Focusing on doctoral students’ experiences of engagement in the thesis work

Main Article Content

Jenna Vekkaila
Kirsi Pyhältö
Kirsti Lonka

Abstract

While doctoral students’ reasons for attrition and negative experiences have been explored for a long time, little is known about their engagement in their doctoral process. This study aimed at filling the gap in the doctoral education literature by exploring the nature of students’ engagement in doctoral work. Altogether, 21 behavioural sciences doctoral students from one top-level research community were interviewed. The interview data were qualitatively content analysed. The students described their engagement in terms of experiences of dedication, efficiency and sometimes absorption. The sources of their engagement were typically increased sense of competence and relatedness. They less often reported strengthened sense of autonomy and contribution as the sources. In addition, three qualitatively different experiences of engagement in doctoral work, adaptive engagement, agentic engagement and work-life inspired engagement were identified from the students’ descriptions. Further, there was a variation among the students in terms of what experiences of engagement they emphasized in different phases of their doctoral studies. Our results suggest that rather than being a singular entity doctoral student engagement in the doctoral work varies.

Article Details

How to Cite
Vekkaila, J., Pyhältö, K., & Lonka, K. (2013). Focusing on doctoral students’ experiences of engagement in the thesis work. Frontline Learning Research, 1(2), 10-32. https://doi.org/10.14786/flr.v1i2.43
Section
Articles

References

Austin A. E. (2002). Preparing the next generation of faculty: Graduate school as socialization to the academic career. The Journal of Higher Education, 73(1), 94–122.

Appel, M., & Dahlgren, L. (2003). Swedish doctoral students’ experiences on their journey towards a PhD: Obstacles and opportunities inside and outside the academic building. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 47(1), 89–110.

Bresó, E., Schaufeli, W. B., & Salanova, M. (2011). Can a self-efficacy-based intervention decrease burnout, increase engagement, and enhance performance? A quasi-experimental study. Higher Education, 61(4), 339–355.

Brew, A., Boud, D., & Namgung, S. U. (2011). Influences on the formation of academics: The role of the doctorate and structured development opportunities. Studies in Continuing Education, 33(1), 51–66.

Brint, S., Cantwell, A. M., & Hannerman, R. A. (2008). Two cultures: Undergraduate academic engagement. UC Berkeley: Center for Studies in Higher Education. Retrieved from http://escholarship.org/uc/item/53g8521z

Case, J. (2008). Alienation and engagement: development of an alternative theoretical framework for understanding student learning. Higher Education, 55(3), 321–332.

Coffey, A., & Atkinson, P. (1996). Making sense of qualitative data. Complementary research strategies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Cox, J. W., & Hassard, J. (2007). Ties to the past in organization research: A comparative analysis of retrospective methods. Organization, 14(4), 475–497.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper-Perennial.

Deem, R., & Brehony, K. J. (2000). Doctoral students access to research cultures – Are some unequal than others? Studies in Higher Education, 25(2), 149–165.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2002). An overview of Self-Determination Theory: An organismic-dialectical perspective. In L. Deci & R. M. Ryan (Eds.), Handbook of self-determination research (pp. 3–33). Rochester: The University of Rochester Press.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2008). Facilitating optimal motivation and psychological well-being across life’s domains. Canadian Psychology, 49(1), 14–23.

Demerouti, E., Bakker, A. B., Nachreiner, F., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2001). The Job Demands – Resources Model of burnout. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86(3), 499–512.

Eccles, J. S. (2008). Agency and structure in human development. Research in Human Development, 5(4), 231–243.

Fredricks, J. A., Blumenfeld, P. C., & Paris, A. H. (2004). School engagement: Potential of the concept, state of the evidence. Review of Educational Research, 74(1), 59–109.

Gardner, S. K. (2007). “I heard it through the grapevine”: Doctoral student socialization in chemistry and history. Higher Education, 54(5), 723–740.

Gardner, S. K., & Barnes, B. J. (2007). Graduate student involvement: Socialization for the professional role. Journal of College Student Development, 48(4), 1–19.

Golde, C. M. (1998). Beginning graduate school: Explaining first-year doctoral attrition. New directions for higher education, 101, 55–64.

Golde, C. M. (2005). The role of the department and discipline in doctoral student attrition: Lessons from four departments. The Journal of Higher Education, 76(6), 669–700.

Hakkarainen, K., Hytönen, K., Makkonen, J., Seitamaa-Hakkarainen, P., & White, H. (2013) (in press). Interagency, collective creativity, and academic knowledge practices. In A. Sannino & V. Ellis (Eds.), Learning and collective creativity: Activity-theoretical and socio-cultural studies. Informa UK/Taylor&Francis/Routledge.

Harry, B., Sturges, K. M., & Klingner, J. K. (2005). Mapping the process: An exemplar of process and challenge in grounded theory analysis. Educational Researcher, 34(2), 3–13.

Hopwood, N. (2010). A sociocultural view of doctoral students’ relationships and agency. Studies in Continuing Education, 32(2), 103–117.

Hoskins, C. M. & Goldberg, A. D. (2005). Doctoral student persistence in counselor education programs: Student-program match. Counselor Education and Supervision, 44(3), 175–188.

International Postgraduate Student Mirror (2006). Catalonia, Finland, Ireland and Sweden. Högskoleverket, Swedish National Agency for Higher Education. 2006: 29R.

Ives, G., & Rowley, G. (2005). Supervisor selection or allocation and continuity of supervision: Ph.D. students’ progress and outcomes. Studies in Higher Education, 30(5), 535–555.

Krause, K-L., & Coates, H. (2008). Students’ engagement in first-year university. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 33(5), 493–505.

Kvale, S. (2007). Doing Interviews. London: Sage Publications.

Lindblom-Ylänne, S., Trigwell, K., Nevgi, A., & Ashwin, P. (2006). How approaches to teaching are affected by discipline and teaching context. Studies in Higher Education, 31(3), 285–298.

Llorens, S., Schaufeli, W., Bakker, A., & Salanova, M. (2007). Does a positive gain spiral of resources, efficacy beliefs and engagement exist? Computers in Human Behavior, 23(1), 825–841.

Lovitts, B. E. (2001). Leaving the ivory tower: The causes and consequences of departure from doctoral study. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Löfström, E., & Pyhältö, K. (2012). The supervisory relationship as an arena for ethical problem-solving. Education Research International. doi:10.1155/2012/961505

Mason, M. M. (2012). Motivation, satisfaction, and innate psychological needs. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 7, 259–277.

McAlpine, L., & Amundsen, C. (2008). Academic communities and developing identity: The doctoral student journey. In P. Richards (Ed.), Global Issues in Higher Education (pp. 57–83), NY: Nova Publishing.

McAlpine, L., & Norton, J. (2006). Reframing our approach to doctoral programs: An integrative framework for action and research. Higher Education Research & Development, 25(1), 3–17.

McCune, V., & Hounsell, D. (2005). The development of students’ ways of thinking and practicing in three final-year biology courses. Higher Education, 49(3), 255–289.

Meyer, J. H. F., Shanahan, M. P., & Laugksch, R. C. (2005). Students’ conceptions of research I: A qualitative and quantitative analysis. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 49(3), 225–244.
Mills, J., Bonner, A., & Francis, K. (2006). The development of constructivist grounded theory. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 5(1), 25–35.

Morgan, D. L. (2007). Paradigms lost and pragmatism regained: Methodological implications of combining qualitative and quantitative methods. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 1(1), 48–76.

Mäkinen, J., Olkinuora, E., & Lonka, K. (2004). Students at risk: Students’ general study orientations and abandoning/prolonging the course of studies. Higher Education, 48(2), 173–188.

Niemic, C. P., & Ryan, R. M. (2009). Autonomy, competence, and relatedness in the classroom. Applying self-determination theory to educational practice. Theory and Research in Education, 7(2), 133–144.

Ouweneel, E., Le Blanc, P. M., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2011). Flourishing students: A longitudinal study on positive emotions, personal resources, and study engagement. The Journal of Positive Psychology: Dedicated to furthering research and promoting good practice, 6(2), 142–153.

Overall, N. C., Deane, K. L., & Peterson, E. R. (2011). Promoting doctoral students’ research self-efficacy: Combining academic guidance with autonomy support. Higher Education Research & Development, 30(6), 791–805.

Patton, M. Q. (1990). Qualitative research and evaluation methods (2nd ed.). Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Pontius, J. L., & Harper, S. R. (2006). Principles for good practice in graduate and professional student engagement. New Directions for Student Services, 115, 47–58.

Pyhältö, K., Nummenmaa, A. R, Soini, T., Stubb, J., & Lonka, K. (2012). Research on scholarly communities and development of scholarly identity in Finnish doctoral education. In S. Ahola & D. M. Hoffman (Eds.), Higher Education research in Finland. Emerging structures and contemporary issues (pp. 337–357). Jyväskylä: Jyväskylä University Press.

Pyhältö, K., & Keskinen, J. (2012). Doctoral students’ sense of relational agency in their scholarly communities. International Journal of Higher Education, 1(2), 136–149.

Pyhältö, K., Stubb, J., & Lonka, K. (2009). Developing scholarly communities as learning environments for doctoral students. International Journal for Academic Development, 14(3), 221–232.

Pyhältö, K., Stubb, J., & Tuomainen, J. (2011). International evaluation of research and doctoral education at the University of Helsinki – To the top and out to society. Summary report on doctoral students’ and principal investigators’ doctoral training experiences. Retrieved from http://wiki.helsinki.fi/display/evaluation2011/Survey+on+doctoral+training

Pyhältö, K., Vekkaila, J., & Keskinen, J. (2012). Exploring the fit between doctoral students’ and supervisors’ perceptions of resources and challenges vis-à-vis the doctoral journey. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 7, 395–414.

Reeve, J., Jang, H., Carrell, D., Jeon, S., & Barch, J. (2004). Enhancing students’ engagement by increasing teachers’ autonomy support. Motivation and Emotion, 28(2), 147–169.

Reeve, J., & Tseng, C-H. (2011). Agency as a fourth aspect of students’ engagement during learning activities. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 36(4), 257–354.

Sainio, J. (2010). Asiantuntijana työmarkkinoille - Vuosina 2006 ja 2007 tohtorin tutkinnon suorittaneiden työllistyminen ja heidän mielipiteitään tohtorikoulutuksesta [Experts for the labour market - The employment of doctors who earned their doctoral degree in 2006-2007 and their perceptions of doctoral training]. Tampere: Kirjapaino Hermes Oy.

Salanova, M., Schaufeli, W., Martínez, I., & Bresó, E. (2010). How obstacles and facilitators predict academic performance: the mediating role of study burnout and engagement. Anxiety, Stress & Coping: An International Journal, 23(1), 53–70.

Schaufeli, W. B., & Bakker, A. B. (2004). Job demands, job resources, and their relationship with burnout and engagement. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 25(3), 293–315.

Schaufeli, W. B., Martínez, I. M., Pinto, A. M., Salanova, M., & Bakker, A. B. (2002a). Burnout and engagement in university students. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 33(5), 464–481.

Schaufeli, W. B., Salanova, M., González-Romá, V., & Bakker, A. B. (2002b). The measurement of engagement and burnout: A two sample confirmatory factor analytic approach. Journal of Happiness Studies, 3(1), 71–92.

Stubb, J., Pyhältö, K. & Lonka, K. (2011). Balancing between inspiration and exhaustion: PhD students’ experienced socio-psychological well-being. Studies in Continuing Education, 33(1), 33–50.

Stubb, J., Pyhälto, K. & Lonka, K. (2012a). The experienced meaning of working with a Ph.D. thesis. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research. 1–18. iFirst Article.

Stubb, J., Pyhälto, K. & Lonka, K. (2012b). Conceptions of research: The Ph.D. student experience in three different domains. Studies in Higher Education. 1–14. iFirst Article.

Turner, G., & McAlpine, L. (2011). Doctoral experience as researcher preparation: Activities, passion, status. International Journal for Researcher Development, 2(1), 46–60.

Umbach, P. D., & Wawrzynski, M. R. (2005). Faculty do matter: The role of college faculty in student learning and engagement. Research in Higher Education, 46(2), 153–184.

Vassil, K. & Solvak, M. (2012). When failing is the only option: Explaining failure to finish PhDs in Estonia. Higher Education, 64(4), 503–516.

Vekkaila, J., Pyhältö, K., Hakkarainen, K., Keskinen, J., & Lonka, K. (2012). Doctoral students’ key learning experiences in the natural sciences. International Journal for Researcher Development, 3(2), 154–183.

Vekkaila, J., Pyhältö, K., & Lonka, K. (2013). Experiences of disengagement – A study of doctoral students in the behavioral sciences. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 8, 61–81.

Virtanen, V., & Pyhältö, K. (2012). What engages doctoral students in biosciences in doctoral studies? Psychology, 3(12A), 1231–1237.

Weidman, J. C., & Stein, E. L. (2003). Socialization of doctoral students to academic norms. Research in Higher Education, 44(6), 641–656.

White, J., & Nonnamaker, J. (2008). Belonging and mattering. How science doctoral students experience community. NASPA Journal, 45(3), 350–372.