Supervisory Practices for Intrinsic Motivation of Doctoral Students: A Self-determination Theory Perspective

Vijay Kumar, Amrita Kaur
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 14  •  2019  •  pp. 581-595

The quality, degree of effort and persistence required in doctoral studies can be sustained through intrinsic motivation. Despite the critical role of motivation, studies that examine ways to promote doctoral students’ motivation are lacking. This study, drawing on the self-determination theoretical (SDT) framework, aims to offer advice for supervisory practices to facilitate the satisfaction of three basic psychological needs- autonomy, competence and relatedness of doctoral students’ motivation. The focus was on the experiences of the doctoral candidates who participated in this study.

Prior studies have established that creating environment and ways that lead to satisfaction of three basic psychological needs are capable of producing optimal outcomes. Based on that assumption the current study explores the ways in which supervisory practices lead to satisfaction of the three needs.

The study adopted a qualitative approach and used the experience sampling method to collect data from 11 full-time doctoral students from a research-intensive university in New Zealand. In total, 72 entries that captured students’ real-time psychological experience of supervision in a repeated manner were used to analyse the data.

It proposes theory driven practices/guidelines for supervisors to adopt for effective supervisory practices for intrinsic motivation of doctoral students.

Thematic analysis guided by the research question revealed that to have students experience autonomy support the supervisors must respect students’ research interest, encourage self-initiation, and be amenable to changes suggested by the students. To have students experience the feeling of competence, the supervisors carefully need to consider the quality, mode and time of feedback and provide students with optimal challenge level. Finally, to facilitate students’ need for relatedness, the supervisors should offer personal and professional support to students and look after their emotional well-being.

This study highlights the need for supervisors to acknowledge the role of need satisfaction and mindfully adopt the practices to facilitate the satisfaction of the three needs for the intrinsic motivation of the doctoral students.

The researchers should consider the psychological health and well-being of doctoral students for persistence and successful completion of their studies.

The study can help improve doctoral studies completion rates as well as produce doctoral candidates with a positive and healthy disposition for future workforce.

The current study relies only on students’ self-report data. In future inclusion of data from supervisors of their own practices would enhance the quality of findings. Additionally, an analysis to chart changes in students’ experiences over time would provide a deeper understanding of the effect of supervisory practices.

higher education, supervisory practices, doctoral studies, motivation, self-determination theory
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