Doctoral student satisfaction in light of early experiences

Year: 2016

Author: Shaw, Kylie, Preston, Greg, Holbrook, Allyson, Scevak, Jill, McInerney, Dennis, Fairbairn, Hedy

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Doctoral candidate satisfaction has historically focused substantially on satisfaction with supervision (Harman, 2002; Zhao et al., 2007). However, other aspects such as university infrastructure support (Tennat, 2008) and employment (Gittings, 2010) have also been found to be important to candidate satisfaction. This paper reports on what impacts on PhD student satisfaction with candidature. Three measures of candidate satisfaction were created from a set of 16 items, which were developed with scale construct reliabilities in a larger study (see Holbrook et al, 2014). The scales relate to satisfaction with supervision, with department/university provision, and with personal preparation for the degree.The satisfaction data were analysed using Principal Component Analysis and showed 2 factors Support (5 items) and Preparation (5 items) and another single component – University (5 items). The mean scores on each scale was between Agree and Tend to Agree. However, the mean response to the University scale was significantly weaker than for the Supervision and Preparation scales. There were no significant differences between institutions, gender, faculty, entry qualification, status, or equity groupings on any of the scales. There was a significant difference between Masters and PhD students on the Preparation Scale, with the PhD students feeling more prepared than those doing a Masters Research project. There was also a significant difference in the number of months enrolled and the University scale, indicating that the longer candidates were enrolled the less satisfied they were with the provision of information from the university and the supervisor. This satisfaction measure is different to typically used satisfaction measures in that it emerges from the student perspective of the entire experience, and because it is important to capture their satisfaction across entire candidature. Satisfaction appears to be independent of demographics, but strongly indicative of what students consider to be barriers to their learning and their progress, and here, provision of information from the university, does figure largely as candidature progresses.