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The Review of higheR educaTion

SprinG 2009

To this end, scholars have sought to understand how factors such as advis- ing (e.g., Baird, 1972; Schroeder & Mynatt, 1993), student characteristics (e.g., Cook & Swanson, 1978; Nettles, 1990), and particular measures such as grades and test scores (e.g., Burton & Wang, 2005; Girves & Wemmerus, 1988; Lannholm & Schrader, 1951) influence the concept of success in doc- toral education. In each of these cases, “success” can mean anything from year-to-year persistence and high grade point averages to degree completion. Therefore, although multiple scholars have studied the concept of success from nearly every imaginable angle, its definition remains elusive. What is success? How does one differentiate a successful student from one who is unsuccessful? Does the definition of success vary by disciplinary culture?

Without a coherent view of what it means to be successful in doctoral education, the measurements and outcomes expected of students remain ambiguous. This study sought to understand the concept of success as de- fined by 38 faculty members in seven disciplines at one research-extensive institution through in-depth interviews about their experiences in doc- toral education. The paper begins with a brief overview of relevant extant literature and the conceptual framework guiding the study. I then provide a description of the methods used, summarize the findings, and provide implications for future policy, practice, and research.

SucceSS in Doctoral eDucation

To better understand conceptualizations of success in doctoral education, a comprehensive understanding of the dimensions of the term is needed. In the study of doctoral education, the concept of success has been used widely to explain several outcomes including retention, academic achievement, completion or graduation, and professional socialization. I briefly discuss each of these topics below in relation to success in doctoral education.

Throughout the doctoral education experience, students are measured according to several outcomes as indicators of their success. Beginning with coursework, students are assessed in their academic achievement, resulting in the standard measure of grade point average (GPA). GPA is a common variable used to analyze student success in undergraduate education (Pas- carella & Terenzini, 1991/2005); however, for doctoral education, GPA is generally not widely used in studies of success.Doctoral student achievement in coursework is typically expected to remain high, therefore making it dif- ficult to measure differences (Girves & Wemmerus, 1988; Nettles & Millett, 2006), although some differences have been measured among underrepre- sented populations (Nettles, 1990; Nettles & Millett, 2006). Furthermore, coursework may last only for several semesters for many students, thereby providing an inaccurate long-term measure of student success. Exceptions are studies based upon predictor variables, such as the Graduate Record Ex-

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