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Gardner / Conceptualizing Success in Doctoral Education


issues, events, or activities in the data that become main categories for focus; (c) Collect data that provide many incidents of the categories of focus; (d) Write about the categories explored, keeping in mind past incidents while searching for new; (d) Work with the data and emerging model to discover relationships; and (e) Sample, code, and write with the core categories in mind.

The steps of the constant comparative method occur simultaneously during data collection until categories are saturated and writing begins. I used Glaser’s steps in data analysis, which allowed themes to emerge from the data and provided a means for compressing large amounts of data into meaningful units for analysis. As stated earlier, I also used concepts of dis- ciplinary culture and organization (Becher, 1981; Becher & Trowler, 2001; Biglan, 1973a) in analysis to better understand the dimensions along which disciplinary responses varied. The departments, defined by their Biglan classification, are listed in Table 2.

I assured trustworthiness of the data collected and its subsequent analy- sis through peer debriefing (Maxwell, 1996), having a colleague analyze the transcripts and verify the themes. I also triangulated the data sources (Bogdan & Biklen, 2003; Maxwell, 1996) since my study was a part of a larger study in which numerous departmental administrators and doctoral students were interviewed.After the larger study was completed in the fall of 2007, the reports for each department were distributed and verified by each department; faculty members who had been interviewed provided member checking (Maxwell, 1996) of the existing themes.


From the analysis of the interviews conducted, it was evident that disci- plinary culture and context greatly influenced the faculty members’concep- tualizations of success in doctoral education. There was a clear distinction among disciplinary constructions of success and among departments with the highest and lowest completion rates. I discuss these findings below by highest-to-lowest completion rate for the departments included in the study, also differentiating by the Biglan (1973b) disciplinary classification.

High Completion Departments

In this study three departments had very high doctoral completion rates: communication at 76.5%, oceanography at 72.7%, and psychology at 70.7%. These rates are considered high by both national and disciplinary standards (Bowen & Rudenstine, 1992; Council of Graduate Schools, 2004; Nettles & Millett, 2006).Although quite different in culture, research mode, and disci- plinary culture,these departments nevertheless shared certain attributes.The English Department, with a 56.4% doctoral student completion rate, may

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