The doctorate journey: Mapping perceptions of the Ph.D. process

Stephanie Cutler, James J. Pembridge, Matthew A. Verleger

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


During a special session at the Frontiers in Education conference in 2013, presenters used an analogy to the fantasy book/movie series The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien1 framed by identity-trajectory theory to explore the pathway to receiving a PhD2. At the start of the session, participants were asked to create a map of the PhD process keeping the following questions in mind: Who are the players and how do they relate to each other?; What are the milestones?; and What are the events that impact the outcomes? Using the participant-created maps as well as original analogy elements, this paper explores the elements of identity-trajectory highlighted by the different participant group maps. Academic identity-trajectory includes three primary elements: intellectual, institutional, and network3,4. For the intellectual element, we explore the role of the overall field in the PhD process and how they were represented within the participant created maps. The institutional element helps explore the graduate school structure and resources that influence graduate students' development. Largely, the institutional elements are highlighted through the required milestones that must be overcome to complete the PhD process. Finally, the network element explores the relationships that influence graduate students and the role these different players influence a graduate student's success in receiving their PhD. Additionally, we highlight the challenges or events that can negatively impact a student's progress toward degree as identified by the special session participants. The goal of this paper is to demonstrate multiple perceptions of the PhD process to aid current and future graduate students in understanding common pathways and to help initiate conversations among graduate students and other players about what to expect from the PhD process. Good communication between an advisor/advisee, and among various graduate students, can help to negate some of the challenges students face in graduate school and encourage a successful experience for the students.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jun 26 2016
Event123rd ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition - New Orleans, United States
Duration: Jun 26 2016Jun 29 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Engineering


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