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Gardner / Conceptualizing Success in Doctoral Education


These faculty members frequently spoke to successful graduate’s student need for self-direction and self-motivation. One faculty member pointed out that a successful student is “one who is able to work independently,” while another commented that successful students are “pretty strong and self-directed. They have a sense of vision in what they want when they come in.” A third defined a successful student as “a person “who initiates [his or her] own research agenda and is able to work individually and collabora- tively. They take their own initiative.” In a sense, these faculty members are echoing the need for independent thinking and original scholarship, which is very much a focus of doctoral education in general (Council of Graduate Schools, 2005; Gardner, 2008; Lovitts, 2005).

The second theme for the communication faculty members was the dissemination of research findings, particularly through publications and participation as conference presenters. The faculty and the administrators of this department mentioned the growing emphasis on this attribute of success for their students and described how they pushed students to turn papers into presentations and publications. They recognized the connection between this activity and their students’ ability to negotiate the academic job market. One faculty member noted, “They put out many papers and try to be on many panels because they understand that quantity is going to mark them as involved.” Faculty, however, understood that this was not an explicit requirement of their program; therefore, students who achieved success in this area were exerting effort above and beyond their program’s minimal criteria. Indeed, one faculty member was dismissive about required coursework: “I could care less about the student’s grades. It’s productivity that comes through conference papers, which leads to publications and grant proposals.”

Oceanography. The Oceanography Department, a hard-applied life discipline in the Biglan (1973) classification, represents faculty efforts to bring coherence to what had once been an unstructured, interdisciplinary program. The department’s high completion rate of 72.7% is characteris- tic of a faculty whose members are very supportive of their students and a department that is markedly cohesive. In these characteristics, it closely resembles the Communication Department.The Oceanography Department offers only graduate programs and typically enrolls about 13 new students annually. Much like other science fields, all students in the Oceanography Department are funded on individual faculty research grants.

Oceanography faculty and students represent a generally affable and in- novative group. Like their communication colleagues, oceanography faculty expect their students to demonstrate high levels of independence and self- direction. One faculty member remarked that successful doctoral students, in his opinion, are “self-motivated. They complete their task from start to

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