The Flip Side of the Attrition Coin: Faculty Perceptions of Factors Supporting Graduate Student Success

Joanna A Gilmore, Annie M Wofford, Michelle A Maher
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 11  •  2016  •  pp. 419-439
Doctoral attrition consistently hovers around 50% with relevant literature identifying several mediating factors, including departmental culture, student demographics, and funding. To advance this literature, we interviewed 38 graduate faculty advisors in science, engineering, or mathematics disciplines at a research-extensive university to capture their perceptions of factors supporting graduate student success. Using a constant-comparison method, we found that faculty perceptions aligned within three major categories, termed: motivated student behaviors, formative student learning experiences, and essential student knowledge and skills. Student motivation was most prominently represented in findings. This aligns with prior studies showing that faculty tend to identify the cause of graduate student failure as lying within the students themselves and rarely discuss their role or the department’s contribution to attrition. Thus findings offer an opportunity to reflect and improve upon practice. The study also highlights actions graduate students can take to increase success, such as developing collegial relationships and early involvement in research and scholarly writing. We encourage graduate faculty advisors and others to identify ways to help graduate students overcome common obstacles to enduring and succeeding within graduate programs. Faculty perceptions are also examined by discipline and faculty rank, and directions for future research are offered.
faculty mentorship, graduate student development, graduate student motivation
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