Facilitating a Mentoring Programme for Doctoral Students: Insights from Evidence-Based Practice

Joanna Szen-Ziemianska
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 15  •  2020  •  pp. 415-431

One approach to helping doctoral students deal with the many challenges they face is the provision of a structured mentoring programme to complement the more traditional doctoral curriculum and supervisor relationship. This paper reports a mentoring programme containing such activities as individual consultations and peer-mentoring workshops, introduced at one of the non-public universities in Poland and discusses the development of a model of support. In developing the model, two evaluation studies were conducted seeking to discover how participants perceived the mentoring programme, what needs the mentoring programme addressed, and what benefits it provided for doctoral students.

With reference to a new paradigm proposed by Kram and Higgins, mentoring emerges in the context of many developmental networks, where the more junior mentors and peer-mentors together discover new roles involved in doctoral education.

Case study methodology is utilized to gather perceptions of a doctoral mentoring programme. The conceptual framework for a two-part programme is presented and the results of two evaluation studies conducted on-line using a mix-method approach are reported. In total, 42 doctoral students participated in the studies, representing social sciences and the humanities disciplines.

This paper discusses a novel doctoral mentoring programme which finds its basis in evidence-based practice. This research goes beyond previous studies by undertaking an analysis of doctoral students’ needs, then considering relationships between those needs and structuring a programme to meet them.

Findings showed three main areas of need for doctoral students: the need for social interaction at university; the need for structure in the doctoral journey, and the need for psychological support. Participants distinguished two perspectives that influenced the assessment of programme activities: (a) the meaningfulness of the mentoring programme to the individual; (b) the mentor’s attitude including the general atmosphere of collegiality during meetings. Results presented are supported by a proposed intervention model.

The model presented may inspire other universities to implement similar approaches for supporting their own doctoral students. Researcher enablers are also offered as strategies relating to workshop topics, meeting schedules, and programme organization. The main recommendation for practitioners is to be sensitive to the psychosocial needs of students.

Researchers interested in doctoral students’ needs and ways of supporting them can utilize the proposed model for strategically planning such support. It is recommended that further research into the area of mentoring doctoral students makes use of the mixed-method approach. Such an approach takes cognizance of phenomenological exigencies as they pertain to individual meaning-making.

Supporting the effectiveness of doctoral students is significant as failure comes at great professional and personal cost to the doctoral student. There are also potential costs in terms of faculty disillusionment and impacts on university reputation. Economic benefits to the nation may also be forfeited when doctoral students fail to graduate.

It would be valuable to corroborate the model presented and extend it through the development of a mentoring support scale which identifies more linearly specific doctoral students’ needs. Longitudinal studies are also required to verify long-term effects of the programme.

doctoral education, doctoral students, mentoring programme, peer-mentoring, psychosocial support
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