Doctoral Students’ Academic and Professional Network Development: A Collaborative Autoethnography of Students Engaged in Fatherhood Research

Rebecca Logue-Conroy, Justin Harty, Joyce Y Lee, Lara Markovitz, Jaimie O'Gara
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 16  •  2021  •  pp. 611-631

The overarching purpose of this paper was to examine how a collaborative working group of doctoral students from different institutions evolved into a community of practice and developmental network. Specifically, the aim of this study was to examine this group’s progression from working group to support group, a process that occurred through academic support, social support, professional networking, professional development, and skill development.

Although doctoral cohorts are often formed within the same school, some informal groups may develop among students in the same discipline from different schools. The authors explored how the formation of a working group, through attendance at an annual academic conference, enhanced their doctoral education and expanded their network through social and academic support.

The participant-researchers in this study used collaborative autoethnography to collectively examine their participation in this group formed outside of their respective schools of social work. Having worked together for over a year, meeting monthly through video calls, on a discrete project, the participant-researchers embarked on this collaborative authoethnography as they discovered their transformation from working group to support group. This group of five participant-researchers examined their own feelings about their participation in the group and the consequent benefits of belonging to such a group.

This study makes an important contribution to the doctoral education literature about how doctoral students from different schools can form informal groups that serve as a key source of intra-disciplinary networking, resources, opportunities, and support. This contribution helps to further the research on what kinds of supports doctoral students need in order to remain in their programs and graduate.

We found that a working group of doctoral students from different schools of social work can develop into a community that can be used for social, academic, and networking support. We discovered that relationships with peers across schools provided a supportive environment that was distinct from those formed within our schools. Joining together to achieve a common research goal encouraged members to extend content-specific support. In addition, this group found that members had the opportunity to compare experiences at their respective doctoral programs, which enhanced peer support.

Special interest groups at national conferences should encourage doctoral students at different schools to form communities of practice or similar groups. This group formation may lead to opportunities for doctoral students to work on a common project (e.g., website, publication) and serve as a source of social and academic support.

More research is needed on whether this relationship among doctoral students within the same discipline at different schools is equally helpful among students in different disciplines. Additional research is also needed on whether communities formed during doctoral studies can promote future collaboration as students become professors or researchers.

The present study’s model is applicable for use in academic settings where doctoral students convene for conferences relating to research, teaching, and practice. This model can facilitate the formation of inter-university working groups among students with similar research interests, career trajectories, and life responsibilities. Such groups can enrich peer support, promote collaboration, and enhance professional development.

More research is needed on whether this kind of social support group amongst doctoral students can be sustained as the students transition into academic careers. Additional research is also needed on whether these types of informal groups work across research focus or whether it works best when students have the same research focus.

doctoral students, collaborative autoethnography, social support, communities of practice, developmental networks, higher education
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