Developing a Doctoral Identity: Strategies to Help Online Students Move From Student to Scholar

Developing a Doctoral Identity: Strategies to Help Online Students Move From Student to Scholar

Christy B. Fraenza (Walden University, USA) and Kimberly Palermo-Kielb (Walden University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9707-0.ch009


To complete a doctoral program, students must develop the skills and knowledge of their field of study as well as a doctoral identity. However, there are many factors that can impede a student's ability to develop this identity, including the imposter phenomenon, connectedness, and self-efficacy. As researchers have shown, online doctoral students may face additional challenges as they can experience barriers when trying to interact with peers and faculty formally and informally. This reduced interaction can limit the opportunities that researchers have shown can facilitate doctoral identity development, such as participating in research projects. The purpose of this chapter is to share specific strategies that students, faculty, and institutions can use to support the doctoral identity development of online students.
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Doctoral students may not be prepared to handle many aspects of their program (Hunter & Devine, 2016), experiencing anxieties related to mastering content, their competency compared to others, and what it means to be a scholar (Coffman, Putman, Adkisson, Kriner, & Monaghan, 2016). If unprepared or unsupported, these anxieties could lead to a poor experience or even a withdrawal from the program. In fact, the attrition rate for doctoral students has been estimated to be as high as 50% (Pyhalto, Toom, Stubb, & Lonka, 2012). To complete the marathon that is a dissertation, students need proper training. While doctoral students must gain skills in research and become proficient with the language of their chosen field of study (Baker & Pifer, 2011), they must also go through “personal transformation and change, which extends beyond methodological rigour, epistemological understanding, and socialization into a discipline” (Bitzer & Bergh, 2014, p. 1047-1048). That is, doctoral students must go beyond learning research and discipline-specific information; they must also transform themselves from student to scholar by building their own doctoral identity.

In this chapter, the authors will discuss the concept of doctoral identity and why this is a crucial part of the doctoral journey. Also, the authors will provide an overview of factors important to the development of a doctoral identity, as well as specific challenges of online doctoral students. The authors will then share their narratives on their doctoral identity development as online students. The chapter will conclude with suggested strategies for students, faculty, and institutions to support doctoral identity development within the online setting.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Connectedness: The feeling of being connected to others within a certain group.

Research Identity: The characteristics associated with completing and publishing research within a specific field of study.

Online Learning: Education that happens through synchronous and/or asynchronous methods using an online learning management system.

Self-Efficacy: A person’s self-appraisal of their abilities to complete a task or goal.

Professional Identity: The characteristics associated with a specific profession or career.

Doctoral Identity: What it means to be a doctoral student and scholar in a specific field of study.

Imposter Phenomenon: A psychological experience characterized by the fear of being discovered as an imposter.

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