Progress-Oriented Workshops for Doctoral Well-being: Evidence From a Two-Country Design-Based Research

Luis P. Prieto, Paula Odriozola-González, María Jesús Rodríguez-Triana, Yannis Dimitriadis, Tobias Ley
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 17  •  2022  •  pp. 039-066

This paper explores an intervention approach (in the form of workshops) focusing on doctoral progress, to address the problems of low emotional well-being experienced by many doctoral candidates.

Doctoral education suffers from two severe overlapping problems: high dropout rates and widespread low emotional well-being (e.g., depression or anxiety symptoms). Yet, there are few interventional approaches specifically designed to address them in the doctoral student population. Among structural, psychosocial, and demographic factors influencing these problems, the self-perception of progress has emerged recently as a crucial motivational factor in doctoral persistence.

This paper reports on an iterative design-based research study of workshop interventions to foster such perception of progress in doctoral students’ everyday practice. We gathered mixed data over four iterations, with a total of 82 doctoral students from multiple disciplines in Spain and Estonia.

An approach to preventive interventions that combines research-backed education about mental health and productivity, peer sharing and discussion of experiences, and indicators of progress, as well as self-tracking, analysis, and reflection upon everyday evidence of their own progress. The paper provides initial evidence of the effectiveness of the proposed interventions, across two institutions in two different countries. Further, our data confirms emergent research on the relationships among progress, emotional well-being, and dropout ideation in two new contexts. Finally, the paper also distills design knowledge about doctoral interventions that focus on progress, relevant for doctoral trainers, institutions, and researchers.

Our quantitative and qualitative results confirm previous findings on the relationships among progress, burnout, and dropout ideation. Our iterative evaluation of the workshops also revealed a large positive effect in students’ positive psychological capital after the workshops (Cohen’s d=0.83). Our quantitative and qualitative analyses also started teasing out individual factors in the variance of these benefits.

Intervention design guidelines for doctoral trainers include: focusing on actionable productivity and mental health practices, the use of activities targeting perception biases and taboos, or the use of active practices and real (anonymous) data from the participants to make progress visible and encourage reflection.

The construct of progress, its components, and its relationships with both emotional well-being and doctoral dropout need to be more deeply studied, using multiple methods of data collection, especially from more frequent, ecologically valid data sources (e.g., diaries).

The proposed interventions (and focusing on doctoral progress more generally) hold promise to address the current emotional well-being and dropout challenges facing hundreds of thousands of doctoral students worldwide, ultimately helping increase the research and innovation potential of society as a whole.

More rigorous evaluative studies of the proposed approach need to be conducted, with larger samples and in other countries/contexts. Aside from the proposed one-shot training events, complementary longitudinal interventions focusing on supporting everyday progress and reflection throughout the doctoral process should be trialed.

doctoral education, emotional well-being, doctoral attrition, progress, design-based research, preventive intervention
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