AcAdv, PhD, Reflections

PhD Balance & Support: Life as a Doctoral Researcher and Higher Ed Professional

As part of my “Thanks-For-Supporting-My-PhD-Completion” and ways to motivate other doctoral researchers, Melissa and I decided to write an article for NACADA’s Academic Advising Today. This piece shared insights from our #hackPhD Panel at #nacada13 and our own hindsight of what it takes to successfully finish the degree.

PhD Survivor

We are not alone in thinking that being both a full-time professional in higher education AND full-time PhD student is a CHALLENGE:

The tensions among academic and personal roles can have a great impact on an advisor’s doctoral education. The theory of doctoral student persistence (Tinto, 1997) in particular can provide a look at how conflicting roles might impede a doctoral student’s academic progress. Tinto’s theory (1997) assumes that the primary communities for students relative to their graduate education are their peers and the faculty in their programs. Social integration within graduate education is almost synonymous with academic integration in the department. These social communities assist students with both intellectual and skill-building capacities needed to succeed in their doctoral programs, as well as networking within the greater professional community. Membership in other communities, e.g. those encompassing personal roles, can have a negative impact on graduate persistence by providing conflicting demands for time. If students are not able to manage their competing roles, they may find that they must give up on some of them.  (Read the full article here.)

I am thankful to the #AcAdv Chat community and fellow PhD friends (#sadoc & #phdchat) for the support. A number of my colleagues from these groups ALSO hold a faculty or staff position on campus, while grinding through their doctoral coursework and/or dissertation. I salute all of you who have made it, and a number of you who are still working towards the end. {You can do it! #GoScholarGo!}

At times this challenge is not easy – AT ALL. What it often comes down to is, support at the local level. At my campus, I was fortunate to have dedicated faculty advisors, solid graduate program support, an understanding/empathetic boss, a supportive and collaborative office team, and brilliant Dean to scaffold my PhD progress. Although my support network online is brilliant,  I think that it is imperative for the Staff/Faculty Supervisor of the PhD employee to consider how they can impact degree completion. Here are a few suggestions on how to get started:

  1. Ask How To Support: Sounds easy enough, but often it does not come up in 1:1 meetings. Consider asking how their degree will fit into their overall career goals, and what sort of strategies and resources would be most appropriate to reaching this objective.
  2. Identify Funding Resources: Inform students about tuition breaks, employee scholarships, and travel funding that might be optional during their doctoral study. Sure – your grad student might be savvy enough on this topic; however it does not hurt to inform them about budget allowances or potential funding sources.
  3. Encourage Professional Development: Continue to nourish and cultivate professionals who want to hack their doctoral degree, AND contribute to their own personal growth. Professional and informal affiliations often helps their progress towards degree completion.
  4. Consider Scheduling & Being Flexible (with Time): Allow for a varied staff schedule, time in office, or even opportunities to telecommute on projects. This might even include moving a lunch or break around to meet with dissertation committee members, writing groups, or graduate student seminars. Often your graduate student is very good at both self- and time management, so trust them to be effective in and out of the office.
  5. Express Value for Scholarship: Help your employee identify service, teaching and research scholarship on your campus and with your professional affiliations. Think about their research as an extension of your unit’s or institution’s vision and mission, and capitalize on their talent and skills in this area. Scholar-practitioner contributions can impact strategic goals, and compliment what you do day-to-day.

If you currently supervise a doctoral researcher who is a full-time staff member, how do you support your employee? OR vice-versa. What do you need as full-time employee AND PhD student to get you to your dissertation defense? Please share in the comments below.

References:

Johnson, M. A., & Pasquini, L. A. (2014, September). Negotiating the multiple roles of being and advisor and doctoral student. Academic Advising Today, 37(3).

Tinto, V. (1997). Toward a theory of doctoral persistence. In P. G. Altbach (Series Ed.) & M. Nerad, R. June, & D. S. Miller (Vol. Eds.), Contemporary higher education: Graduate education in the United States (pp. 322-338). New York, NY: Garland Publishing, Inc.

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