Social and Political Actors in the Czech Media Discourse on Ph.D. – A Content Analysis

Karolína Poliaková
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 19  •  2024  •  pp. 003

This paper presents an in-depth analysis of the media portrayal of Ph.D. programs in the Czech Republic. Specifically, it explores how doctoral study programs, their students, and the Ph.D. degree are represented across various topics and social actors over an 18-month period.

The societal perception of Ph.D. studies, especially at the postgraduate level, is significantly shaped by media representations, including their connections to science, academia, and broader social life. Therefore, it is crucial to investigate the portrayal of the Ph.D. phenomenon in the media. The Czech Republic provides a relevant use case because of Central Eastern European (CEE) settings and amplified media coverage. The main factors are several political and social influences and governmental discussions regarding the legality of and against precarious conditions.

This study utilizes a qualitative method of conventional and directed content analysis to thematically categorize a corpus of 456 articles on Czech news platforms. A subset of these articles (thematic cluster about study conditions) undergoes further analysis to identify represented social actors. The results are clustered and interpreted using examples from the dataset. The instances of studied phenomena are quantified to provide an enumerated representation of individual themes and social actors.

The author contributes to research on doctoral studies by expanding the existing knowledge through media content analysis within the social constructivist paradigm. Moreover, the CEE region, often overlooked in doctoral studies and science communication research, is highlighted here. Finally, this article enriches the understanding of public relations strategies for higher-education institutions by focusing on earned media channels as opposed to solely owned ones.

The analysis leads to the determination of 10 thematic clusters that can be succinctly categorized into four main areas: “Ph.D. Title,” “University Life,” “Study Conditions,” and “Controversial Issues.” The latter two categories are notably politicized, a fact underscored by the actor analysis, which shows a predominance of political figures in the media coverage. An unexpected result of the research is the significant underrepresentation of student voices in the analyzed sample of media outputs, except for those doctoral students who also hold positions such as student initiative chairs. Additionally, comparing the results to previous research on doctoral studies, it can be argued that many of the critical topics discussed by the research community, such as mental health issues or diversity of the student cohort, are not equally represented in media portrayals.

Practitioners, especially communication professionals from higher education institutions and research centers, can leverage these insights to refine their communication strategy. This can help counterbalance prevailing media narratives and provide a more representative portrayal of study programs, focusing on areas currently underrepresented in media discourse.

Researchers from other regions are encouraged to conduct similar studies using the presented framework to map the representation of Ph.D. in respective media outlets. It is advisable to consider the local context in the interpretative phase of the content analysis, as demonstrated in this study.

The findings elucidate the role of the Ph.D. within the national media landscape of higher education, potentially influencing policymakers, journalists, and science communication professionals to reconsider their approaches to media discourse. Lastly, as hinted above, science communication professionals can benefit from the results in terms of future development of media outreach strategy with a focus on targeted topics.

The presented work would benefit from a broader, multinational comparison and also a complementary audience analysis to understand how Ph.D. students and possible applicants interpret these messages and whether they correlate with their attitudes.

doctoral degree, content analysis, media representation
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