Adapting to the Transitional Stage of the Doctoral Environment: An Autoethnography of Socialization

Angela Matthews
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 16  •  2021  •  pp. 071-087

Adapting to the doctoral environment can be a difficult transition. This article emphasizes the importance of academic socialization as a means of integrating into the doctoral culture and persisting during the initial transition to doctoral study.

To address the problem of doctoral attrition, I share a personal narrative of problems and persistence during the first year of doctoral coursework. By sharing my initial resistance to social learning and eventual appreciation of merging the social into the academic, this narrative demonstrates the positive impact of socialization on my first year, thus promoting socialization as a means of acclimating to the doctoral environment.

This project utilizes the qualitative research method of autoethnography to examine my personal experiences adapting to the doctoral environment and connects those experiences to the larger higher education community.

Since people often connect more with stories than with numbers, my narrative offers struggling doctoral students an opportunity to see possible aspects of themselves in the lived experiences of someone who persisted, to see that they are not alone with their struggles and understand that supplementing their independent studies with social experiences could be a good way for them to persist in their own doctoral studies.

Although I preferred independent work and significantly underestimated the value of social experiences when entering my first year of doctoral study, peer-to-peer interaction quickly became an essential element in my adaptation to the doctoral environment.

Results of this study suggest that even when new doctoral students typically prefer solitary work, they should still seek out social learning experiences as a means of acclimating to the doctoral environment. University faculty and staff should incorporate social learning activities into the first year of their programs to promote socialization of their first-year doctoral students and increase their chances of persistence.

Researchers should use a variety of methods to examine the experiences of doctoral students and look at the data in new ways to better understand doctoral student needs and uncover new ideas to assist them.

By sharing storied experiences of struggles and success, I hope to inspire doctoral students to work with their peers and support one another as they try to persist.

More personal experiences of doctoral students are needed to give us a better understanding of the obstacles they encounter, so we can uncover additional strategies to combat those issues and improve persistence.

doctoral adaptation, doctoral socialization, transitions, persistence, attrition, autoethnography
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