Author Topic: Motives and Aspirations for Doctoral Study  (Read 3489 times)

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Motives and Aspirations for Doctoral Study
« on: January 15, 2017, 12:00:00 AM »
Motives and Aspirations for Doctoral Study: Career, Personal, and Inter-personal Factors in the Decision to Embark on a History PhD

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Abstract

While extensive research exists for both the doctoral experience and career paths after the doctorate,
less is known about the initial motives for starting a PhD. In this study, 11 History PhD holders
from an Australasian university were interviewed about their reasons for embarking on the
doctorate. The motives and aspirations cited by the participants validate several of the categories
identified in the limited existing literature, such as improving career prospects, personal development,
and intrinsic interest in their discipline. Moreover, the data support the contention that
candidates enter the doctorate with multiple motives. From this History sample, however, there
were no overt motives relating to the participants’ sense of their own identity and pressing social
justice concerns or ‘research as politics’. The data reveal that third parties (friends, colleagues,
family members, and academics) when consulted prior to enrolment did play a generally encouraging
role in the decision to start a doctorate. A recommendation emanating from this research is
that universities consider offering workshops for would-be candidates before enrolment so that
initial motives for doctoral study can be explored and reflected upon before a candidate embarks.
Keywords: motives for doctoral study; admission into doctoral programmes; doctoral advising;
doctoral supervision; graduate recruitment.

Introduction

Why would a mature person decide to do a PhD? It is not urban myth that a significant number of
doctoral students fail in completing their degrees, nor is the stereotype of the lonely dissertation
student toiling away for years and years to finally stagger over the finishing line, exhausted and
disillusioned. There is a body of quantitative and qualitative research proving that deciding to do
a PhD is a high-risk strategy (Golde, 2005; Lovitts, 2001; Powell & Green, 2007). Why would
someone commit several years of his or her life studying for a degree when there was no guarantee
of success at the end? These were
the questions posed in this study to 11
individuals in Australasia who took up
the challenge of a History doctorate;
their answers provide, from a student
perspective, qualitative data to better
understand the complex decisionmaking
process.

Method

This research uses qualitative data from 11 semi-structured interviews. Participants in the study
had all completed a doctorate in History at a university in Australasia in the early 200s. All had
significant career experience – most were in their thirties or forties – before enrolling and starting
a doctorate and did not fit the traditional path of the early-career would-be academic (Austin,
2002). A local professional historical journal each year lists doctorates in progress and completed,
allowing identification of the sample. Approaches were made by the researcher to those meeting
the criteria asking if they were willing to take part in the research. All 11 responded positively.
Ethics permission was obtained to ask questions about the doctoral experience in a 40-50 minute
recorded interview that was then professionally transcribed. Participants were then sent copies of
the transcripts, giving them the chance to review and if required make changes to the final version.
No reference to their specific research topics is made in this paper. Academia in Australasia
is an exemplar of the two-degrees-of-separation truism and revealing too much detail could unintentionally
provide clues about the participants’ identities.

Employment and Career Considerations

All participants were asked about employment issues and how the History PhD had impacted on
their existing and expected prospects. The answers reveal ‘push’ factors, such as sudden change
in circumstances or on-going frustrations on the one hand, and ‘pull’ factors such as aspirations
for more rewarding employment on the other. Five of the participants mentioned specific issues
with their existing employment or career path as being triggers for thinking about completing a
doctorate.

Personal Motives to Complete a Doctorate

During the interviews participants revealed numerous idiosyncratic reasons for embarking on the
doctorate. It was striking that no one from this sample overtly mentioned doing research as a form
of political or social activism and only R2 articulated a sense of giving something back to the
community as a motive. Likewise, a sense of personal or cultural identity (be it gender, sexuality,
ethnicity, or social class) as a motivation was lacking. The small sample could be a factor
here and possibly the nature of historical research. Nine of the participants were researching historic
topics that were primarily their own areas of interest; R3 was a member of a larger research
cluster and R4 was researching a topic close to his/her field of professional practice. R10 came
closest to ‘drifting in’ of the sample, but this only related to an initial yearning to return to formal
study.

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Motives and Aspirations for Doctoral Study
« on: January 15, 2017, 12:00:00 AM »

nainakatyal

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RE: Motives and Aspirations for Doctoral Study
« Reply #1 on: January 15, 2017, 12:00:00 AM »
I wish more authors of this type of content would take the time you did to research and write so well. I am very impressed with your vision and insight.

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RE: Motives and Aspirations for Doctoral Study
« Reply #1 on: January 15, 2017, 12:00:00 AM »

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