PhD candidate satisfaction: Levels of satisfaction and relationships with candidate characteristics and candidature experience

Year: 2012

Author: Bourke, Sid, Cantwell, Robert, Holbrook, Allyson, Scevak, Jill, Budd, Janene

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


The purpose of this paper is to investigate PhD candidate satisfaction with three aspects of their studies: with their supervision, with the support of university as provided through their department, and, in retrospect, with their own preparation for the degree. The relationships of two sets of variables with candidate satisfaction are explored: (1) candidate characteristics, including gender, age, whether a native English speaker and metacognitive attributes (described and discussed in the previous paper), and (2) candidature variables including discipline field, full or part-time and stage of candidature. The research questions responded to in this paper are:

(1) what are the levels of candidate satisfaction with supervision, the department and their own preparation overall and at different stages of candidature?

(2) what student characteristics and candidature variables are related to satisfaction on these three dimensions overall and at each of three stages of candidature?

The data consisted of responses to an online questionnaire by 1635 PhD candidates across 34 Australian universities. Stage of candidature was recorded with the largest group consisting of 641 candidates late in candidature, followed by 533 in mid-candidature and 461 in early-candidature. Candidate responses to a total of 16 items were used to develop three satisfaction scales through factor and reliability analyses. These scales were then used as outcomes in separate regression analyses with the candidate characteristics and candidature variables as explanatory variables.

The level of satisfaction was relatively high for all three satisfaction scales with only small minorities expressing some level of dissatisfaction. On average, candidates were most satisfied with their supervision, then with their own preparation and finally with departmental provision. Stage of candidature was significantly related to satisfaction with both supervision and departmental provision, but not to adequacy of own preparation. Early-stage candidates were the most satisfied and late-stage candidates were the least satisfied.

Candidate characteristics, in different combinations, were the most important explanatory variables for all three satisfaction outcomes, with smaller but significant input from discipline area, in total explaining 11% of the variance in supervision, 14% of the variance in departmental provision and 26% of the variance in own preparation. It was notable that candidates in the health discipline were consistently more satisfied with supervision, departmental provision and their own preparation than candidates in any other discipline area. This and other findings are discussed.