Tracking the Doctoral Journey: Developing a measure of perceived progress and well-being for PhD Students

Year: 2012

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

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


The management of the affective experiences accompanying intellectual development in higher education has received inadequate attention in the literature (Stevens-Long and Barner, 2006). More specifically, there is a lack of understanding of how these affective experiences are interpreted and managed at the level of the individual PhD student, and the impact of this on progress through doctoral candidature (Budd, Scevak, and Cantwell, 2010). This paper reports on the development and implementation of the Journey Tracking Survey, a brief monthly online survey designed to record PhD students' responses to the doctoral experience in terms of their perceived well-being, hope, and self-reported progress through various aspects of doctoral candidature.

The Journey Tracking Survey has been used in an ongoing, large-scale, mixed-methods design study that is investigating the affective and metacognitive profiles of over 1600 PhD students from Australian and overseas universities, to provide both cross-sectional and longitudinal data regarding the management of affect during candidature. This study is underpinned by a social cognitive learning theory framework, and assumes that there will be individual differences in the application and experience of a variety of metacognitive, affective, and personality factors as students seek to manage the intellectual and other demands of doctoral learning.

An initial analysis of a sample of the Journey Tracking Survey data drawn from this study is provided, focusing on over fifty PhD students who completed the Journey Tracking Survey each month for 12 months. The relationships between perceived wellbeing, hope, and doctoral progress are presented, along with participant feedback about the Journey Tracking Survey process.

These outcomes are considered in the context of current understandings of the interplay between affect management, reflective practices, and intellectual development. The implications for doctoral pedagogy, student-supervisor relationships, and PhD student attrition are addressed. In particular, the possible uses for this instrument in helping PhD students to more comprehensively understand and manage the affective experiences associated with doctoral learning are discussed. Finally, further plans for the development and use of the Journey Tracking Survey in our future research are outlined.