doctoral degree. Jeavons (1993) made it clear many people fail to complete doctoral studies because of the difficulties involved. However, Dorn, Papalewis, and Brown (1995) found that educators who work together as a team to earn their doctorates tend to be motivated to complete their programs of study. In their study 108 doctoral students were questioned and the evidence suggested commitment to group and degree are highly interdependent aspects of membership in a doctoral cohort. Group support and peer encouragement were the main reasons students kept on track toward achieving their degree. In a paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Dorn and Papalewis (1997) suggested that the formation of doctoral student and faculty cohorts promotes the retention of graduate students professional studies. The cohorts promoted team building, improved task completion and added much needed support to members trying to work full-time while earning their doctorates.

The purpose of this study was to seek the inner feelings and experiences of a cohort of doctoral students after the completion of 12 hours of their program. For the purposes of this study a cohort was defined as a group of colleagues bound together by common bonds. This investigated knowledge is intended to assist potential and/or unseasoned doctoral students better understand the anxieties and stress involved in the undertaking of such a comprehensive program of study. Professors in colleges of education can benefit from this study by increasing their awareness of the anxieties new doctoral students face and by understanding the role of a cohort. Furthermore, there is a paucity of research which addresses doctoral cohorts.

Methodology

This study attempted to answer the following research questions:

* What are the sources of anxiety among doctoral students?

* What do prospective doctoral students need to know to begin a doctoral program with minimum anxiety?

* Does a cohort minimize stress and anxiety in the doctoral process?

A peer group with a research professor reviewed the research questions. Minor changes were made to reflect the cohort's present knowledge. Participants in this study included 13 doctoral students attending a regional university in Texas that was in the initial year offering an educational leadership doctorate. One of the researchers is a member of this cohort, and his responses were not utilized during the study. Due to a small sample, only two focus groups were used in the interviewing process. The focus group methodology allowed this particular group of doctoral students to freely express opinions and to relate their experiences to address the research questions. There were time constraints involved in this study, and the use of focus groups allowed data to be collected on a larger range of behaviors with a greater variety of interactions (Morgan, 1988). …

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