Examining the Basic Psychological Needs of Library and Information Science Doctoral Students

Africa Hands
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 13  •  2018  •  pp. 389-411

The purpose of this study was to examine how the basic psychological needs of self-determination theory are reflected in doctoral students’ motivation to earn the PhD.

As isolating as the doctoral experience seems, it is one that occurs in a social-cultural environment that can either support or hinder the student. This research highlights the motivational influences of library and information science doctoral students regarding experiences of autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

Qualitative data were collected from seven (7) enrolled doctoral students at library and information science programs in the United States and Canada. Transcripts from semi-structured interviews and students’ personal admission statements were subjected to deductive content analysis for emphasis on three basic psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

Findings illustrate the role faculty play in student motivation and satisfaction with the doctoral experience. There are implications for faculty, mentors, and advisors working with current and former graduate students who may be considering a PhD. The findings have implications for doctoral recruitment, advising, and student services of interest to faculty and administrators across disciplines. It also shows the applicability of self-determination theory in the examination of the doctoral student experience and overall motivation.

Deductive analysis based on self-determination theory (SDT) demonstrates factors related to self-determination theory’s basic psychological needs – autonomy, competence, and relatedness – as relevant to participants’ motivation to pursue a doctoral degree and to the examination of doctoral student initial motivation. Doctoral students are motivated by multiple factors including their interactions with and encouragement received from current and former faculty. Students report experiences related to autonomy, competence, and relatedness that energized them to pursue a doctoral degree and that have positively influenced their doctoral experience thus far.

Faculty and program administrators may use this data to inform their understanding of the expectations of today’s doctoral students and motivational drivers of prospective students and to tailor support services accordingly.

This is a preliminary investigation of doctoral student motivation in relation to the basic psychological needs. More research is needed on a larger sample of students to more fully understand the influence of autonomy, competence, and relatedness on doctoral student initial and ongoing motivation.

This research is an important step in bridging faculty and student perceptions of what is important to their initial and ongoing enrollment in a doctoral program. By improving students’ experiences of autonomy, competence, and relatedness, it may be possible to improve the overall doctoral experience leading to completion of the PhD.

Future research will expand to include doctoral students farther along in their doctoral programs, the administration of the Basic Psychological Needs Scale, and may examine faculty perceptions of the three basic psychological needs.

basic psychological needs theory, doctoral student motivation, library and infor-mation science, self-determination theory
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