Exploring PhD Success Factors

A. Working Title: PhD Success Factors And How It Differs Among Candidates From Emerging And Western Economies

B. Research Questions

The research questions that this PhD project seeks to answer are as follows:

Does the motivation to pursue PhD education vary among candidates from the emerging and western economies?

What factors contribute to the successful completion of PhD?

C. Key Papers

This project will review a number of key papers that are highly relevant to it, including among others those by: Kehm (2006), Sverdlik et al. (2018) and van Rooji, Fokkens-Bruinsma and Jansen (2021).


D. Motivation

The difficult/challenging doctoral journey has widely been demonstrated by high attrition rates witnessed. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (2013), despite the overall increase in the number of PhD enrollments globally in the recent years, there are high rates of delayed completion and attrition among PhD students.

Following the high cost of doctoral education (Bair & Haworth, 2004) and the competitive and financial challenge that high PhD attrition rates and completion delays pose to universities and doctoral students (Horta, Cattaneo & Meoli, 2018), it is critical to investigate the factors that contribute to success among doctoral candidates, and how they differ among students from emerging and western countries. The various categories of factors that contribute to PhD success as identified by previous studies include: institutional and/or environmental factors, supervision factors, individual doctoral students’ characteristics, psychosocial factors and PhD project characteristics (Gardner, 2007, 2009; Jiranek, 2010; Manathunga, 2005; Sverdlik et al., 2018 Van de Schoot et al., 2013, van Rooji, Fokkens-Bruisma & Jansen, 2021).

The conduction of this PhD project, therefore, has been motivated by the desire to gain an improved understanding of the doctoral journey and the various factors associated with doctoral success, as well as how these PhD success factors compare among PhD students from emerging and western countries. This is likely to contribute to an improvement in the quality of PhD education and the students’ timely completion and satisfaction rates.

E. Idea

Besides its traditional role of providing a supply of academics, doctoral education also plays an increasingly important role of imparting high-level skills which are a key resource in the knowledge economy.

While the importance of PhD has, in the recent years, significantly increased and resulted in a burgeoning of people’s interest in pursuing doctoral studies (Louw and Muller, 2014), this increase is disproportionate to the overall doctoral graduate output.

Although delayed PhD completion and attrition rates are an issue of global concern, they are seen to be more predominant among doctoral students in and/or from emerging countries relative to those from the western or developed countries.

The high attrition and completion delay rates among doctoral students has given rise to the need to investigate the factors that are associated with PhD success and the relative importance of the various factors to PhD success.

Besides contributing to doctoral students’ success, these factors also vary in terms of how they impact on PhD students from emerging and western countries.

F. Data

Despite the increase in the importance of PhD and doctoral enrollments, high attrition rates from doctoral programs have been witnessed.

Jones (2013) found that between 33% and 70% of PhD students do not complete the journey.

Findings by Castello et al. (2017) demonstrate that about a third of enrolled PhD students had intended to drop out at some point during the doctoral journey.

Additionally, less than a tenth of those who complete their PhDs do so within the program duration or as initially planned (Van de Schoot et al., 2013).

G. Tools

This project will employ both primary and secondary data collection methods and techniques.

Secondary data will be collected through a critical review and analysis of various empirical studies previously conducted on the topic.

Primary data will be collected through questionnaires, which will (whenever possible) contain items validated and used by previous studies.

H. Novelty

Following the availability of multiple studies of the factors contributing to PhD success, the present study can be considered novel because, besides identifying the various PhD success factors and their importance, it also seeks to provide a comprehensive representation of how these PhD success factors vary among PhD students from emerging and developed countries.

I. “So What?”

By representing a review of how the PhD success factors vary among doctoral students from emerging and developed countries, the discrepancy that exists in relation to PhD success among PhD students from developed and emerging countries will be able to be addressed and bridged.

J. Contribution

This project will significantly contribute to the doctoral education field by facilitating PhD students’ success. This it will achieve through highlighting optimal practices that PhD students, practitioners, faculty and supervisors can undertake to enhance students’ academic success, which in turn contributes to their overall well-being and satisfaction, as well as an improvement in the quality of doctoral education offered in universities.

K. Other Considerations

While no collaboration is needed in relation to idea and data, it may be desired with respect to tools.

This project targets to get featured in the International Journal of Doctoral Studies, a target perceived as realistic and achievable.

With respect to risk assessment, the project has a low risk of no or insignificant results.

Statement of Purpose

The desire to extend my knowledge and contribute to the field of doctoral studies motivated me to pursue a PhD in (XXX) at the University of Adger, Norway. It is my belief that my educational background and experience has equipped me with the necessary qualities, skills and knowledge that enable me to meet the rigorous demands of this course, as well as profession. I possess a solid understanding of theory and practical experience in (XXX), a motivation to learn, a relish for challenges and a propensity for leadership and success.

The key factor that led me to the decision to pursue a PhD in (XXX) is the significance of PhDs in academia as a provider of future supply of academics, and in the knowledge economy as a result of the high-level skills they impart in individuals who successfully complete them. I am, however, cognizant of the difficulty of the doctoral journey and the presence of challenges that result in completion delays and attrition. Inspired by my professor (NAME), who I highly admire due to his immense contribution to the field, I decided to pursue a PhD in order to contribute to the improvement of the quality of doctoral education by representing factors that have been demonstrated to facilitate the success of students starting their doctoral studies. PhD success presents significant benefits to students, including improved well-being and satisfaction, and financial and competitive advantages to universities.

Based on my academic background and professional experience, along with my English language abilities which will facilitate my successful undertaking of the course, I chose to apply for a PhD in (XXX) at the University of Adger due to its reputation, focus on the provision of quality doctoral studies and engagement of highly qualified and competent faculty members who I look forward to working closely with and learning a lot from. The institution’s focus on translational work and the multiple opportunities it offers will enable me to successfully complete my PhD, whose knowledge I will be able to apply to further develop my profession as an academic and explore the various career paths as this PhD would make possible, as well as help others keen on pursuing doctoral studies to succeed as well.

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Bair, C. R., & Haworth, J. G. (2004). Doctoral student attrition and persistence: A meta-synthesis of research. In Higher education: Handbook of theory and research (pp. 481-534). Springer, Dordrecht.

Castelló, M., Pardo, M., Sala-Bubaré, A., & Suñe-Soler, N. (2017). Why do students consider dropping out of doctoral degrees? Institutional and personal factors. Higher Education, 74(6), 1053-1068.

Gardner, S. K. (2007). “I heard it through the grapevine”: Doctoral student socialization in chemistry and history. Higher education, 54(5), 723-740.

Gardner, S. K. (2009). Student and faculty attributions of attrition in high and low-completing doctoral programs in the United States. Higher Education, 58(1), 97-112.

Horta, H., Cattaneo, M., & Meoli, M. (2018). PhD funding as a determinant of PhD and career research performance. Studies in Higher Education, 43(3), 542-570.

Jiranek, V. (2010). Potential predictors of timely completion among dissertation research students at an Australian faculty of sciences. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 5(1), 1-13.

Kehm, B. M. (2006). Doctoral education in Europe and North America: A comparative analysis. Wenner Gren International Series, 83, 67.

Louw, J., & Muller, J. (2014). A literature review on models of the PhD. Cape Town: CHET https://www. chet. org. za/papers/literature-review-models-phd (accessed 19 October 2021).

Manathunga, C. (2005). Early warning signs in postgraduate research education: A different approach to ensuring timely completions. Teaching in Higher Education, 10(2), 219-233.

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (2013). Students enrolled by type of institution [Statistics tables]. Retrieved from https://stats.oecd.org

Sverdlik, A., Hall, N. C., McAlpine, L., & Hubbard, K. (2018). The PhD experience: A review of the factors influencing doctoral students’ completion, achievement, and well-being. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 13(1), 361-388.

Van de Schoot, R., Yerkes, M. A., Mouw, J. M., & Sonneveld, H. (2013). What took them so long? Explaining PhD delays among doctoral candidates. PloS one, 8(7), e68839.

van Rooij, E., Fokkens-Bruinsma, M., & Jansen, E. (2021). Factors that influence PhD candidates’ success: the importance of PhD project characteristics. Studies in Continuing Education, 43(1), 48-67.

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