Doctoral Candidates’ Academic Writing Output and Strategies: Navigating the Challenges of Academic Writing During a Global Health Crisis

Basil Cahusac de Caux
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 16  •  2021  •  pp. 291-317

To date, few studies have investigated the impact of global health crises on the academic writing of doctoral candidates. This paper seeks to start a conversation about the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on doctoral candidates’ academic writing output and strategies.

This paper employs and analyses data elicited from surveys and interviews involving doctoral candidates from around the world. Data were collected during April 2020, at a time when government-mandated lockdowns and restrictions on movement were in full force in many countries around the world.

Surveys were conducted with 118 doctoral candidates from over 40 institutions based in four continents. Follow-up interviews were carried out with four doctoral candidates enrolled in an Australian institution. A qualitative descriptive design, employing thematic analysis, is used to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on doctoral candidates’ writing output and strategies. The data analysis includes statistical descriptions of the surveys.

This paper provides insights into the myriad challenges and obstacles facing doctoral candidates during the COVID-19 pandemic. It describes the writing strategies adopted by doctoral candidates during a period of significant societal disruption, and illustrates how thematic analysis can be employed in research involving global health crises.

Despite the adoption of novel approaches to academic writing, which appear in an insignificant minority of respondents, doctoral candidates’ overall commitment to academic writing has been negatively impacted by the pandemic. Similarly, delays to academic research activities caused by the pandemic have resulted in a significant decline in commitment (motivation) to academic writing and a substantial impact on doctoral candidates’ ability to write about their research.

Supervisors and mentors should strive to provide doctoral candidates with timely feedback during the pandemic. Given the impact of the pandemic on doctoral candidates’ mental health and motivation to write, increased institutional and peer support is required to help doctoral candidates overcome academic issues during the pandemic and future health crises. This researcher recommends consulting regularly with and offering individually tailored solutions to doctoral candidates who are struggling to work on their theses during the pandemic. Similarly, institutions should empower supervisors in ways that allow them to provide greater levels of support to doctoral candidates.

Further research on the impacts of the pandemic on various academic cohorts, such as early career researchers (doctoral candidates, postdoctoral researchers, and assistant professors) and student cohorts (e.g., undergraduate and postgraduate), will clarify the extent to which the pandemic is impacting the academic writing of doctoral candidates.

The pressure placed on doctoral candidates to produce quality academic writing seems to have been heightened by the pandemic. This has a range of adverse effects for the higher education sector, particularly administrators responsible for managing doctoral candidate success and the academe, which recruits many of its faculty from holders of doctorate degrees.

Additional focus on academic writing of doctoral candidates during the pandemic is needed. Research should include randomised samples and represent a range of academic disciplines.

COVID-19, academic writing, writing output, writing strategies
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