BkRev # 1791. Daring the Doctorate. (2012). Ada Demb. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Education, 167 pp., ISBN 978-1-61-48-694.

Janis Albright

Academic Advisor

University of Southern Maine, Portland, Maine


Are you curious to know how to advise a mid-career student considering a Doctorate program or are you thinking about one, yourself?  If you answer yes to either question, then Daring the Doctorate can help. Author Ada Demb, Professor Emeritus in the Higher Education & Student Affairs Program at Ohio State University, showcases fifteen of her advisees who completed their program. The book’s goal is to highlight their experiences, especially the emotional aspects, which, we are told, have not been addressed in detail by past research.

Through interviews and questionnaires author Demb explains why students pursue the doctorate, and how mid-career is different from other life stages.  She captures the emotional parts of pursuing a Doctorate including its fears, costs, guilt feelings, isolation, challenges and exhilarations.  She also describes where students find support including their advisors, cohorts, family and others. She applies student development theories and additional research to document how this experience transforms lives and broadens perspectives.

Advisors can learn many lessons from this book, although two stand out.  First, Demb describes, in great detail, mid-career qualities including how students’ roles and identity change.  Most students enter the program holding professional jobs with great expertise but suddenly find themselves being only the grad student (p.28).  Demb believes that Advisors need to be sensitive to this fact in order to help students reflect, grow and develop, so they can redefine themselves.   The book covers other important qualities including maturity and self-confidence. The author suggests that Advisors need to consider how to use these qualities to help students “navigate the system and cope with ups and downs of learning environments” (p.32).

Second, Demb describes what she learns over time about her students’ transformative process in completing their degree by this telling metaphor: “doctorate students are moving through a personal journey with distinct phases, simultaneously and in parallel with their intellectual journey.  In my mind’s eye, the two journeys intertwine, much as the helix of a DNA molecule” (p.153).  Her writing combined with student quotes help the reader feel her students’ power, motivation, and exhilaration.

Daring the Doctorate compliments Advisors’ practice because it is grounded in a strong foundation of human development theory. The presented theoretical models can help advisors better understand the transitions that mid-career students may go through. Bridges’ model, for example, discusses a three-stage process: ending or letting go, a neutral zone, and revitalization (p.139).  The letting go stage (when students think about leaving a current situation to enter a program), is when Advisors can share insights on what to expect and help students articulate their goals.     

In conclusion, Demb creates three overarching themes that emerge from student interviews to describe the advising relationship and help guide Advisors in their work with this audience.  These are respect; trust; and providing feedback, challenge, and support (p 107), which can also be useful to consider when working with all life stages, and a variety of settings. Although some might think that this comprehensive book is, at times, too detailed, it provides a unique perspective about the mid-career professional.  Demb’s ability to use rich content from her students’ voices to recommend ways Advisors can better help students is worth the read.


Bridges, W. (1991). Managing transitions: making the most of change. Reading, Addison- Wesley.

Barnes, B.J. & Austin, A.E. (2009).  The Role of doctoral advisors: A look at advising from the advisor’s perspective, Innovative Higher Education, 33:297. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10755-008-9084-x

Demb, Ada. (2012). Daring the doctorate. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Education.

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