Prompt: In the article “Stage-Based Challenges and Strategies for Support in Doctoral Education: A Practical Guide for Students, Faculty Members, and Administrators,” Pifer and Baker (2016) identified three stages of doctoral education, explaining each one and suggesting strategies to overcome challenges that arise in each stage. The excerpted reading below includes the explanations and strategies aimed at doctoral students in the first two stages of doctoral education: knowledge consumption and knowledge creation. Read through these paragraphs from Pifer and Baker (2016), and then compose an essay in response to these questions:
- Based on the challenges and strategies discussed by Pifer and Baker (2016), what challenges do you anticipate you will face in your doctoral program?
- What strategies will you apply to work through these challenges in your doctoral journey?
Stage 1: Knowledge Consumption
In the first stage of doctoral education, the admission process through the first year of coursework, students begin to cultivate their identities as doctoral-level learners. The early stage of the doctoral journey may include a rough transition into the learner role. This initial transition may bring challenges related to identity shifts from professional to student, changes in geographic locations, and generally adjusting to their new roles as nascent disciplinary members (Gardner, 2009b; Sweitzer, 2009; Vekkaila, Pyhältö, & Lonka, 2013). At this stage, students with career experience shed their prior professional identities. This may present a challenge as students do away with, or put on hold, hard-earned status and expertise and assume the identity of the novice and the new entrant into departmental, institutional, and disciplinary cultures (J. Austin et al., 2009; Gardner, 2009b; Sweitzer, 2009). In addition, the magnitude of the scholarly pursuit may come with feelings of fear, doubt, and isolation (Brill, Balcanoff, Land, Gogarty, & Turner, 2014), in addition to exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficiency (Vekkaila et al., 2013).
Also at this time, students learn the sociocultural norms and expectations of their fields, as well as the requirements and structural guidelines of their programs. First-year coursework provides foundational content knowledge, and communicates faculty expectations for student engagement and performance. Students engage in the traditional approach to learning, whereby the professor imparts foundational knowledge through classroom instruction. Acquiring this knowledge is the first step towards legitimacy in their chosen fields. Curricular expectations and disciplinary knowledge norms as communicated through coursework may challenge students considerably (Gardner, 2009b).
Stage 1 strategies for students
We suggest that students conduct a needs assessment to identify the areas for which they need support, as well as the types of relationships that can provide that support (Baker, Pifer, & Griffin, 2014; Martinsuo & Turkulainen, 2011). This process, once implemented, can be repeated as needed across the stages of students’ doctoral programs. This is an important stage to establish the advising, mentoring, and peer support relationships that will be instrumental throughout the doctoral journey (J. Austin et al., 2009; Baker & Pifer, 2011; Stubb, Pyhältö, & Lonka, 2014). Students and their doctoral supervisors don’t always share perceptions and expectations of their own and each other’s roles (Holbrook et al., 2014; Wade-Benzoni, Rousseau, & Li, 2006; Woolderink, Putnik, van der Boom, & Klabbers, 2015); taking the initiative to inquire with their supervisors at this stage of the journey may help establish a shared understanding that reduces ambiguity and provides structure to that key relationship (Main, 2014). Additionally, this is a good time for students to become familiar with key disciplinary associations as they seek to become familiar with disciplinary norms and cross-institutional networks. Early participation in disciplinary meetings will also allow students to begin creating and cultivating their developmental networks, which will help combat the isolation that accompanies Stage 2 and will facilitate the research and job search tasks in Stage 3 (Adegbola, 2014; Sweitzer, 2009; Yerkes, Van de Schoot, & Sonneveld, 2012).
Stage 2: Knowledge Creation
Stage 2 includes the completion of coursework, candidacy exams, and the dissertation proposal development and defense. Such significant tasks can bring with them equally significant fears, concerns, and self-doubt. Research has revealed the potential difficulty in transitioning to independence as students engage in the development of their scholarly identities, professional skills, and research agendas (Baker, Pifer, & Flemion, 2013; Gardner, 2009b; Lovitts, 2005; Walker et al., 2008). This can be an isolating time, yet research suggests that academic integration is critical for persistence (Golde, 2000, 2005). There is often no precedent for the type of activity and responsibilities students encounter in Stage 2 as they move away from the structure provided by courses. No longer prompted by responsibilities such as attending class or collaborating on assignments, interactions with faculty and fellow students can become infrequent. Students’ relationships, both within and outside the academic program, must evolve to accommodate this transition. Work with faculty members shifts during this stage from structured dialogues in the classroom to the unstructured nature of collaboration and supervision that occurs in research projects, writing, and dissertation work. Interactions with family and friends can also become strained or less frequent if time for personal relationships is sacrificed for research and writing (Baker & Pifer, 2011; Gardner & Gopaul, 2012).
Stage 2 strategies for students
The pressure to develop professionally, while still completing their training in the new autonomy of Stage 2, can be overwhelming. Recognizing and understanding this stage can help students manage its challenges effectively. It is normal to feel uneasy with the rapid, ill defined, and sometimes confusing transition from coursework to independent scholarship. Stage 2 is a useful time for applying prior learning to the construction of their own scholarship, research agendas, expertise, and professional identities (Baker, Pifer, & Flemion, 2013). It is important for students to be proactive about communicating in both personal and professional relationships during Stage 2. One of the most important relationships is that with the advisor or dissertation chair (Barnes & Austin, 2009; Gardner, 2008; McAlpine & Amundsen, 2012). Students who are able to let their advisors know what they expect from those relationships, and who give their advisors the chance to express their style or expectations, may find it easier to approach difficult conversations or to address challenges that may arise. We encourage conducting a needs assessment with the advisor/supervisor as a way to establish expectations and goals for the working relationship moving forward (Baker, Pifer, & Griffin, 2014; Vaquera, 2007). As students balance teaching, research, publishing, and the other facets of doctoral training, talking about these experiences with peers and faculty members becomes important and can ease the stress associated with maintaining a careful balance between personal and professional responsibilities during the transitions of Stage 2 (Fenge, 2012; Jairam & Kahl, 2012; McDaniels, 2010; Pearson, Cumming, Evans, Macauley, & Ryland, 2011). Fellow students can provide formal support such as writing groups as well as informal support and friendship (Aitchison, 2009; Martinsuo & Turkulainen, 2011; Pilbeam, LloydJones, & Denyer, 2013).
The reading above is excerpted from the following article:
Pifer, M. J. & Baker, V. L. (2016). Stage-based challenges and strategies for support in doctoral education: A practical guide for students, faculty members, and program administrators. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 11, 15-34. https://doi.org/10.28945/2347
Prompt: Based on the challenges and strategies discussed by Pifer and Baker (2016), what challenges do you anticipate you will face in your doctoral program? What strategies will you apply to work through these challenges in your doctoral journey?
Write a 1-2-page, double-spaced essay in response to the prompt above. To present your strongest writing skills, submit an essay that:
- Provides a focused and clear central idea that responds to both questions in the assignment prompt with developed ideas;
- Integrates relevant and accurate paraphrased and/or quoted evidence from the provided reading in support of the argument, accompanied by appropriate analysis and some form of citation and/or attribution to signal when information is used from the reading;
- Organizes ideas with logical structure, clear paragraphs, and transitional words/phrases;
- Uses grammar and mechanics to effectively communicate meaning to readers;
- Maintains academic integrity by demonstrating your original work. Using outside sources beyond the Pifer and Baker (2016) excerpt provided above is not required for this essay; if you use them, however, then you must cite any information you paraphrase or quote.