The Role of Contextual, Dispositional, and Affective Variables on Dropout Intentions of PhD Students in France

Edouard Giudicelli, Arielle Syssau, Royce Anders, Nathalie BLANC
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 19  •  2024  •  pp. 004

With respect to doctoral students, the present study examined the association between dropout intentions and contextual, dispositional, and affective variables. The aim was to provide a deeper understanding of the factors that promote successful completion of doctoral studies in the humanities and social sciences in France.

Key variables relevant to doctoral life that could serve as predictors for dropout intention were assessed. These were research activity, health and private life, academic social life, supervision, university and facilities settings, career prospects, doctoral year, student personality, self-efficacy, and anxiety and depression levels.

Each of the aforementioned variables was measured at the end of the 2019-2020 academic year within a sample of 202 students from the same university who were enrolled in doctoral programs in the humanities and social sciences. Dropout intention was modeled with a logistic regression model, which allowed for the simultaneous taking into account a gamut of variables.

This study is the first to jointly assess the variables respective to predicting dropout intention and innovatively account for personality factors in addition to contextual factors. This study offers a deeper understanding of the role that personality may play and altogether reveals the variables that are most associated with doctoral dropout intentions in France.

Through having also modeled personality as a potential risk/protective factor, this study confirms that contextual factors, compared to personality, play a more consequent role in PhD dropout intentions. Furthermore, we show that while personality factors are indeed associated with dropout intention, their links may be best understood through their interplay with contextual factors. Importantly, a sense of self-efficacy, anxiety, and depression was found significant, as well as research wellness, supervision quality, health, and emotional stability. Overall, dropout intentions were found to increase with the doctoral year.

Findings suggest that university personnel aiming to reduce the number of doctoral students who plan to dropout should especially consider the following key variables: research conditions, doctoral year, and student characteristics (e.g., personality, depression, and sense of self-efficacy).

In order to better understand doctoral dropout, future studies should consider the interplay between choice of doctoral discipline and contextual, dispositional, and affective variables, as well as theories of motivation.

In higher education and research, decreasing doctoral dropout is important in maintaining society’s confidence in, and general success of, scientific research and educational practice, as well as increasing the amount of public and private funds dedicated to these valuable endeavors.

Future research should more intricately assess and control for interactions between individual-level, personality, and contextual factors during the doctorate, as well as include a larger cohort that may consist of both social sciences and traditional sciences majors.

doctoral students, dropout intention, personality, well-being, context
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