Commenced in January 2007
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Edition: International
Paper Count: 3

doctoral students Related Abstracts

3 Enhancing Learning for Research Higher Degree Students

Authors: Jenny Hall, Alison Jaquet


Universities’ push toward the production of high quality research is not limited to academic staff and experienced researchers. In this environment of research rich agendas, Higher Degree Research (HDR) students are increasingly expected to engage in the publishing of good quality papers in high impact journals. IFN001: Advanced Information Research Skills (AIRS) is a credit bearing mandatory coursework requirement for Queensland University of Technology (QUT) doctorates. Since its inception in 1989, this unique blended learning program has provided the foundations for new researchers to produce original and innovative research. AIRS was redeveloped in 2012, and has now been evaluated with reference to the university’s strategic research priorities. Our research is the first comprehensive evaluation of the program from the learner perspective. We measured whether the program develops essential transferrable skills and graduate capabilities to ensure best practice in the areas of publishing and data management. In particular, we explored whether AIRS prepares students to be agile researchers with the skills to adapt to different research contexts both within and outside academia. The target group for our study consisted of HDR students and supervisors at QUT. Both quantitative and qualitative research methods were used for data collection. Gathering data was by survey and focus groups with qualitative responses analyzed using NVivo. The results of the survey show that 82% of students surveyed believe that AIRS assisted their research process and helped them learn skills they need as a researcher. The 18% of respondents who expressed reservation about the benefits of AIRS were also examined to determine the key areas of concern. These included trends related to the timing of the program early in the candidature and a belief among some students that their previous research experience was sufficient for postgraduate study. New insights have been gained into how to better support HDR learners in partnership with supervisors and how to enhance learning experiences of specific cohorts, including international students and mature learners.

Keywords: Data Management, Publishing, enhancing learning experience, research higher degree students, doctoral students

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2 Making the Choice: Educational Mobility Decisions of International Doctoral Students

Authors: Adel Pasztor


International doctoral mobility is a largely under-researched component of academic mobility and migration. This is in stark contrast to the case of student mobility where much research has been undertaken on Erasmus students; or the growing research on academic staff mobility which can be viewed as a key part of highly skilled migration. The aim of this paper is to remedy the situation by specifically focusing on international doctoral students studying at elite higher education institutions in the United Kingdom. In doing so, in-depth qualitative interviews with doctoral students and recent graduates were carried out in order to identify the signifiers of an internationally mobile doctoral student and unpack the decision-making processes leading onto the choice of higher education institution abroad. Overall, a diverse range of degree subjects from within the humanities and the social sciences were covered with a relatively large spread of nationalities which include the following countries: Italy, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Australia, USA, China, and Chile. The interview questions were designed to probe the motivations, choices, educational trajectories and career plans of international doctoral students relative to their social class background, gender, nationality or funding. It was clear from the interviews that there were two main types of international doctoral students: those who ‘did not think anything else was ever a serious possibility’, contrasted with the other, more opportune type, to whom ‘it happened to be a PhD’. There were marked differences between the two types since initial access to university, mainly because educational decisions such as the doctorate do not happen in a vacuum, rather are built on the individual’s higher education aspirations and previous educational choices. The results were in line with existing literature suggesting that those with higher educated parents and from schools strongly supporting the choice process fared better as they were able to make well informed, well thought through as well as strategic decisions for their future involving the very best universities within the national boundaries. Being ‘at the right place’ often meant access to prestigious doctoral scholarships thus, the route of the PhD has been chosen even if it did not necessarily enhance career opportunities. At the same time, the initial higher education choices of those with limited capital were played out locally, although they did aim for the best universities within their geographically constrained landscape of choice. Here, the majority of students referred to some ‘turning points’ in their lives which lead them towards considering international doctoral opportunities but essentially their proactive, do-it-yourself attitude was behind the life-changing educational opportunities.

Keywords: Choice, doctoral students, international mobility, PhD

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1 Exploring Disengaging and Engaging Behavior of Doctoral Students

Authors: Salome Schulze


The delay of students in completing their dissertations is a worldwide problem. At the University of South Africa where this research was done, only about a third of the students complete their studies within the required period of time. This study explored the reasons why the students interrupted their studies, and why they resumed their research at a later stage. If this knowledge could be utilised to improve the throughput of doctoral students, it could have significant economic benefits for institutions of higher education while at the same time enhancing their academic prestige. To inform the investigation, attention was given to key theories concerning the learning of doctoral students, namely the situated learning theory, the social capital theory and the self-regulated learning theory, based on the social cognitive theory of learning. Ten students in the faculty of Education were purposefully selected on the grounds of their poor progress, or of having been in the system for too long. The collection of the data was in accordance with a Finnish study, since the two studies had the same aims, namely to investigate student engagement and disengagement. Graphic elicitation interviews, based on visualisations were considered appropriate to collect the data. This method could stimulate the reflection and recall of the participants’ ‘stories’ with very little input from the interviewer. The interviewees were requested to visualise, on paper, their journeys as doctoral students from the time when they first registered. They were to indicate the significant events that occurred and which facilitated their engagement or disengagement. In the interviews that followed, they were requested to elaborate on these motivating or challenging events by explaining when and why they occurred, and what prompted them to resume their studies. The interviews were tape-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Information-rich data were obtained containing visual metaphors. The data indicated that when the students suffered a period of disengagement, it was sometimes related to a lack of self-regulated learning, in particular, a lack of autonomy, and the inability to manage their time effectively. When the students felt isolated from the academic community of practice disengagement also occurred. This included poor guidance by their supervisors, which accordingly deprived them of significant social capital. The study also revealed that situational factors at home or at work were often the main reasons for the students’ procrastinating behaviour. The students, however, remained in the system. They were motivated towards a renewed engagement with their studies if they were self-regulated learners, and if they felt a connectedness with the academic community of practice because of positive relationships with their supervisors and of participation in the activities of the community (e.g., in workshops or conferences). In support of their learning, networking with significant others who were sources of information provided the students with the necessary social capital. Generally, institutions of higher education cannot address the students’ personal issues directly, but they can deal with key institutional factors in order to improve the throughput of doctoral students. It is also suggested that graphic elicitation interviews be used more often in social research that investigates the learning and development of the students.

Keywords: doctoral students, engaging and disengaging experiences, graphic elicitation interviews, student procrastination

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