Managing academic and personal life in graduate studies : an interactive qualitative analysis of graduate student persistence and transformation




Winston, Rachel Anne

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This study examines the impact of academic and personal life on graduate student persistence and transformation. Of particular interest are the relationships, emotions, and life management skills required throughout the graduate experience and how socialization, emotional intelligence, and advising aid students through their academic program. With an average of seven to eight years required to complete a doctoral program, life happens. Students enter and leave relationships, children are born, family members have emergencies, health issues arise, and emotional growth takes place. Therefore, students transform not only academically, but in many ways. These are intertwined as evidenced by the data-derived system representation. The importance of understanding the interconnected links in graduate experience spans academic, social, economic, and societal spheres.

Each year hundreds of thousands of students enter graduate school. However, for doctoral students, there is an enormous gap between acceptance and completion. After seven years, approximately 50 percent complete their program and after ten years the rate climbs to only 57 percent (Council of Graduate Schools, 2010). This study offers a systemic representation and a four-stage model of graduate student development, incorporating student-identified factors: Faculty Impact, Life Management, Relationships, Playing the Game, Growth/Transformation, Emotions, and Reward/Purpose.

Stage I: Orientation and Socialization Stage II: Adjustment and Transition Stage III: Navigation and Transformation Stage IV: Completion and Advancement

The results, presented as a systems-based model, along with analysis, may be used to support faculty, advisors, and administrators in creating better advising, orientation, evaluation, and support systems. Departmental policies may be improved to identify at-risk students, provide mentorship opportunities, or obtain continual feedback to understand the underlying factors that may stop students from progressing. This research might also help identify students during the application/admission process. The methodological framework used to create the system produced in this study is Interactive Qualitative Analysis (Northcutt & McCoy, 2004), a methodology that provides the quantitative rigor of algorithmically generated data analysis, combined with the qualitative descriptiveness of interviews, in order to provide insights into the drivers of graduate school persistence. This methodology uses a systematic, protocol-driven research procedure to construct a unified, descriptive diagram to illustrate the phenomenon.



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