Interest, Burnout, and Drop-Out Intentions Among Finnish and Danish Humanities and Social Sciences PhD. Students

Solveig Cornér, Kirsi Pyhältö, Jouni A Peltonen, Erika Löfström
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 16  •  2021  •  pp. 593-609

This study focused on advancing understanding of individual variations in doctoral students’ interest in their doctoral studies and how they related to experiences of burnout and drop-out intentions in Denmark and Finland.

Ph.D. students’ experiences of interest, burnout, and dropout intentions among Finnish and Danish Ph.D. students have not been researched before. Research with a person-centred approach exploring individual variations in students undertaking doctoral studies in two comparable but distinct socio-cultural contexts is limited.

This study uses exploratory factor analysis, K-means cluster analyses in combination with Pairwise comparisons, ANOVA, and Chi-square test. A total of 365 doctoral students in social sciences and humanities disciplines in Finland and Denmark responded to a Cross-Cultural Doctoral Experience Survey.

This study contributes understanding on individual variation in doctoral students’ interest across two socio-cultural contexts by identifying four personal interest profiles. The profiles were invariant across the contexts. The study also shed further light on the interrelation between the interest in research and the risk for suffering from burnout and entertaining dropout intentions.

The interest profiles identified among the Ph.D. students were the High interest profile, the Moderate interest profile, the Developmental, research and impact interest profile, and the Development and impact interest profile. All interest profiles exhibited high levels of the developmental interest, however they varied especially in the weight given to instrumental and research interests. Ph.D. students in the Moderate interest profile showed signs of burnout, and they were prone to consider dropping out. Also, individuals in the Development and impact interest profile considered more frequently dropping out of their studies.

Investing in the identification and support of interest among Ph.D. students is worthwhile, as interest is not a permanent characteristic of the individual, and the combination of research, development, and impact interest indicates a lower risk for burnout and drop-out intentions.

It is possible that interest profiles are the same across the two national contexts investigated in this study, but their underpinnings and premises are different. It is likely that a qualitative approach would shed more light on these foci.

The results imply that personal interest was not determined by the socio-cultural differences between the countries, indicating that cultivating doctoral students’ personal interest, particularly a combination of research, development, and impact, provides a potential buffer for doctoral students’ burnout and drop-out, which has been raised as global concerns among policy makers, researchers, and doctoral education developers and administrators during the past decade. The study has impact on doctoral studies in international communities.

The results in this study reflect specific characteristics of social sciences and their applied nature. It remains for future research to investigate the extent to which the identified four profiles of interest in relation to burnout and drop-out intentions emerge in the natural sciences.

doctoral education, Ph.D. students, interest profiles, burnout, drop-out intentions, cross-cultural comparison
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