‘Our Breadcrumb Trail through the Woods’: Reflections on the Use of a Secret Facebook Group as a Strategy for Surviving and Thriving on the Doctoral Journey

Candice Satchwell, Hazel Partington, Lynne Barnes, Ridwanah Gurjee, Susan Ramsdale, Jacqueline D Dodding, Kathryn Drury
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 10  •  2015  •  pp. 465-482
This article explores the value of attending to the emotional side of the doctoral journey by focusing on the use of a ‘secret’ Facebook group amongst a cohort of EdD (Professional Doctorate in Education) students at one English university. Presented as a piece of action research in which the participants created an intervention to address a perceived problem and then reflected on its effectiveness, it is co-authored by the cohort of six students and their tutor. The stresses and loneliness of the doctoral journey have been well documented and constitute the ‘problem’ addressed by this cohort of students. Their inception and use of a Facebook group was a response to challenges experienced in their studies, with the expectation of facilitating peer support. As will be shown this aim was successfully met with enhancements in academic, social, and emotional support. However, unexpected benefits arose from the interactions within the group including a normalization of the challenges of the doctoral quest and the advantage of being able to follow the ‘breadcrumb trail’ found in the group postings as group journal and aid to reflection. Further, both tutors and students have noted the development of a strong sense of ‘cohortness’ and inclination to work collaboratively. Through a process of individual and group reflection on experiences of the intervention, combined with analysis of the content of the postings, this article examines the characteristics of the Facebook intervention and considers some ethical implications. We suggest that key characteristics that have contributed to its success include the student ownership, the protection of the secret format, and the combination of emotionally supportive, academic, and irreverent exchanges between group members. It is hoped that these insights may be useful to future doctoral candidates and their tutors as they negotiate their own way through the doctoral woods.
Reflection, cohort, emotion, social, Facebook, support, secret, professional doctorate, education
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