The influence of family on doctoral student success

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International Journal of Doctoral Studies


Aim/Purpose This qualitative case-study explores how a doctoral student's family influences the doctoral student's success from the perspective of doctoral students who were enrolled in an online doctoral program. Background Previous research has shown that family can significantly influence doctoral stu-dent success; however, it is not clear what is meant by family nor what the details of the influence of family look like from the perspective of the doctoral student. Methodology A qualitative case-study method was used. More than 500 former students en-rolled in an online doctoral program were emailed a web-based survey that elicit-ed information about who they considered to be in their family, how they thought their relationship with their family changed while they were a doctoral student, and how much they thought their family understood what it means to be a doc-toral student. One hundred thirty-three (24%) former students participated in the study. Qualitative data were analyzed both manually and electronically by three researchers who subsequently triangulated the data to confirm themes. Contribution This study defines 'family' from the doctoral student perspective and provides an in-depth look at how family influences doctoral student success including expla-nation of family support and lack thereof that previously has been shown to be significant to facilitating or hindering doctoral student success. Findings Doctoral students mostly considered their immediate and extended family (i.e., spouses, significant others, children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, grand-children, nieces, nephews, and parents-in-law) to be family, but some considered friends and coworkers to be part of their family as well. Most doctoral students experienced positive family support, but for those who did not, two major themes emerged as problematic: A reduction in the amount of time spent with family and family not understanding the value of earning a doctoral degree. Recommendations for Practitioners Institutions of higher education should consider these findings when creating interventions to increase retention of doctoral students. Interventions might in-clude orientation programs to help family members understand the value of earn-ing a doctoral degree, the time commitment necessary to complete a doctoral de-gree, and ways to support a family member earning a doctoral degree. Recommendations for Researchers The findings inform future research by surfacing more specific information about what family support and lack thereof looks like for doctoral students and what interventions for improving family support might include. Impact on Society Improving family support may improve doctoral student success by adding more doctoral-trained leaders, innovators, scholars, and influential educators to society and by supporting the financial investment of students and their families by de-creasing attrition. Future Research Future research should focus on creating quantitative instrumentation to measure the influence of family on doctoral student success. Student populations from different types of doctoral programs (e.g., PhD, MD, DO) might be studied as well. Interventions aimed at improving family support should be designed, im-plemented, and evaluated for effectiveness.

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