Professional Socialization for the Ph.D.: An Exploration of Career and Professional Development Preparedness and Readiness for Ph.D. Candidates

By Helm, Matt; Campa, Henry et al. | The Journal of Faculty Development, May 2012 | Go to article overview

Professional Socialization for the Ph.D.: An Exploration of Career and Professional Development Preparedness and Readiness for Ph.D. Candidates


Helm, Matt, Campa, Henry, Moretto, Kristin, The Journal of Faculty Development


This study sought to uncover the career readiness and professional development needs of Ph.D. students at a large, Midwestern research university. Findings indicate that career goals of graduate students change over time, skill preparation for academic and non-academic careers continues to be inadequate for many students and professional development and career guidance is lacking for many graduate students. Unlike other studies of graduate student professional socialization, this study introduces the theory of Academic Capitalism and its impact on the career and professional development of doctoral students.

In a time when tenure track faculty positions are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain, increased attention is being given by faculty advisors and graduate student administrators to the education and professional preparation of Ph.D. students. Since the 1980' s, decreases in funding for higher education have forced many institutions to reduce permanent positions, cut research budgets, and increase faculty workload (Finkelstein, Seal, & Shuster, 1998; Rhoades & Slaughter, 1997). Throughout history, in response to ongoing financial shortfalls, universities have continually sought to adjust by seeking new sources of funding (Slaughter «Sc Leslie, 1997) and by reallocating internal resources to academic units thought to be revenue producers for better market competition (Hackman, 1985; Slaughter & Rhoades, 2004; Slaughter, 1993; Volk, Slaughter, «Sc Thomas, 2001) . This market effect created dynamics which led faculty to compete for external funding that was increasingly tied to the market. This entrepreneurial turn towards increased "academic capitalism," can be understood as, "emphasizing the utility of higher education to national economic activity on the part of the faculty and institutions" (Slaughter «ScLeslie, 1997, p. 33).

The movement towards increased academic capitalism and entrepreneurialism is problematic for academic professionals and graduate students because it requires the collective action of the university as a whole, altering beliefs and values along the way and ultimately creating tension and dissonance for those working in higher education. Faculty members are sometimes uncomfortable with the practices of their institutions and many national professional associations in these instances have often produced guidelines that caution against approaches that do not prioritize the needs of students (Slaughter & Rhoades, 2004). Rhoades and Slaughter (2004) further suggest that the financial and economic interests of institutions are being prioritized over the interests (codes of ethics) of the professionals and their clients (in this case students). These changes have transformed the composition of the academy's faculty and the nature of academic work (Shuster & Finkelstein, 2008) and have impacted the education, learning, and training of graduate students. Over the past decade, researchers have examined the formal and informal professional socialization process that doctoral students undergo as they pursue the doctorate and the various issues students encounter while pursing the Ph.D. (Austin & Barns, 2005; Golde & Dore, 2001; Tierney & Bensimon, 1996; Weidman, Twale, & Stein, 2001; Wulff & Austin, 2004; Wulff, Austin, Nyquist, & Sprague, 2004). These professional socialization issues and challenges are based largely on a shrinking academic job market; the knowledge, ability, and skills that employers of advanced degree holders seek; and the socialization and training for the future "stewards of our disciplines" (Golde & Walker, 2006). Research on the professional socialization for academic positions suggests that some graduate programs may not be adequately preparing students for the realities of faculty life (Adams, 2002; Austin, 2002; Olsen & Crawford, 1998) or is not preparing students for the needs of a changing work force (Nyquist & Wulff 2000). …

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