As part of my summer doctoral seminar (ITEC 7000) I was tasked with the following readings:
- Doctoral Students’ Learning Success in Online-Based Leadership Programs: Intersection with Technological and Relational Factors (Lee, Chang, & Bryan, 2020)
- This Group Is Vital”: Adult Peers in Community for Support and Learning (Cherrstrom et al., 2018)
- The Road to a Doctoral Degree: Co-Travelers through a Perilous Passage (Hadjioannou, et al., 2007)
- Networking on the Network: A Guide to Professional Skills for PhD Students (Agre, 2005)
For those of us in IT, especially if you considering tackling an advanced doctorate/masters degree, these readings are well worth your time as they not only address and ease many of the issues that have long since plagued PhD programs, but they also address specific ideas that can make the arduous task of surviving the doctorate process a little easier. For myself, the biggest deterrent from PhD programs was not the curriculum per-se, not even the work. It was the fear of being caught in the proverbial abyss of dissertation. The unguided rigor of trying to hit a moving target while being blindfolded. The fear of placing the last step of graduation upon a committee that might find my work to be subpar upon completion, and dissolving years of work and effort because I couldn’t get a quality thesis/dissertation out the door. As a new doctorate student these fears became even more real when I received my acceptance letter for the program. The feeling of “can I do this alone” and “can I do this remotely” were present and were real. However, when reading these articles I found that my thoughts and fears were not isolated and limited to just me, and I started to feel better that there is indeed proven research out there that suggests that student success is attainable. Although there are hundreds of thoughts and themes I could talk about that exist across these 4 articles, I want to distill them down to a single, and overarching theme, which is simply the effect of relational factors on PhD’s. Simply, each of these articles reinforced a common idea, a common theme. Relationships are critical and relationships do matter. During periods of stress (which is the essence of PhD and doctoral work) the building of relationships can help ease the burden. The idea that suffering is easier if one knows there are others suffering as well is something that can help, in my honest opinion.
The first article (Lee, Chang, & Bryan, 2020) focused on the administering of a 73-item questionnaire that focused on 3-variables: technology factors (TF), relationship factors (RF), and student learning success (SLS). The results obtained from their questionnaire show that RF and TF separately and together predict SLS. A multiple regression analysis indicated that, while all dimensions of TF and RF were significant predictors of SLS, the strongest predictor of SLS is the student-faculty relationship. The data from this study seemingly shows that building relationships with faculty and peers is critical to leadership doctoral students’ learning success, even in online-based programs that offer effective technological support. Simply put, relationships, when formed early, do matter and can be directly attributed to student success.
The second article (Cherrstrom et al., 2018) focused on the effects of peer-mentoring and “zone of proximal development” as a success factor among PhD students. The “zone of proximal development” the authors pointed out, is a mechanism in which learners can accomplish certain aspects of a program with help from others. Although at the onset the learner cannot complete certain tasks, like performing advanced statistical analysis, or writing dissertation proposals, over time, with peer mentoring, the students will be able to accomplish these tasks. This “community of practice” can take on multiple roles, which can even include “cheerleading” and mere “socialization” In turn, these relationships can help students thrive as they feel that they will progress through their sone of proximal development by building and maintaining a community of practice (CoP) together.
The third article (Hadjioannou, et al., 2007) focused primarily on a qualitative analysis of the formation of a student-led peer group by students enrolled in a PhD group at Emporia State University, and how this peer group helped them progress, and deal with, the pressures, of their PhD program. Again, this article strengthened the notion of relational factors (RF) as being important as each of the students in their reflection. Each student stressed the importance of their faculty advisor “Dr. Danling” in their PhD journey. Danling and initiated the peer-group but stepped away, only stepping back into the picture to provide professional support and assist students at conferences with networking. In addition, this peer group helped students deal with factors that PhD program curriculum might not be equipped to handle, such as language barriers, and the stresses of teaching assistant loads. Simply put, this reflection stresses the need for students to not only form relational bonds within their PhD cohort, but those bonds MUST be maintained by those students (and not faculty) to really prove successful.
The fourth (and final article) (Agre, 2005) was more of a “how-to guide” for PhD students within an information systems PhD program. Agre stresses the importance of professional relationships and development among PhD students, and the importance of networking at conferences. This, in turn, leads to solid relationships over time, which can then spill into longitudinal opportunities for the student over time in terms of serving on conference committees, organizing their own conferences, and even serving as the editor of special publications. Simply put, this paper stresses the need for relational factors (RF) to be a part of a PhD student’s professional life. These relationships, or what Agre defines as the building of “intellectual leadership” can be just as important and serve a a catalyst for success over time as it provides a great return on investment over time.
To summarize. relational factors (RF) are the seemingly the most influential and beneficial thing that a student can build during their time as an advanced student. Networking and establishing relationships on a one-to-one level creates a sense of community which ,in turn, invests and embeds a student more deeply not only into their curriculum, but also their peers.