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Voices of the Global Community


Melissa L. Johnson, University of Florida
Laura A. Pasquini, University of North Texas

Melissa Johnson.jpgLaura Pasquini.jpgAt the 2013 NACADA Annual Conference in Salt Lake City, several full-time advisors at various stages of their doctoral journey served on a panel for a standing room only crowd of advising graduate students and professionals. Panelists included Sarah Craddock (Colorado State University), Melissa Johnson (University of Florida), Erin Justyna (Texas Tech University), and Laura Pasquini (University of North Texas). The session, entitled “How to Hack Your PhD: Being a Doctoral Student and Academic Advisor,” was designed to help participants make smart and savvy decisions about their next steps along the doctoral journey.

Participants were able to engage in the discussion, both in-person and virtually, through the #hackphd hashtag on Twitter. Pasquini (2013) curated the tweets from the audience using the social media tool, Storify. Each panelist was able to share her story of her own doctoral experiences, while providing general advice and guidance about the graduate school process. Questions from the audience included how to determine both the doctoral program and which field to study, how to choose a dissertation topic, how to form relationships with faculty, and what career paths were available to advisors who had completed a doctoral degree. Panelists and audience members alike shared resources they had discovered to be helpful during their journeys.

Not surprisingly, much of the discussion centered around the delicate balance, if such a term exists, of the multiple roles a full-time advisor must face as a doctoral student. Doctoral work includes far more than just taking courses, followed by writing a dissertation. Other academic roles may include researcher, teaching assistant, tutor, or project officer (Anderson & Swazey, 1998; Pearson, Evans & Macauley, 2004). Doctoral students may also spend time developing grants and writing for publication (Appel & Dahlgren, 2003). The research aspect of a doctoral student’s life may be one of the most time-consuming roles, partially because independent research is not necessarily encountered during the undergraduate career (Anderson & Swazey, 1998). Other academic commitments may include participation in national organizations and other professional development opportunities within the academic community (Gardner & Barnes, 2007).

Full-time work and family commitments with spouses or partners, children, and relatives comprise some of the larger personal responsibilities (Baird, 1993; Leonard, Becker, & Coate, 2005). Household tasks and errands, and even maintaining contact with friends, are other commitments (Appel & Dahlgren, 2003). These personal roles can be the source of conflict for many doctoral students, as they must prioritize how they can physically devote their time. Tensions may arise in personal relationships when a partner does not understand the time commitments required by academic roles (Anderson & Miezitis, 1999; Leonard et al., 2005). With 40% of students who begin a PhD program failing to complete it (Golde, 2005), it is no wonder why concerns about doctoral research and expectations were of significant interest among academic advisors who are thinking about this type of terminal degree.

The tensions among academic and personal roles can have a great impact on an advisor’s doctoral education. The theory of doctoral student persistence (Tinto, 1997) in particular can provide a look at how conflicting roles might impede a doctoral student’s academic progress. Tinto’s theory (1997) assumes that the primary communities for students relative to their graduate education are their peers and the faculty in their programs. Social integration within graduate education is almost synonymous with academic integration in the department. These social communities assist students with both intellectual and skill-building capacities needed to succeed in their doctoral programs, as well as networking within the greater professional community. Membership in other communities, e.g. those encompassing personal roles, can have a negative impact on graduate persistence by providing conflicting demands for time. If students are not able to manage their competing roles, they may find that they must give up on some of them.

Doctoral researchers, especially those who support the needs of others students, require new means for scaffolding in the academic advising community. A number of doctoral students within NACADA have connected in a variety of ways to share their own journey through coursework, research, and dissertation completion. Mewburn (2011) indicated evidence that doctoral researchers who interact with one another often whined or shared struggling stories with each other even if they were not having any challenges. It is clear that the path to the final dissertation defense can be a challenge, especially for those advisors supporting student success at a post-secondary institution concurrently with their own terminal degree. Within the academic advising community, a number of doctoral researchers have gained advice and support they need to “hack” through the doctoral process. Professional associations like NACADA provide a forum for doctoral students to seek out mentors who will not only support but further their careers. These mentors are invaluable to providing insight into research methods, guiding the dissertation process, and scaffolding the job search.

The Global Community for Academic Advising (NACADA) provides a broad support system and mentoring space for advisors who are undertaking doctoral work. For example, NACADA offers group support with the Doctoral Student Interest Group. There are also a number of avenues to gain research experience within the association, including research symposia, doctoral/research listservs, research grant applications, or volunteering on the research committee. NACADA encourages emerging scholars to write and publish in Academic Advising Today and the NACADA Journal, or share publication work during a conference presentation session. Finally, there are a number of incentives for scholarship through the dissertation award, graduate student scholarships, and research grants available. 

Moving forward, it is critical to continue to nourish and cultivate academic professionals who want to hack their doctoral degree. To persist through doctoral work, it is critical to ask advising units, higher education institutions, and the profession how doctoral research by advisors can be best supported. The survival rate of doctoral research often stems from organizational culture, supervision, and scaffolding for progress. It is important to value the work being done by academic advising doctoral researchers, by offering local incentives such as institutional tuition breaks, flexible scheduling for advising appointments, and opportunities to publish or present at NACADA on their research. Other methods of support might include mentoring research within the advising unit or institution, including doctoral work as part of the professional development plan, and embracing scholar-practitioner contributions for the advising unit strategic goals. For the development and growth of the community of academic advising, infusing scholarship into advising practices will only enhance how we best deliver student support services at our institutions.

Melissa L. Johnson, PhD
Associate Director, Honors Program
University of Florida
[email protected]

Laura A. Pasquini, PhD
Lecturer, Department of Learning Technologies - College of Information
University of North Texas
[email protected]


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Cite this article using APA style as: Johnson, M.A. & Pasquini, L.A. (2014, September). Negotiating the multiple roles of being and advisor and doctoral student. Academic Advising Today, 37(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]


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