Date of Award

Spring 5-22-2021

Document Type


Degree Name

PHD - Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Caroline Heller

Second Advisor

Susan Gere

Third Advisor

Pearl Ratunil


Doctoral students usually exhibit a proven track record of academic success as demonstrated by the completion of both undergraduate and graduate degrees. However, despite that success, attrition rates across doctoral program are high. The challenges inherent in completing a doctoral program are well-documented, but the over-arching concepts that account for those challenges are often subject to compartmentalization and reductionism.

This interdisciplinary qualitative study explored the experiences of current doctoral students and recent graduates through interviews with twenty-seven participants across a variety of academic disciplines. Using a set of scripted questions, each participant was asked to characterize their motivations for doctoral work, what expected and unexpected aspects they encountered, how they viewed their writing as a product of scholarship, and what they believed to be the most valuable part of the experience.

The interviews revealed common themes related to the personal and professional challenges associated with developing a new, academically focused identity. In addition, participants reported that many of their greatest challenges were connected to negotiating the epistemological and ontological changes they were experiencing within the context of advisor, department, and program expectations. Participants reported many transformative/transitional experiences that were only occasionally aligned with pre-planned, programmatic milestones. However, written work often served as the benchmark for recognizing those developments.

The theoretical ideas of liminality and intersubjectivity were used to develop a coherent model of doctoral education that not only accounts for the experiences described by the participants, but also suggests the benefits of a more contemplative approach to doctoral work. By realizing the inherently contemplative and reflexive nature of producing written work in doctoral programs, students can redefine their challenging experiences as opportunities for authentic self-expression.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License



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