Training Partners for the Long Haul: Peer Support in the Dissertation Journey

Training Partners for the Long Haul: Peer Support in the Dissertation Journey

Kymberly Harris (Georgia Southern University, USA), Dana D. Sparkman (Capella University, USA) and Cheryl L. Doran (Capella University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9707-0.ch005
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This chapter seeks to provide the background, benefits, and design of writing groups created to aid doctoral candidates in the completion of the dissertation process. Literature will be used to support the rationale for such groups and will outline the structure that can be used to create and support doctoral students in peer groups by their dissertation chair or facilitator. In this chapter, specific guidelines for the creation of the groups and the role of the chair are outlined, and suggestions for remedying dysfunctional groups or group members. While ultimately the doctoral candidate is responsible for the successful completion and defense of his or her own research, peer groups can be instrumental in promoting task completion and task satisfaction.
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Running The Dissertation Race

To further the analogy of “running the dissertation race,” a comparison of how training partners help each other in both instances may provide an illustration of the similarities in striving towards a desired outcome. When running a marathon, having a training partner can provide the structure and accountability needed to sustain long term, arduous training for the big event. Similarly, peers who invest in the doctoral dissertation journey together can provide the same structure that provides the framework for appropriate goal-setting and accountability Pancheri, Fowler, Wiggs, Schultz, Lewis, & Nurse, 2013). Peers can offer emotional support as well as a consistent framework for movement towards dissertation completion. Runners frequently run races, but do not complete marathons. The same can be true of doctoral candidates; while candidates may have completed a great deal of small research projects in their coursework, they have not completed a dissertation. In both scenarios, the ability to set short-term and long-term goals can be challenging. While it is possible to run a marathon or complete a dissertation without peer assistance, research indicates that the experience is more joyful and more likely to provide the end result when shared with others who serve in a supporting role (Berry, 2017). Additionally, the other students who serve in this supporting role are likely to be more helpful if they themselves are also involved in the same or similar goal.

Like training partners running a marathon, peers who are completing a dissertation at the same time can provide needed assurance. However, the real advantage to having a partner in the process, regardless of whether the two candidates are at the same place in the dissertation process or in the same content area, is the ability to be an empathetic listener, a stalwart supporter, and the “no excuses” sidekick that provides the necessary dose of accountability.

While the role of the sounding board for both manuscript ideas and brainstorming cannot be underestimated, the real peer support may rest in the relationship that provides more of a “tough love” aspect (Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies, n.d.). The responsibility to hold the fellow doctoral student’s feet to the proverbial fire when the inclination and motivation to move forward on research wanes, can be uncomfortable and awkward, but necessary. While it seems to come naturally to express concerns, fears, failures, and complaints about the research process, peer support is necessary for keeping eyes on the prize - a completed dissertation. Similar to a training partner in a marathon, peer support can provide structure toward goal attainment; also similar to training partners, candidates report that the journey is more enjoyable when shared with others who are going through the same experience (Stubb, Pyhalto, & Lonka, 2011).

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