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Gardner / Conceptualizing Success in Doctoral Education


mid-range completion rates or a large number of part-time students and were excluded from this study. Therefore, not only were disciplinary context and culture important in understanding conceptualizations of success by the faculty members working in them,but the specific context of completion and attrition in these departments was also significant. Participants in the study by department and completion rate are further described in Table 1.

The institution at which this study was conducted is classified as a research-extensive (McCormick, 2001) institution or a research university with very high research productivity (Carnegie Foundation, 2005). Located in the southern United States, this institution annually enrolls more than 30,000 students, including over 4,000 graduate and professional students. In relation to its peers, this institution is ranked as a third-tier institution among national universities, although many of its individual programs and

colleges are rated in the very top (U.S. News and

orld Report, 2007).

I interviewed the 38 faculty members for the study in the winter and spring of 2007. I first contacted each department’s chairperson, received permission to conduct the study, then used the institution’s graduate school records to identify the individuals who most often served as chair/committee member on doctoral student committees. Thus, the interviewees had been in the department the longest and worked with the most students. I considered them representative of faculty who worked most intensively with doctoral students, and whose students had actually completed their programs. This sampling method is similar to that of Lovitts (2001) in her examination of doctoral student attrition and allowed for a deeper examination of the exist- ing cultures. Many of these departments generally did not allow untenured faculty members to chair doctoral committees. The interviewees chaired a mean 8.9 dissertations and had served 18.5 mean years at the institution. Table 1 provides further details of faculty members in each department.

I next contacted the prospective interviewees by email. Given the fact that I was granted access through the Graduate School and had the cooperation of the department chairs, all individuals eventually agreed to be interviewed. I conducted in-person interviews using a loosely structured protocol that allowed participants to diverge from the main topics and to further explore concepts and ideas. (See Appendix.) Questions focused on the faculty mem- ber’s experiences as advisors to doctoral students and specifically asked them to identify the characteristics of students whom they considered successful and unsuccessful. The audio-taped interviews lasted for approximately 45 to 60 minutes and were transcribed verbatim.

I analyzed the data through the constant comparative method,“a research design for multi-data sources, which is like analytic induction in that the formal analysis begins early in the study and is nearly completed by the end of data collection” (Bogdan & Biklen, 2003, p. 66). According to Glaser (1978), the steps of this method are: (a) Begin collecting data; (b) Find key

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