An Exploration Into Doctoral Students' Sense of Community and its Influence on the Formation of Informal Mentoring Relationships
Higenell, Gail J.
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This exploratory mixed method research project was designed to investigate an area of doctoral education that has received little attention in the past. This research focused specifically on the non-intellectual, hoped-for by-products of doctoral education; the dynamic processes of developing and maintaining both a sense of community and informal mentoring relationships. The design of the study captured the experiences of doctoral students and alumni at various time periods in the doctoral program. Participants represented a diverse group of students with differences in professional and academic backgrounds and life stages. A pilot study for this research suggested that the presence of a sense of community and informal mentoring may provide the necessary relationships to support this diversity. The primary question at the forefront of this study was: Do doctoral students feel connected to one another? Five subquestions were developed to address this research topic: Does a sense of community already exist and flourish in doctoral education? Are the programs and resources of the doctoral program organized to nurture the creation and maintenance of a sense of community? Is a sense of community a foundational element in the formation of naturally occurring relationships among doctoral students? What educational and socio-emotional benefits are associated with informal mentoring relationships during the doctoral experience? and Do doctoral students perceive a change in their development as stewards of their discipline over time? The principal methods used to investigate these research questions combined both quantitative and qualitative techniques in a concurrent time sequence. The quantitative portion of the study involved a questionnaire, while the qualitative portion involved two approaches; face-to-face interviews and an open-ended question at the end of the questionnaire. Findings from the study indicated that the presence of both sense of community and informal mentoring enhance the overall quality of doctoral education. Program elements that enhanced or hindered connection between students were identified. Both the dynamics and the emotional, social, and academic benefits of informal mentoring were elucidated. Over time participants perceived changes in their development of the qualities assqciated with stewardship. This study brought the "hoped-for by-products" associated with doctoral education from the background shadows to an illuminated position at the forefront of inquiry.