Week 7 discussion 1 and 2

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Topic 7 DQ 1

Becoming a researcher requires students to be independent and self-motivated. To complete a dissertation, a student needs to be aware of the dissertation milestones and take active steps to set manageable and actionable goals. What knowledge or skills do you personally need to create a manageable action plan for completing your research? What are some challenges to properly managing your time outside the classroom you expect to experience as you work to complete your research? How will you keep yourself accountable to a plan to complete the dissertation research project?

Topic 7 DQ 2

According to Chapter 7 in your course textbook, the first artifact the learner encounters in the dissertation process is the 10 Strategic Points which is divided into topics that develop the research idea into a dissertation study. These points emerge from researching literature on a topic based on or aligned with the defined need in the literature as well as the personal passion, future career purpose, and degree area of the learner.

How does your potential research topic align with your personal passion, future career purpose, and degree area? How can you assure your potential topic remains aligned with these three components as you delve deeper into the literature? Do you feel any of these three components dominate the others? How can you make sure to maintain a balance between the three? (This response does not require research support.)

By Stacey Bridges, Chuck Banaszewski, and Seanan Kelley

Role of the Researcher

Essential Questions

What does it mean to be a doctoral researcher?

What behavioral changes do doctoral learners need to exhibit to become independent scholars?

What attitudinal changes are required to transition from a learner to a researcher?

What skills do learners need to understand the role of a researcher?

Why is it important that learners prepare to become members of the academic community?

Taking on the role of a researcher requires doctoral learners to adopt skill sets that will move them away from

being dependent learners and toward becoming independent, proactive scholars. Some of these skills are

familiar, such as reading research, thinking critically, and writing essays. However, the greater depth at which

a doctoral learner must execute these skills at times appears unfamiliar. The required reading materials are

empirical, peer-reviewed research articles and dissertations that require more time to analyze. Doctoral

learners must produce multiple drafts of the same document until it meets the approval of instructors and

dissertation committee members. Ultimately, the primary ambition for the doctoral learner is to learn to

design and carry out research that contributes to the corpus of knowledge in the �eld of study. This process

represents the culmination of moving from a consumer to a producer of knowledge.

Doctoral learners create new knowledge through the dissertation process; however, novice researchers cannot

begin examining a topic without fully understanding the complexities involved with conducting a scholarly

investigation. This chapter cannot address all nuances of the process, but the intent is to present information

that will be helpful throughout the dissertation process and particularly in preparing to be a good researcher.

What it Means to be a Researcher

Learners must become experts in their �elds through the dissertation process. Throughout the doctoral

journey, learners will read, critique, and synthesize a large amount of research and literature on their

respective topics, systematically searching for a problem space to address. As learners progress through the

doctoral process and become educated on a topic, they begin to design and conduct research with a narrow

focus. As these researchers collect data, they begin to write re�ective notes to themselves about the material

and how these initial ideas could connect to the literature. The researcher then analyzes the data using

predetermined methods or tools to ensure accuracy and reliability. Upon completing an analysis of the data,

the researcher constructs a narrative that demonstrates appropriate interpretation of the data and reports the

�ndings in the form of a dissertation to contribute to the �eld of study. The researcher shares the research in a

published format (print and/or digital) with the academic community. This process of transitioning from a

consumer of research to a producer of research is how doctoral learners become scholars.

The Purpose of Research

Research at the doctoral level requires the creation of new knowledge. One unique requirement of a

dissertation study is that it must address an identi�ed problem in prior research and add to the existing body

of literature in a new and unique way. The dissertation begins with the process of systematically searching for

information about a topic or subject in order to develop a more in-depth understanding, leading to

identi�cation of problem spaces that underpin the argument for developing the research project. There are

numerous approaches to and reasons for conducting research. Aside from the bene�ts doctoral learners can

derive from engaging in the research process, the overarching objective is to enhance the breadth and depth of

knowledge in a �eld of study.

The purpose of research is to create new knowledge to contribute to the previously existing body of knowledge

on a speci�c topic. Other researchers and practitioners then apply this knowledge within the appropriate

disciplines. Many doctoral learners expect to make a difference with their doctoral studies; however, the

results do not always carry the desired or anticipated in�uence. The purpose of research is to objectively

uncover an answer to a question. While guided by a central question, doctoral learners must also

compartmentalize in�uences, such as individual perceptions of truth, personal biases, or opinions.

The purpose of a doctoral program is to prepare the learner to become an independent researcher in order to

complete a dissertation project. The course content at Grand Canyon University (GCU) contributes to this goal,

and faculty teach courses with the intent of providing learners the skills necessary to complete a successful

research project. These skills include critical thinking, writing, research design, and data analysis.

Dissertation chairs will impart knowledge of the dissertation process and university policies. Learners are

responsible for skills such as understanding the intention and process of peer review, learning how to search

for scholarly articles, learning to avoid research bias, and maintaining academic integrity—all skills that play

an integral role in the research process. Part of being a doctoral learner is recognizing that the responsibility

for learning and ownership of the learning process resides with the learner.

To become an expert on a topic and complete a dissertation, a doctoral learner must independently engage in

developing and honing research and writing skills. Doctoral learners may not overtly learn every skill

necessary to complete the doctoral journey through coursework alone. Thus, the onus remains on learners to

do outside reading and research to diagnose personal de�ciencies and identify the means to bridge gaps in

knowledge or skill sets. A signi�cant portion of the doctoral journey is learning skills to transform the learner

into an independent producer of knowledge. To be successful, learners must adequately prepare for the

research process.

Preparing to be a Researcher

While becoming a scholar is a goal for doctoral learners, the path to becoming a scholar involves learning how

to become an effective researcher. Doctoral learners should begin working toward this destination as early as

the �rst course. Most learners will not have a feasible topic in the early stages of the program because they are

not approaching their research projects correctly. Many learners believe that if they see a problem existing in

their lives at home, at work, or in the community, it warrants a dissertation-level research project.

Unfortunately, this is not the case for most topics because learners have not spent the time reviewing

academic literature in their respective �elds to determine whether a need exists for the study.

The �rst step toward becoming a researcher is changing the mindset of a doctoral student toward wanting to

conduct research on a topic independently. Many learners entering a doctoral program mistakenly believe

their course instructors will provide them valuable information about their chosen research topics, and this

information will lead them to answers they are seeking. Some learners may even believe their instructors will

select (or assign) a dissertation topic for them or tell them where to �nd a problem space in the literature.

Further, some learners conceive of themselves as unable to begin reviewing literature on their proposed topics

because an instructor did not assign them readings on the prospective topic. Learners must understand that

that �rst-year course work focuses on helping them become researchers, which means introducing them to

research skills such as how to read, analyze, and synthesize literature before the writing process begins.

Doctoral learners also encounter research methodologies and potential research designs suitable for their

dissertations. Though presented in courses, the learner must take the subject information, become an expert

in the subject, and apply the information to an independent research project appropriate for doctoral-level

scholarship. The learner must act as a researcher and choose the appropriate research design and

methodology for the study.

After foundational coursework ends, the successful doctoral learner continues both dissertation research and

a new phase of the personal and academic journey. At many universities, formation of a dissertation

committee occurs only after the learner completes the coursework, generally around two years after

enrollment. Nonetheless, a learner should not reach this point “empty-handed” but prepared to introduce the

research topic to the committee. By the two-year mark, a learner should have read between 150 and 200 peer-

reviewed articles, several dissertations and books related to the �eld as well as texts on the chosen research

design and methodology. Each of these readings should receive equal attention because they are equally

important to the success of a dissertation project. Learners who have not accomplished this kind of reading

load will struggle to �nd a research topic or a problem space within the literature as well as �nding

themselves unprepared to meet the expectations of the dissertation committee and to attain to GCU doctoral

milestones. For example, a learner who only reads peer-reviewed articles not only will fail to grasp the scale of

a dissertation project but also will feel overwhelmed when asked to author three chapters for the proposal.

Also, lacking understanding of the chosen design and methodology severely hampers the ability of the learner

to construct a proposal.

Doctoral learners must read and write on a regular basis to strengthen scholarly understanding and

communication skills. Writing is the celebration of research and reading; if a learner does not spend time

reading, then there is little about which to write. In the �rst course at GCU, doctoral learners receive an

introduction to the importance of annotated bibliographies for collecting and recording research as well as the

use of outlines to structure formal paper writing. Many doctoral learners discount the importance of practice

and treat courses and coursework as a series of activities or exercises to complete and put aside. However, the

path to becoming a strong writer communicating research intentions, methods, and analysis is one of

repetition. Because the purpose of research is to generate new knowledge, the ability to communicate that

knowledge is a critical component of becoming a researcher. Learners must create time in their schedules to

devote to reading and writing about their topics.

Database management software is an important tool that learners can use to become more effective

researchers. Learners must be able to organize their annotations because, at some point, the reading list will

become unmanageable through casual preservation alone. It is impossible for an individual to remember

everything read over the course of a couple of years. The use of database management software can help a

researcher store work (including article annotations) and retrieve the information quickly when necessary.

There are many available programs that have similar capabilities and features. A learner should decide which

software they prefer to use, but GCU does provide the use of programs through the GCU Library


Understanding the GCU dissertation process and milestones (https://dc.gcu.edu/home6/dis2) aids the learner

in executing a plan to complete the degree program. Learners develop into researchers over time through

practice and the repetition of skills independently executed by the learner. The repetition of independently

reading research and practicing writing are essential to developing the skills a learner needs to become a

researcher. Additionally, learners must learn to manage their time effectively both to complete coursework

and to work independently on their research projects. Finally, managing a research project requires organizing

a large volume of materials and sources. The use of database management software simpli�es this task.

Transition from Dependent Student to Independent Researcher

The �rst step in becoming an independent researcher is to understand that the dissertation process takes

persistence and requires a paradigm shift from dependent learner and student to independent scholar and

researcher. Therefore, the learner must undergo a change in perspective and develop a plan for how to achieve

this paradigm shift. Many learners are accustomed to the coursework and often attain high academic marks

because the specialization courses build on subjects and content learned at the master’s level. However, the

reading, writing, and research process represent new learning, and it is not uncommon for learners to initially

struggle with research and dissertation courses. Learners also tend to become easily frustrated with the

iterative nature of the reading, writing, and research work and become discouraged if they do not receive the

same high academic marks they received in courses within earlier degree programs. Research is a process,

not an event; therefore, the learner must realize learning the process supersedes receiving a grade. Focusing

on developing skills rather than obsessing over grades will help learners change their mindsets to that of


GCU offers an integrated, scaffolded curriculum and dissertation aids to support this transformative learning

process and shift in cognition. Each course in the doctoral programs at GCU builds on (scaffolds from) the

previous course to introduce doctoral learners to progressively higher writing and research expectations. The

GCU Doctoral DNA (https://www.gcumedia.com/doctoralDNA/prospective-students/v2.1/#/home) shows this

course-by-course process from the beginning of the GCU doctoral program to graduation. While the Doctoral

DNA offers a graphic representation of the standard course series of the program, it is common for learners to

require additional extension courses to complete the dissertation.

Mindset of a Researcher

Doctoral learners develop the mindset of a researcher as they delve into the body of literature and become

familiar with the landscapes of their �elds of study identifying potential problem spaces that exist. The

mindset of a researcher is the behavior or disposition of wanting to independently learn more about a topic,

issue, and/or problem. A researcher will examine the known and formulate questions about the unknown. The

desire to ask questions and search for potential answers are a prerequisite to developing the mindset of a

researcher. A learner must possess motivation to spend the time necessary searching resources and analyzing

data in a variety of ways to adequately understand a topic, issue, and/or problem. The results of a deep

understanding of the research �ndings on a topic contribute to the development of an argument for the need,

and formulation of a feasible research project. A researcher must continue to become familiar with and be self-

aware of potential biases. Part of this process includes taking precautions to minimize in�uences which may

potentially hurt validity or trustworthiness of a research project. A learner must also learn to suspend

judgment until all steps of the data collection and analysis processes are complete in order to accurately report

�ndings to a reader. The goal is to create new knowledge that will contribute to the metanarrative of a given

�eld. This mindset is imperative to moving through the dissertation process. A researcher must have a clear

purpose for conducting research, spend time on proper topic selection considerations, and develop an

argument that will frame a research study.

Researcher Skills
In preparation for the life-changing journey that is doctoral study, important changes need to occur, and

learners need to start building new habits and behaviors that assist in their success. These may be changing

practices that have worked at other levels of education but are no longer effective at the doctoral level. At the

doctoral level, the investment with the material is much greater and more meaningful than in master’s level


Critical thinking, time management, and organization, as well as writing and reading at a pro�cient level are

necessary skills that doctoral learners must develop. Note the use of the word develop instead of the word

learn. All doctoral learners possess these skills to varying degrees, but all learners need to independently

develop these skills further to meet doctoral-level expectations.

Time Management

For a researcher, time management consists of securing blocks of time to complete tasks, such as reading,

thinking, and writing. The challenge for most learners is �nding ways to balance their studies with their

professional and personal lives. Learners must review their daily schedules and determine the available

amount of time each day to dedicate to their studies. At �rst, most learners will attempt to complete their

academic tasks without any changes, but they quickly realize that strategy will not work. A second review of

the daily schedule should identify activities the learner is willing to sacri�ce, such as television and leisure

time. With the second review completed, the learner should review other activities and determine other areas

from which to potentially take 5–15 minutes blocks of time. One �nal review of the schedule seeks to

determine the feasibility of delegating some tasks to someone else. Delegating tasks such as going to the

grocery store, cooking dinner, or folding clothes provide extra time in the study schedule. Fifteen minutes here

and 5 minutes there quickly accrues to an hour or two a day, which could translate to 7–14 extra hours a week

to focus on academic tasks. A learner should add time to the schedule incrementally to build up endurance for

academic tasks and to allow others to adjust to the changes. Reading and writing for long periods of time

requires practice and repetition. Going from 1 hour to 4 hours may sound easy, but it is more challenging than

one may think. Also, it is important to be considerate of other’s feelings as they make sacri�ces and adjust to a

new schedule as well. Challenges exist at the beginning, but once established, a routine commonly yields

positive results. Learners should expect to spend approximately 20 hours per week on core and emphasis

coursework as well as on dissertation courses and executing the research.


Having plenty of time built in for reading is crucial to the success of a doctoral student because reading is the

foundation to a dissertation research project. The learner spends the �rst 2 years before acceptance of a

proposal reading peer-reviewed articles, dissertations, books, and other scholarly sources that potentially

contribute to the dissertation project. At the same time, the reading of these materials directly contributes to

subject matter expertise and positions the learner as an expert in the �eld of study. Unfortunately, there is not

a speci�c number of resources that a learner must read to transform into an expert. The reading process in a

doctoral program is an ongoing, self-directed independent project that begins in the �rst course and does not

end until approval of the dissertation. Even then, the learner who has transitioned to a researcher will

continue to read on the topic in the years after graduation to remain current with the literature. Those who

also become published scholars will continue to contribute to the literature with their own publications.

Researchers read research differently in order to save time. Researchers must determine quickly whether to

add articles to their reading lists. Researchers read the article abstract �rst to determine if the article is

relevant to the topic. If so, then the researcher takes a nonlinear approach to reviewing the article. A

researcher examines the results and discussion sections �rst to identify what the researchers found and why.

The next step is to review the methods section to understand the origin of the data and the methods used to

collect it. At this point the researcher usually decides whether to write an annotation for this article. If the

researcher determines that an annotation is meaningful to the project, the article will be read in detail and an

accurate annotation crafted. Finally, the researcher reviews the literature section with a thumb on the

reference page to identify relevant literature for inclusion in the reading list. Just as it is important to have

plenty of time to read for the dissertation project, it is equally as important to quickly sort through a pile of

articles, discarding those that are not relevant enough to read fully.

In a dissertation research project, reading is critical for a learner to provide context for the research problem

and to formulate an argument that will frame the study. There are typically �ve chapters in a dissertation, but

every published dissertation has a chapter dedicated to the literature (Chapter 2). It is impossible to complete

this chapter if a learner has not read extensively on a topic. One of the biggest mistakes learners make in a

doctoral program is putting off the independent reading required to adequately address the background of the

topic, the review of the literature, and the problem spaces of the topic. Learners who complete their

coursework with only a handful of articles will delay their advancement in the program for months and

possibly years because they have not become an authority on the subject. Learners cannot talk their way into

completing a dissertation. The process begins with reading the existing body of literature and being able to

synthesize the information into an argument that frames the study.

Critical Thinking

Doctoral learners frequently receive questions about the tasks in progress relative to their dissertation

projects. Their responses are usually things like, “I’m reading this article” or “I’m writing this section,” but a

more accurate response would be, “I’m thinking.” This response would succinctly describe how successful

doctoral learners spent most of their time: thinking about the readings and thinking about the writings and

thinking about thinking.

A doctoral learner must develop critical-thinking skills and be able to think critically about every aspect of the

research project, especially areas that may not be evident upon an initial review. A doctoral learner must be

able to “think about thinking” demonstrating the skill of metacognition. In other words, learners must become

aware of how they engage in the learning process in order to gain deeper insights regarding where to direct

attention and to strategize a plan of action. Learners who develop a critical self-awareness are more apt to

work independently and demonstrate higher levels of analysis in their research projects. Metacognition helps

a learner to see things from multiple perspectives and to look beyond the surface for meaning, which can lead

to the idea of “thinking outside the box.”

“Thinking outside of the box” is a common phrase that has found a place in popular culture as well as in

academic circles. It refers to a person thinking creatively about a topic or issue. Each component of the

dissertation is a box placed inside a larger box, until approval of the �nished document. A doctoral learner

must think analytically and re�ectively every step of the way. Doctoral learners who do not make the time to

think critically will struggle, and it will become apparent during the writing portions of the project.


The scale of a dissertation research project is the largest task in which learners engage to this point in their

academic careers. A dissertation project requires a learner to develop a system of organization that will keep

the research project manageable. A doctoral learner collects hundreds of reading materials from various

perspectives and approaches. Not all readings carry the same value. Some serve as the framework for the

study, and others simply summarize an idea. Still others serve no purpose in the �nal dissertation. Learners

also collect data from a variety of means, such as instruments, observations, interviews, surveys, and �eld

notes. Each source of data is valuable and potentially useful in some way in the dissertation.

In the past, doctoral learners may have had a book shelf of clearly marked manila folders and binders �lled

with photocopied articles, observations notes, interview transcripts, research artifacts, photocopied book

chapters, annotated bibliographies, rough drafts, and coded index cards. The desk drawer likely contained an

assortment of highlighting markers used to differentiate ideas or concepts found in the data. Today, software

programs help a learner keep a dissertation project manageable as well as making it easier to navigate and

retrieve information. In the past, a learner may look through 20 folders until locating the item sought, but, with

the use of technology, the same item may only be a couple of clicks away, depending on how much detail the

learner uses in the �le program.

There are many reference management programs available for learners to choose from; some have a monetary

cost, while others are free through the GCU Library. A reference management program is a personal database

manager that allows users to import references and establish a system of organization. These software

programs also help organize and format the bibliographic information for easy retrieval.

It is important to note the iterative nature of the research process. Learners move back and forth among their

readings and add new sources regularly while concurrently removing materials no longer relevant and/or

current from their primary �les. Like the research process, the organization process is also iterative in nature

with the addition of new folders, �les, and titles added to the system and the relabeling of existing materials to

better align with the patterns, themes, and direction the research and data are taking the learner.

Doctoral learners who can organize their materials and reorganize their materials will be in a better position to

succeed than those who cannot do so ef�ciently. An organized learner will save valuable time and effort,

whereas an unorganized learner will most likely struggle in the data analysis phase of the project, which in

turn can negatively affect the write-up process.


Like reading at the doctoral level, writing at the doctoral level takes more time than learners expect because

these skills are more comprehensive. Many learners are gifted writers previously able to author essays in an

evening without the bene�t of an outline or rough draft. However, learners must now synthesize materials

instead of reporting on the topic or offering basic levels of evaluation. Learners must now formulate positions

that guide an argument. Learners who do not give themselves enough time to think critically about the

material and organize an argument commonly struggle to write a paper.

Often, learners lose con�dence in their writing abilities and express to instructors that they feel incapable of

doctoral-level writing. Some become defensive at receiving feedback because they typically received high

marks for writing in previous degree programs. Often, the issue is not the writing but rather the amount of

time dedicated both to thinking about the materials and to the writing process.

Outlines are essential at this level of research and writing. Fortunately, GCU provides templates for learners to

follow for the dissertation. Nonetheless, even with the structure established, learners should create outlines for

the sundry sections of the documents. For example, creating an outline for the literature review section found

in Chapter 2 of the dissertation can help a learner construct the �ow of the narrative and identify areas for

potential improvement.

Reading research is an ongoing process, but at some point, learners need to begin writing about their subjects

and complete various documents such as the 10 Strategic Points and the proposal. When creating these

documents, learners should be writing in an academic tone that re�ects the expectations of a doctoral-level

learner. Also, learners should be comfortable with establishing their voices on subjects related to their topics.

Doctoral-level writing requires students to be able to not only deeply understand the material but also to take a

position on a topic and support that position with academic research.

As incoming doctoral learners, it is important to understand the critical nature of the ability to produce sound

academic writing. Throughout the program, rubrics become a standard means of writing assessment.

Learners should aim to improve their writing skills incrementally during the program. Course assignments,

such as papers, give students the opportunity to continually develop their synthesis and writing skills.

Learners who struggled in the beginning courses should take special care to strengthen their writing skills so

that they do not struggle when they reach the dissertation phase of the program. As mentioned earlier, the

skills needed to successfully complete a dissertation are embedded and scaffolded into the coursework and

aid learners in developing as academic writers who conduct research. Learners should perceive of feedback

from instructors as ongoing and cumulative coaching on grammar, syntax, formatting, organization, and

synthesis. By the time learners reach the dissertation phase, they will have received thousands of comments

from faculty to help learners identify and �x and issues with their writing. It is the responsibility of the learner

to self-assess and continually focus on improving different aspects of doctoral-level writing.

A dissertation committee is not a team of editors who help the learner write a dissertation or �x inherent

writing de�ciencies. The committee is a team of experts who help guide the design, content, and logic of the

research project. The learner is responsible for communicating the intent and structure of the research in a

clear, concise, and scholarly manner. During the dissertation phase of the program, learners should both

display improved academic writing skills and readily implement feedback from the committee to execute the

necessary edits and revisions required to progress. It is the sole responsibility of the learner to create a

publication ready document that is approved by all dissertation committee members and, ultimately, the Dean

of the College of Doctoral Studies.

Conceptualizing Dissertation Research
The purpose of research is a key consideration when embarking on the dissertation journey. Doctoral learners

often select topics from a personal passion or from a problem or opportunity in their personal or work

relationships. Learners hope both to gain a deeper understanding and to conduct research to answer a

question, improve a process, or test a hypothesis. The doctoral learner further de�nes and re�nes the unique

research purpose through additional reading of literature on the topic. This leads to learning from other

scholars the scope and nature of further research requested or necessary to expand the existing body of

knowledge. To the Christian as well as the non-Christian, research should lead to a greater understanding of

truth and should improve the human condition. Researchers de�ne knowing (epistemology) as the creation

and dissemination of knowledge areas of inquiry (Steup, 2008). Understanding the concept of creating and

disseminating knowledge involves the issues of the justi�cation of beliefs or sets of beliefs and addressing

claims to knowledge. The Christian worldview also realizes that the unique set of beliefs of an individual

includes a component of biases and preconceptions. Researchers must incorporate a knowledge of the bene�ts

and limitations of individual biases into the literature review and research proposal to ensure a research

purpose emerges from a genuine problem space.

Selecting a Topic to Study

Topic selection is another key area of the transformation into an independent scholar. It also wields a

signi�cant in�uence on the dissertation milestone progression. The learner remains immersed in the

dissertation topic for an extended period. Although GCU has an open approach to learners choosing

dissertation topics, the topic selection must align to the program of study in which the learner enrolls. The

topic selection criteria include a researchable idea that the learner determines from a problem space in the

existing body of knowledge rather than from a personal passion or interest with no literary framework or

context to meeting a need for future scholarly practitioners.

Aligned with Program

A central consideration in narrowing a research and dissertation focus is alignment of the topic with the

learner’s degree program. Ideally, the topic should also align with the learner’s program emphasis. A starting

point in conceptualizing alignment to the degree can (and perhaps should) include a clear vision for the

intended application of the degree over the long term; in practical terms, what does the learner intend to do

with the degree following graduation? Research and the doctoral degree are a vehicle to that destination and,

therefore, should be appropriate to and aligned with the program of study.

The College of Doctoral Studies recognizes the diversity of learners in our programs and the varied interests in

research topics for their dissertations. Dissertation topics must, at a minimum, be aligned to general

psychology in the PhD in Psychology program, leadership in the EdD in Organizational Leadership program,

adult learning in the EdD Teaching and Learning program, management in the DBA program, and counseling

practice, counselor education, clinical supervision or advocacy/leadership within the counseling �eld in the

Counselor Education and Supervision PhD program. Although the College prefers topic alignment with the

program emphasis, this alignment is not required. The College encourages topic alignment with the program

emphasis, if possible. The College will remain �exible regarding the dissertation topic if it aligns with the

degree program in which the learner is enrolled. The PhD program in General Psychology does not support

clinically based research.

Learners should periodically revisit the purpose for pursuing and completing a doctoral degree and examine

and reexamine the characteristics of the research focus alongside the degree and emphasis.

The ROC Model


Is the problem researchable? Can the problem be answered by collecting and analyzing


Does the learner have the time, resources, and skills to carry out the project?

Is the intended population accessible?

Can the learner �nd an organization willing to provide written formal permission to do

the project on the site of the organization? Can the learner access data through public

sources that require no permission to use the data for the project?


Is the problem original?

Is this a replication project with a new population or passage of time?

Does it examine or explore a new issue or different perspective of an existing problem?


Should the problem be studied?

Does it advance scholarly knowledge?

Does it contribute to practice?

Does it contribute to society?

Does it contribute to the personal future purpose of the learner?

Figure 7.1

The ROC Model

Feasibility of a Study

When considering a topic and focus of research, the feasibility of a study is central to constructing a “doable”

study. Several factors go into assessing the feasibility of a research project, including but not limited to time,

access, skills necessary to acquire or develop further, and proximity to data. Each contributes to the length of

time required to reasonably complete a study.

Broadly speaking, when considering feasibility, consider questions such as:

Does the researcher possess enough time, resources, and skill to carry out the research?

What is the data source? How will the researcher collect data?

Can the researcher gather data in a reasonable amount of time, considering the stakeholders and possible

challenges of gaining access to participants?

Questions of time, resources, and skill re�ect a basic assessment: how much time is it going to take, and what

(if any) costs are associated with collecting data? When considering appropriate and/or necessary skills for

collecting (or analyzing) data, what level of familiarity with face-to-face or in-person interviews or familiarity

with technology is going to be necessary to collect data with rigor and objectivity? The learner may need to

develop familiarity with data analysis software such as NVivo or MAXQDA (qualitative) or SPSS (quantitative)

before collecting and analyzing data. What potential obstacles might exist to gaining access to data analysis

required in the research process? Is the software free, or might there a nominal usage fee for data analysis


When considering how to collect data, learners must consider access. Researchers gather data from different

sources and in different ways, including archival data or human subjects (participants). Will data collection

include interviews with participants? Will the researcher distribute surveys or questionnaires? What avenues

must the learner identify for either method of collecting data (qualitative or quantitative)?

In some instances, there may be costs associated with obtaining data or a formal chain of communication

necessary for gaining access to participants. In such cases, having a point of contact is an important bridge to

identifying and inviting individuals as potential participants in a study. There may also be a need to obtain

preliminary site authorization to gain entry to a setting. The researcher must procure site authorization in a

formal letter that indicates the school, college, or organization understands the intended research and how

that research bene�ts the organization.

By example if the research plans to collect data by interviewing participants, the researcher must establish a

set of research requirements before receiving permission to conduct interviews. The researcher must inform

participants of the scope of the study and provide a set of participant rights, including but not limited to a clear

statement of the expected duration of participation, the right to discontinue and/or withdraw from the study at

any time, and the right to review manuscripts. Additional sampling questions include a plan to account for

attrition within a sample. What happens if the researcher cannot secure the stated number of participants?

What if the researcher meets the initial number but participants remove themselves from a study or simply

fail to follow up in subsequent interview sessions? Is there a contingency plan in place to address these and

other potential gaps in a sample? These and other considerations are central to understanding feasibility of a

research study.


An additional consideration within a discussion of topic selection addresses ethical considerations associated

with a prospective study. An Institutional Review Board (IRB) can help shape a researcher’s understanding of

ethical considerations, and dissertation research requires IRB approval. Nonetheless, determining whether

research is ethical does not require so formal a level of assessment. On a basic level, ethical considerations

deal with rules of conduct assessing levels of vulnerability within research to protect participants from

potential harm (Luna, 2019; Suguira et al., 2017). Though not limited to items listed here, levels of vulnerability

commonly include human rights, dignity, autonomy, protection from potential harm (or conversely,

establishing safe con�nes), and consideration of bene�t (who bene�ts, and in what way(s)) from the research

(Suguira et al., 2017). The method used to assess vulnerability often appears differently across �elds (Watts et

al., 2017). Considerations such as legal frameworks, policies, or standards established by formal research and

professional groups within a given �eld guide these differences.

In addition to ensuring ethical research and integrity of data, time is a consideration for researchers seeking to

work with vulnerable populations. Addressing vulnerability can minimize the amount of time necessary to

carry out a study based on the number of hurdles potentially created or removed in doing so. For example, a

researcher seeking to interview elementary school students (minors) must at least secure site approval from

the school and administration, student assent, parental consent, and IRB approval. Securing each of these

approvals adds time to the process. Further, the process alone potentially in�uences the number of potential

participants to whom the researcher garners access. Even if the sample size originally meets criteria for the

research model, participants who remove themselves from a study, and thereby force reevaluation of the

sample, add to the time needed to conduct the study. Table 7.1 offers examples of vulnerability.


Bracketing relates to the understanding that each researcher has innate biases. These biases frame how each

person interprets the data gathered from the world around themselves. Bracketing is part of the synthesis

between what a person presumes to know and framing the search for further knowledge around ethical

components. Gathering and then bracketing the knowledge gleaned from this process requires an unbiased,

ethical, worldview. When beginning the research process, the learner must consider how to separate opinion

from fact and experiences from data. Bracketing, a method primarily used in qualitative research, helps to

mitigate potentially detrimental preconceptions that may negatively impact the research process (Tufford &

Newman, 2012).

Synthesizing Themes from Literature

Table 7.1

Taxonomy of Types of Vulnerability

Type of Vulnerability Description

Cognitive Diminished decision making.

Juridic Limited by assignment to legal authority such as a prison warden.

Deferential Social and cultural pressures that limit expression (such as in a
superior-subordinate dynamic).

Medical Limitations because of health-related issues.

Allocational Disadvantaged because of money, housing, medical, or childcare (any
resource that could be part of the experimental design, such as in
medical treatment).

Infrastructural Lack of organizational, economic, or social context to meet
infrastructure needs (such as access to telephone to obtain further
guidance on adherence to ethical treatment).

Social Belonging to a socially limited or undervalued group.

Note. Adapted from “Vulnerability in research subjects: A bioethical taxonomy,” by K. Kipnis, 2001, in National Bioethics Advisor
Commission (Ed.), Ethical and policy issues in research involving human research participants. Copyright 2001 National
Bioethics Advisor Commission; and “The limitations of ‘vulnerability’ as a protection for human research participants,” by C.
Levine, R. Faden, C. Grady, D. Hammerschmidt, L. Eckenwiler, and J. Sugarman, 2004, in The American Journal of Bioethics, 4(3),
44-49. Copyright 2004 The American Journal of Bioethics.

As discussed earlier, a doctoral learner must plan time effectively to both read and ponder the dissertation

topic. The learner must sort resources into those relevant and suitable for inclusion on the reading list and

those not relevant to the current study. Reading and synthesizing the literature, focusing primarily on the

detailed collection and analysis of data in the articles, is the process required of learners to understand the

existing literature on the selected topic. Learners must use only high quality, peer-reviewed articles, books,

and dissertations as the primary sources in the literature review of the dissertation. Learners successfully

outline the key themes relevant to their studies as they increase their reading comprehension to a level

commensurate with the required content-speci�c knowledge. Finding and synthesizing the literature to

outline is a key part of the project management process of writing a dissertation.

Part of synthesizing literature comes from recognizing and then articulating in writing relationships between

and across multiple sources of information. Cast a broad net using keywords associated with the topic and

focus the examination to be selective when choosing information from sources informing writing and

discussion. The work thereafter becomes as much about reviewing larger bodies of research as selecting the

ideas and information from each source that speci�cally speak to the examination of a topic and focus. It is

important to keep in mind that there is a need for multiple reviews of literature because different areas of a

work inform the study from within the literature. Synthesis also provides a backbone for the whole of a

research and writing construct.

Generally, themes appear as key words, terms, phrases, word-pairings, authors, or concepts repetitiously and

consistently used within data or literature. Themes align with and are appropriate to the topic and questions

under consideration. In other words, the information sought should tell the reader something about the

question, phenomena, or outcomes under examination. The questions the researcher seeks to address frame

the themes searched.

Finding a Problem Space
Creation of a dissertation begins with interest in a speci�c topic. Ensuring that the topic of interest transforms

into a feasible study based on an identi�ed problem space based on prior research represents the key to an

effective dissertation. The goal of this section is to delve into this understanding, particularly identifying a

problem space, formerly known as the research gap, that serves as the foundation of the dissertation. An

additional purpose of this section is to transition from an initial topic of interest to a topic worthy of doctoral

study. A problem space represents the difference between what is known in a �eld or research and what is not

known. There are several reasons doctoral learners identify research needs and problem spaces:

To contribute to the scienti�c knowledge that exists on a topic.

To add to or enhance professional practice.

To acknowledge the existing research on a topic.

To inspire future research.

To compare current research with the desired future state of a topic or condition.

To depict what is not yet known.

To determine the missing elements in existing literature.

Ideally, the purpose of doctoral level research is to add to the greater body of knowledge within the �eld. To

make this contribution, the researcher must �rst identify a problem space in current research that leads to a

speci�c problem for a group of people (e.g., business owners, educators, learners, ministers, healthcare leaders)

instead of a topic that merely holds personal interest or curiosity.

Writing a Problem Statement

The problem statement provides focus for research in a single, declarative statement that tells the reader the

speci�c problem under examination and the research design used in the study. The problem statement

emerges from reviews of literature addressing the problem space and identi�es issues or research

opportunities that exist based on previous research in a speci�c area of focus. Further, the problem statement

should speci�cally state the methodology employed in the study.

By example, quantitative methods should include the variables, and qualitative methods should identify the

phenomenon as well as the population included in the study. When constructing the problem statement there

must also be speci�c phrasing aligned with GCU College of Doctoral Studies expectations for wording of a

problem statement.

For a quantitative study, the problem statement should begin: “It is not known if and to what extent…”

For a qualitative study the problem statement should begin: “It is not known how (why)…”

Examples of Quantitative and Qualitative Problem Statements Within Speci�c

General Quantitative Problem Statements

It is not known if and to what extent emotional intelligence in leaders relates to the

performance of their organization. (quantitative correlational design)

It is not known if and to what degree there is a difference in organizational

performance between leaders with high levels of emotional intelligence and those with

low levels of emotional intelligence. (quantitative causal comparative)

It is not known if and to what degree there is a correlation between level of emotional

intelligence and level of leadership performance across all related studies from 1990 to

2010. (meta analysis)

It is not known if and to what extent a 2-year global assignment will impact the level of

emotional intelligence in high-potential leaders in a global organization. (quantitative

experimental design)

General Qualitative Problem Statements

It is not known how a 2-year global assignment in�uenced the level of emotional

intelligence in two high-potential leaders in a global organization. (qualitative case


It is not known how a 2-year global assignment in�uenced the emotional intelligence

in a very successful executive in a global company from this executive’s perspective.

(qualitative narrative design)

It is not known what factors in a 2-year global assignment for high-potential leaders

hindered versus supported improvement in their level of emotional intelligence.

(qualitative grounded theory design)

It is not known what supporting positive and negative organizational factors and

experiences have enabled a current female executive to become the CEO in a Fortune

100 company. (qualitative historical study)

It is not known how a group of successful executives feel their 2-year global

assignment in�uenced their ability to manage their own emotions in their leadership

role and the emotions of their followers in the workplace. (qualitative

phenomenological study)

It is not known how and why the organizational culture in�uenced the values, beliefs.

and behaviors of a group of �ve successful global executives during their 2-year global

assignment. (qualitative ethnographic study)

It is not known how to increase the level of emotional intelligence in leaders in an

organization. (action research)

Business Problem Statements

It is not known how transformational leadership practices in a CEOs in�uence pro�t

and customer loyalty in a hospital in the Southwest. (qualitative case study)

It is not known if and to what degree a new sales model will improve the revenue per

headcount of sales employees. (quantitative pre-experimental)

It is not known what employees really care about most when selecting bene�ts in a

nonpro�t organization. (phenomenological study)

It is not known if and to what degree the level of transformational leadership behaviors

displayed by CEOs correlate with the level of pro�t and level of customer loyalty in the

high-tech industry. (quantitative correlational)

It is not known if there is a difference in the level of employee retention in

organizations that provide a traditional bene�ts plan versus an organization that

provides a �exible bene�ts plan. (quantitative causal comparative)

Psychology Problem Statements

It is not known if and to what degree the level of emotional intelligence in parents

correlates with the level of emotional maturity in children in daycare centers in

Phoenix. (quantitative correlational)

It is not known if and to what degree there is a relationship between increasing the

level of employee engagement in organizations, increased resiliency, and increased

productivity (quantitative correlational).

It is not known how the cognitive capabilities of multitasking, locus of control, and

emotional intelligence in�uence sales results in individuals in a large

telecommunications call center in Atlanta. (qualitative case study)

It is not known if there is a difference in the level of commitment to an organization’s

strategy, vision, and goals between employees who learn it in a traditional 2-hour

classroom program and employees who learn it in an engaging 2-hour multimedia

communications experience. (quantitative causal comparative)

Education Problem Statements

It is not known if and to what degree the level of servant leadership in school

principals in�uences the quality of the organizational climate in their schools.

(quantitative correlational)

It is not known how a servant leadership approach in a school principal in an excelling

high school in Alaska in�uences the organizational climate in their school. (qualitative

case study)

It is not known if and to what degree a new teacher mentoring program will increase

teacher retention (quasi-experimental)

Practical Considerations

Dissertation Process and Timeline

The dissertation is a lot of work. According to the National Science Foundation (2018), average students in a

doctoral program in the United States take approximately 7 years to complete their dissertations. The reasons

for this vary, but commonly, in many doctoral programs, the dissertation work begins only after completion of

the content courses. These doctoral students do not fully begin the process of writing their dissertations until

after completing 2–4 years of conventional course work. Writing a book of completely new scholarship and

research is a major undertaking. At GCU, in addition to integrating the dissertation process throughout the

curriculum, the process of getting to the formulation of a research plan and design displays as a series of steps

and milestones that gradually build research skills and scholarly knowledge. This gradually building,

scaffolded process (http://lc.gcumedia.com/res811/�nd-your-purpose-the-path-to-a-successful-doctoral-

experience/v1.1/tables/dissertationprogression.html), in which each dissertation step builds on the content

developed during the previous step, makes designing and executing the research and writing required for the

�nal dissertation manuscript much easier. As learners look forward in planning their time in the degree

program, they must consider that completing the dissertation often requires more than the scheduled

dissertation courses. Thus, the more work a learner puts into the project during coursework and residencies,

the quicker the progression during the dissertation proposal and data collection stages.

The Dissertation Process and Milestone Progression

The dissertation milestones guide outlines the stages of the dissertation journey. The Doctoral DNA

(https://www.gcumedia.com/doctoralDNA/prospective-students/v2.1/#/home), found on the DC Network,

includes a break down or grouping of the milestones as the dissertation life cycle. The �rst dissertation course

begins the doctoral life cycle as Milestone Group One.

Transforming from a student to a researcher in a deep and meaningful way is not easy. It is full of challenges

and obstacles, but it ultimately results in something new. The dissertation process is a long-standing, true, and

tested way of developing novice researchers into independent and competent scholars. Who one becomes as a

doctor depends much on the vision, goals, and execution of the dissertation by a self-starting and self-directed


Learners should be able to do an objective self-assessment of their strengths and weaknesses throughout the

program and identify resources available to help them to mitigate any challenges they face. Re�ective practice

is part of knowing oneself, and such self-knowledge allows for quick adaptation and minimizing of personal

barriers to completing the dissertation. The learner needs to know personal strengths, limitations,

sensitivities, passions, expectations, presuppositions, and values.

Managing Personal Challenges and Crises

Contingency planning is vital to ensuring that any project will come to fruition in a timely manner. While

earning their degree, some doctoral learners may have to deal with a crisis, illness, accident, or personal

problem. Often these events happen at the worst possible time. Graduate attrition rates are high, and it is not

simply because the learners could not manage. Sometimes life events force learners to make a choice.

A strong social or familial network is important to have during doctoral study. Learners must be transparent

with this network about the time commitment of the doctoral journey. For an extended period, there will be

much less time for social and family interaction. Therefore, those around the doctoral learner must be willing

to support the learner without expectations of equal reciprocity. It is also important to maintain relationships

and not become overly self-centered. People do not like to feel as though relationships are a matter of

convenience, and it is important for self-awareness and well-being to maintain social and familial bonds for a

healthy life-balance (Dellinger, 2016).

Finally, if possible, learners should garner as much support as possible at work and from employers. There is

no greater gift from an employer or supervisor than support while earning a doctoral degree, but it is

important to respect the time granted from employers. While it may be reasonable to steal a few minutes to

read at lunch or while waiting for a meeting to commence, this cannot become work inef�ciency and

tardiness, as such behavior is unfair to the employer. However, it is important for a doctoral learner to keep

reading materials, voice recorders, and notebooks handy for potential down times. Often, doctoral learners feel

as if they are in a holding pattern while waiting on committee members to send feedback on written work. It

is important to remain active during these down times and to ensure that research materials are readily

available to keep the momentum going. Use time waiting for feedback for re�ection and continued interaction

with the materials rather than as a break.

Technology has made the research process more effective, and there is one item that learners can incorporate

into their daily practice. In the past, researchers commonly wrote notes in a notebook or captured sudden

insights on a tape recorder or digital recorder. Today, smartphones have a voice notes feature usable for

capturing spontaneous thoughts. It pays off to record or write down insights during these holding periods to

integrate into the work during the next writing session.


Doctoral learners embark on a quest to shift from a consumer of knowledge to a creator of knowledge, as they

move from their foundational courses to their dissertation courses. This process begins when a learner �nds

ways to navigate complex, ambiguous, and troublesome knowledge, shifting cognition to that of an inquisitive

researcher mindset while beginning to rewrite personal narratives to be one of a doctoral and independent

scholar. Proactively working to improve the required skills needed to become a researcher is paramount in

developing the role of a researcher.

Check for Understanding
1. What skills are needed to transition from a learner to a researcher?

2. What considerations should be made when selecting a topic to study?

3. How does a learner prepare to be a researcher?

4. What is the GCU Dissertation Milestone Guide?

5. What are some practical considerations when managing a research project?

Dellinger, P. H. (2016). Selling your soul to the dissertation process. Black Rose Writing.


1. Many skills researchers use are already known to learners, such as reading, thinking,

and writing. However, the depth of these skill sets will change as students learn to

critically read, critically think, and critically write. While students will learn about

research design and methodology during their doctoral journey, they will assume more

responsibility for their education in a doctoral program. Organization and time

management are crucial as they allow students to ef�ciently plan time to manage their

dissertation project.

2. When selecting a topic to study for a dissertation, learners should �rst ensure the topic

is aligned to their degree program and emphasis area. The topic must be researchable,

feasible, and ethical.

3. To transition from a dependent learner to an independent researcher requires

developing a researcher’s mindset. This means dedicating time to critically read

literature to develop a deep understanding of the �eld in order to develop a dissertation

topic and substantiate a problem space. A researcher must be able to develop a

compelling argument for the need of a study. A researcher must have a clear purpose

for conducting research, spend time on proper topic selection considerations, and

develop an argument that will frame a research study.

4. The Dissertation Milestone Guide is the learner’s guide to the dissertation process.

Learners should use the guide to develop a detailed project plan for completing the

dissertation. The milestone guide describes expectations for each step of the journey

and provides links to useful documents and resources.

5. The dissertation is a lot of work, and a researcher must be proactive in developing and

managing a research project to ensure their timely completion of a degree. Learners

need to be aware of the dissertation process and plan their milestone progression.

Transforming from a learner to a researcher in a very deep and meaningful way is not

easy, and learners must perform ongoing self-analysis to minimize barriers to

completion of their project.

Luna, F. (2019). Identifying and evaluating layers of vulnerability–a way forward. Developing World

Bioethics, 19(2), 86–95.

National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. 2018. Doctorate

Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2016. Special Report NSF 18-304. Alexandria, VA.

Steup, M. (2008). Epistemology. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.


Tufford, L., & Newman, P. (2012). Bracketing in qualitative research. Qualitative Social Work, 11(1), 80–96.

Watts, L. L., Medeiros, K. E., Mulhearn, T. J., Steele, L. M., Connelly, S., & Mumford, M. D. (2017). Are ethics

training programs improving? A meta-analytic review of past and present ethics instruction in the

sciences. Ethics & Behavior, 27(5), 351-384.

Copyright © Grand Canyon University 2020

Volume 13, 2018

Accepted by Editor David Kahl Jr. │Received: January 25, 2018│ Revised: April 2, 2018 │ Accepted: May 25,
Cite as: Rogers-Shaw, C., & Carr-Chellman, D. (2018). Developing care and socio-emotional learning in first
year doctoral students: Building capacity for success. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 13, 233-252.

(CC BY-NC 4.0) This article is licensed to you under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International
License. When you copy and redistribute this paper in full or in part, you need to provide proper attribution to it to ensure
that others can later locate this work (and to ensure that others do not accuse you of plagiarism). You may (and we encour-
age you to) adapt, remix, transform, and build upon the material for any non-commercial purposes. This license does not
permit you to use this material for commercial purposes.


Carol Rogers-Shaw* Pennsylvania State University,

State College, Pennsylvania, USA
[email protected]

Davin Carr-Chellman University of Idaho,
Moscow, Idaho, USA

[email protected]

* Corresponding author

Aim/Purpose The purpose of this research is to explore and describe the role of care and

socio-emotional learning in the first year of doctoral study. In particular,
understanding the nature of the caring relationships doctoral students experi-
ence and their development of effective socio-emotional capacity are the
primary foci of this study. It may provide institutions with data necessary to
add specific supports to graduate orientation programs and/or introductory
doctoral courses that will mitigate problems these beginning students face
and lead to greater success and quality of life.

Background This study examines the caring relationships of students in two education
doctoral programs using the features of socio-emotional learning (SEL), the
ethics of care, and learning care to understand the effects of caring relation-
ships on first year doctoral students and to explore how their subsequent use
of socio-emotional skills impacts success and quality of life.

Methodology The study used a phenomenological methodology focusing on the initial ex-
periences of returning adult doctoral students in the field of education dur-
ing the first semester of their studies. A total of seven students from two
different cohorts of Ph. D. and Ed. D. programs were interviewed. A deduc-
tive process was subsequently pursued, applying the central concepts of care
and socio-emotional learning to the data as categories, resulting in the find-
ings of this study.

Developing Care and Socio-Emotional Learning


Contribution As the importance of care is often trivialized, particularly in the most ad-
vanced levels of education, it is important for doctoral programs to examine
what can be done to enhance relationship-building in order to increase stu-
dent success and quality of life. This study calls for more attention to care in
doctoral study.

Findings Participant responses identified self-awareness as key to how they managed
stress, maintained motivation and academic discipline, organized their time in
order to accomplish tasks and meet responsibilities, and set goals. Participants
attributed their academic discipline and ability to handle stress to persever-
ance, drive, and work ethic. These doctoral students were very conscious of
the decisions they made and the reasons behind these decisions. In their dis-
cussion of the relationships that supported them throughout their study, they
clearly identified emotions triggered by these relationships, and they dis-
cussed how those who cared for them helped them to recognize their own
strengths and gain more self-confidence. The presence of caring was clear as
participants’ reasons for engaging in doctoral study were often rooted in their
care for others in their family and their caring about marginalized populations
in society.

for Practitioners

Examining the nature of the care doctoral students receive and their devel-
opment of effective socio-emotional abilities may provide institutions with
data necessary to add specific supports to graduate orientation programs
and/or introductory doctoral courses that will mitigate problems these be-
ginning students face, leading to future success.

for Researchers

While most research and instruction involving socio-emotional learning has
focused on K-12 learners, this study investigates how the experiences of doc-
toral students reflect the importance of addressing the emotional side of
learning at all levels of education. Despite the plethora of extant literature
concerning doctoral student experiences related to socialization, the signifi-
cance of socio-emotional learning, and the importance of care as a facilitator
of learning, there are gaps in the literature connecting doctoral students in
the first stages of their studies to affective learning. This study will fill that
gap and opens the door to future qualitative studies, elaborating the lived ex-
periences of caring relationships and socio-emotional learning. Additionally,
these initial qualitative studies provide direction to quantitative researchers
looking for ways to measure these concepts.

Impact on Society Elements of care, especially as they relate to socio-emotional learning corre-
late strongly with successful outcomes in educational contexts. To the extent
that doctoral students and doctoral programs experience greater success and
increased satisfaction and quality of life, this research will have significant
societal impact.

Future Research As a qualitative study using inductive and deductive approaches, it is im-
portant for future research to translate the themes and concepts of this study
into measurable, quantifiable, and replicable units. This translation will facili-
tate the generalizability of our findings. The application of the concepts of
care and socio-emotional learning to first year doctoral students opens the
door to additional qualitative approaches as well, which will greatly increase
our understanding of what these concepts mean as they are lived-out.

Keywords doctoral study, socio-emotional learning, ethics of care, learning care

Rogers-Shaw & Carr-Chellman


As research into human learning increases the academy’s capacity for facilitating academic success,
the limitations of the traditional developmental approach to doctoral student preparation become
more prominent (Pallas, 2001). The unique demands of doctoral study and the evolving expectations
of future scholars call for a better integration of improved models of learning and researcher prepa-
ration. A fuller understanding of the role of care and socio-emotional learning in the success of first
year doctoral students provides an important move in this direction. As such, we sought to explore
the following research questions: 1) How does care, both informal and formal, support learning in
doctoral students? (2) How does the relational aspect of teaching and learning present itself in doc-
toral study? (3) What characteristics of socio-emotional learning are visible in doctoral students and
how does student use of these traits contribute to success?

In understanding the effects of care on first year doctoral students and exploring how their use of
socio-emotional skills increases success, the traditional model of doctoral student preparation can be
improved. This study contributes evidence that caring relationships can provide the support needed
for first year doctoral students to achieve success and that the foundation upon which these relation-
ships are built is socio-emotional learning (SEL). Examining the nature of the care doctoral students
receive and their development of effective socio-emotional abilities may provide institutions with
data necessary to add specific supports to graduate orientation programs and/or introductory doc-
toral courses that will mitigate problems these beginning students face and lead to future success.

Elias (2003) defined socio-emotional learning (SEL) skills as “a set of abilities that allows students to
work with others, learn effectively, and serve essential roles in their families, communities and places
of work” (p. 3). SEL demands caring, teaching life-skills, using goal setting and varied instructional
techniques, and increasing empathy through participation in the community (Elias, 2003). Elias
(2006) argued that “social and emotional learning (SEL) is the capacity to recognize and manage
emotions, solve problems effectively, and establish positive relationships with others, competencies
that clearly are essential for all students” (p. 234). While most research and instruction involving SEL
has focused on K-12 learners, this study investigates how the experiences of doctoral students reflect
the importance of addressing the emotional side of learning at all levels of education.

In her work in the area of care in education, Noddings (1988, 2002, 2005) suggested that caring rela-
tionships between teachers and students are essential. She combined elements of agapism and con-
temporary feminism in developing her notion of the ethics of care and argued for an alternative ap-
proach to teaching and learning that focused on trusting relationships built over time (1988). She

[U]niversity educators and researchers are part of the problem. Our endless focus on narrow
achievement goals, our obsession with sophisticated schemes of evaluation and measure-
ment directed (naturally enough) at things that are relatively easy to measure, our reinforce-
ment of the mad desire to be number one – to compete, to win awards, to acquire more and
more of whatever is currently valued – in all these ways we contribute to the proliferation of
problems and malaise. (Noddings, 1988, p. 226)

This study examines the caring relationships of students in two education doctoral programs, sup-
porting Noddings’ position on the importance of care in education, including at the highest level.

Feeley’s (2010, 2014) work on learning care in literacy instruction highlights the importance of care in
supporting learning as she argued that “‘learning care’ is not some kind of nebulous good intent but
rather a skillful, respectful, empowering approach to facilitating learning…. [and] affective aspects of
learning are not incidental but rather a central and consistent element of the learning process” (p. 10-
11). This study explores how caring facilitated learning in first semester doctoral students.

Developing Care and Socio-Emotional Learning


Inspired by Pallas’ (2001) critique of traditional doctoral student preparation, the researchers con-
ducted a review of research literature in several areas, examining characteristics of doctoral programs
that lead to student success. One goal of doctoral programs is to socialize students into academia as
they prepare students to become researchers and faculty members. A significant element of sociali-
zation is the development of supportive relationships. In examining these relationships, we focused
on the socio-emotional skills that enhance personal interactions, for example, self-awareness, respect,
and solidarity. Beginning with this framework, we delved further into the theoretical realm beginning
with Noddings’ ethics of care that more specifically related to education. Finally, we examined spe-
cific applications of care in education such as Feeley’s learning care. We chose these four areas for
our literature investigation because of their link to interpersonal relationships as a key factor in doc-
toral student success.

The connection between the socialization process of doctoral students and their development of an
academic identity is important; in order to successfully transition from student to faculty member,
doctoral students rely on mentoring relationships with their professors (Austin, 2002; Barnes & Aus-
tin, 2009; Fagen & Suedkamp Wells, 2004; Golde, 2000; Weidman & Stein, 2003; Zhao, Golde, &
McCormick, 2007). Establishing positive relationships with advisors requires socio-emotional skills
that enhance the affective learning of doctoral students who need more than content knowledge to
be successful members of the professoriate. Students must learn to move away from the dependence
and uncertainty experienced as beginning students toward the self motivation, direction, awareness,
and management of faculty members in order to become part of an academic community (Gardner,
2007, 2008, 2010; McAlpine, Jazvac-Martek, & Hopwood, 2009; O’Meara, Knudsen, & Jones, 2013).

Family, friends, cohort members, and institutional services provide additional support for doctoral
students overcoming challenges (Byers et al., 2014; Jairam & Kahl, 2012; Jimenez y West, Gokalp,
Vallejo Pena, Fischer, & Gupton, 2011; Martinez, Ordu, Della Sala, & McFarlane, 2013; Sturhahn
Stratton, Miekle, Kirshenbaum, Goodrich, & McRae, 2006; Sweitzer, 2009;) as they manage the de-
mands of study, work, social activities, and personal health. Again, caring relationships provide the
basis for this support.

Elias (2003, 2006; Elias et. al., 1997) called for balancing instruction by attending to not only the aca-
demic needs of learners but also addressing their socio-emotional learning through nine practical
applications. The significance of socio-emotional learning to this study are the SEL skills that en-
hance caring relationships. The five core competencies of SEL include self-awareness, self-
management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Not only does
the specific category of relationship skills apply to care in doctoral study as students seek supportive
interactions with peers and advisors, but several traits within the other competencies such as under-
standing one’s emotions, being able to acknowledge the perspectives of others, expressing empathy,
and showing respect also enhance relationship building (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and
Emotional Learning [CASEL], 2017).

Järvelä, Volet, and Jarvenoja (2010) argued that the social aspect of collaborative learning is im-
portant, while Sinclair, Barnacle, and Cuthbert (2013) stressed the cognitive domain as it enhances
collaboration and engagement in research. Doctoral students often need to work collaboratively in
their courses and on research projects; they need to communicate and effectively engage with team-
mates in these endeavors, actions supported by socio-emotional skills that enhance their relation-
ships. Several studies examined the connection between affective learning with motivation (Kim,
Park, & Cozart, 2014) and resiliency (Hall, Spruill, & Webster, 2002). Self-motivation is a significant

Rogers-Shaw & Carr-Chellman


feature of SEL, and doctoral students also need to recognize their own strengths, set goals based on
those accurate self-perceptions, analyze problems, and propose solutions in order to overcome ob-

Researchers documented the importance of SEL in higher education (Kasworm, 2008; Vandervoort,
2006) where social support contributes to the success of graduate students (Tompkins, Brecht, Tuck-
er, Neander, & Swift 2016). Social support is visible in the form of student relationships with family,
peers, and faculty who care about the success of the students. Attention to SEL “assists students in
their transition to Higher Education, reduce[s] withdrawal rates and significantly enhances the stu-
dent learning experience” (Devis-Rozental, Eccles, Mayer, & Jones, 2014); it also affects students’
writing, an emotional skill as well as a cognitive one (Wellington, 2010). In post-secondary education,
the “nature of the relationships at the center of the doctoral experience, and the ways faculty and
doctoral students interact” (O’Meara et al., 2013) is determined by many SEL factors, and recogniz-
ing how these relationships provide necessary resources that contribute to higher achievement is an
important skill for doctoral students to develop.

The emotions of affective learning are significant in adult education (Aguilar, 2014; Dirkx, 1997,
2001; Turillo & Tanner, 2014) as adult learners bring their lived experiences to the classroom. Dirkx
and Espinoza (2017) argued that emotion is cognitive as well as expressive. The life experiences of
doctoral students contribute to their social awareness and assist them in building meaningful relation-
ships, which in turn influence their academic learning. This type of learning experience is present in
distance education as well (Baker, 2010; Delahunty, Verenikina, & Jones, 2014; Xiao, 2012) where
effective online instruction enhances student interaction and builds a sense of community. Rossiter’s
(1999) phenomenological study was designed “to explore and explicate the experience of caring as it
relates to graduate education from the perspective of the adult learner” (p. 205).

In her seminal work, “An Ethic of Caring and Its Implications for Instructional Arrangements,”
Noddings (1988) defined the ethic of care and argued that caring, “both as a moral orientation to
teaching and as an aim of moral education” (p. 215) is essential. Noddings (2002, 2013) offered the
ethics of care as a relational alternative to contemporary notions of individualized character educa-

Based on Noddings’ idea that teaching is relational (2007, 2012), it is important to consider the ethics
of care in doctoral study where the role of the instructor is not traditionally considered from the
point of view of caring; the professorial position is more often viewed as a power position of im-
parting content knowledge. However, graduate students view teaching as relational rather than mere-
ly a method for transferring content (Hill, 2014). Establishing caring relationships with students can
offer instructors the opportunity to foster student success, impart a sense of professionalism, pro-
vide leadership, and encourage service (Bozalek et al., 2014; Hugman, 2014; Noddings, 2006a; Trout,
2012). Currently, the traditional faculty/student relationship in graduate study is often counter to
Noddings’ (2006b) beliefs that emphasize the importance of including social, emotional, and ethical
learning in all aspects of schooling.

However, there is a need for the ethics of care in advanced study. From her study on students at a
community college, Barrow (2015) concluded that “[d]eveloping relationships that support college
student success is key to establishing a caring environment in which both student and instructor can
thrive” (p. 57) despite the difficulties establishing such relationships. Care is particularly important in
mentoring relationships (Corwin, Cohen, Ciechanowski, & Orozco, 2012; Hansman, 2003; Harris,
2016; Johnson & Huwe, 2002; McGuire & Reger, 2003), both formal and organic. A caring relation-
ship can positively influence the power dynamics in a graduate mentoring relationship.

Developing Care and Socio-Emotional Learning


In her work on literacy that drew on previous work by Lynch and McLaughlin (1995), Feeley’s (2014)
argument supports the notion that care should be examined in doctoral study as it affects the “capac-
ity to absorb and retain new knowledge and skills” (p. 160). The volume of new knowledge that
must be consumed in graduate work is significant and often evokes anxiety and frustration in learn-
ers, so if maintaining caring relationships “allows us to enter hopefully and confidently into learning
situations” (Feeley, 2006, p. 160), it is an important factor in student achievement. Feeley’s (2006)
work in adult literacy described deficits that developed in learners whose educational circumstances
lacked care. The inclusion of care in doctoral study then becomes an issue of social justice (Held,
1995, 2006; Lynch, Baker, & Lyons, 2009) and just as SEL is vital for effective development for di-
verse students, not just the dominant population (Hoffman, 2009; Zins, & Elias, 2007), caring rela-
tionships increase the chance for these students to find success in doctoral study. Student percep-
tions of the effects of teacher caring on learning (Teven & McCroskey, 1997) support this notion, as
does work focused on the views of teachers (Carnell, 2007).

Conventionally, the affective domain has not played a significant role in formal education (Lynch,
Lyons, & Cantillon, 2007), yet there have been calls for its inclusion to improve the climate of educa-
tional environments (Cohen, 2006). The stressful circumstances of doctoral study may be ameliorat-
ed by the presence of care, especially if teaching and learning are viewed as emotional practices in
graduate study (Hargreaves, 2000, 2001, 2005).

Several previous studies have reviewed the gendered nature of care and the perception that affective
aspects of education occur naturally (Drudy, 2008; Gannerud, 2001; Sarikakis, 2003). As the acade-
my has traditionally been male-dominated, conventional teaching practices should be examined as
increasing numbers of female students pursue doctoral degrees. Understanding that care is not nec-
essarily gendered, but can be effectively learned and developed in teaching techniques, reflects the
need to examine standard teaching methods in doctoral programs. Theories of care call for relational
responsibility where both students and faculty members have a responsibility to build caring relation-
ships through a reflective process (Hermsen & Embregts, 2015; McLeod, 2015).

Despite the plethora of extant literature concerning doctoral student experiences related to socializa-
tion, the significance of socio-emotional learning, and the importance of care as a facilitator of
learning, there are gaps in the literature connecting doctoral students in the first stage of their studies
to affective learning. This study will fill that gap.

The study used a phenomenological methodology based on the work of Moustakas (1994), Van
Manen (1997), and Baptiste (2008). It represents original qualitative research focusing on the initial
experiences of returning adult doctoral students in the field of education during the first semester of
their studies. As an investigation of two different cohorts of Ph. D. and Ed. D. students, the re-
search offers insights into the experiences of both scholarly and professional program students, as
well as full-time and part-time students.

We conducted seven semi-structured interviews of 60-90 minutes. A single interview of each partic-
ipant was audio-recorded and transcribed. The sample size was 14 potential subjects from two dif-
ferent doctoral programs. With seven students participating in the study, our response rate was 50

The research questions included the following: (1) How does care, both informal and formal, support
learning in doctoral students? (2) How does the relational aspect of teaching and learning present
itself in doctoral study? (3) What characteristics of socio-emotional learning are visible in doctoral

Rogers-Shaw & Carr-Chellman


students and how does student use of these traits contribute to success? Table 1 presents the specif-
ic questions asked during the interviews.

Table 1. Interview Questions

Interview Questions Prompts to Elicit Richer, More In-
Depth Responses

1. Tell me a little about your personal, educational, and
professional background.

a. parental attitudes about important
b. quality of relationships
c. purpose of significant activities, e.g.
school/area of study choices, job choic-
es, lifestyle choices

2. How did you become a person interested in doctoral

a. meaningful events that occurred
b. goals
c. dissatisfaction with status quo
d. students you interacted with
e. children
f. prior professional experiences
g. future effect of doctorate on career

3. Tell me about your life/typical day outside of your
work and school.

a. family, friends
b. recreation, hobbies, outside interests,
free time

4. How did your doctoral study affect your typical day? a. work, class, personal, study

5. How would you describe your personal and profession-
al relationships inside and outside the doctoral program at
this point?

a. changes/consistency, reasons for
changes, reasons for consistencies
b. supportive ones vs. unsupportive
c. conversations about your studies with
those inside and outside the program

6. Given your life before entering a doctoral program and
your life at this point in the doctoral program, how would
you characterize yourself as a student?

a. the same person now as you were in
August or different
b. reasons for changes and lack of
c. value of first semester experience
d. initial thoughts and feelings
e. final thoughts and feelings

7. What makes for a good student? a. k-12 classroom, undergraduate, doc-

Developing Care and Socio-Emotional Learning


Interview Questions Prompts to Elicit Richer, More In-
Depth Responses

8. What were some of your successes? What personal
traits, skills, and people did you rely on to find success?

a. excitement at the start of the pro-
b. participation in class, reading assign-
ments, writing assignments, projects
c. study time
d. areas of strength that brought confi-

9. What were some of your failures/struggles? What per-
sonal traits, skills, and people did you rely on to support
you as you faced these challenges?

a. anxiety at the start of the program
b. participation in class, reading assign-
ments, writing assignments, projects
c. study time
d. areas of concern that caused worry

Seven first year returning adult doctoral students studying education were interviewed. The two in-
stitutions the students attended were from different Northeastern locations in the United States. Fo-
cusing on first semester experiences allowed a vision of a distinctly challenging and understudied
time period in doctoral studies. The participants were a diverse group that revealed that students
from different backgrounds had varied experiences, reflecting their own subjectivities in relation to
doctoral study.

Pam, Melissa, Debbie, and Linda were part-time students; Susan, Lynn, and Shelly studied full-
time. Pam, Melissa, and Debbie attended a small private college and were studying Educational
Leadership in a three-year professional cohort program. Linda, Susan, Lynn, and Shelly were in an
Adult Education program at a large research university.

Initially the transcripts were examined inductively using interpretive phenomenological analysis (Crist
& Tanner, 2003; Moustakas, 1994). Hand coding revealed 19 potential areas to explore. Topics relat-
ed to learning care included: serving others, social justice, family support, academic community, out-
side community, relationships, measuring success, mentoring, and frustration. Further analysis identi-
fied the emergent themes of promoting social justice by helping others, benefitting from supportive
relationships within the academic community, and maintaining personal relationships that provided
support (Carr-Chellman & Rogers-Shaw, 2017).

The goal of interpretive, or hermeneutical, phenomenology is to describe the essence of an experi-
ence through the interpretation of texts, including human actions, expressions, or any observable
human phenomenon. Interpretive phenomenology emphasizes the role of the researcher as instru-
ment and interpreter, demonstrating a stronger Heideggarian influence, more so than traditional
phenomenology’s more Husserlian emphasis on bracketing. In this way, intentionality, situatedness,
reflexivity, and interpretation are the primary tools for accessing and describing the essence of an
experience. Following Moustakas (1994), we sought to transform the lived experience of our partici-
pants into a textual expression of its essence using several specific steps. Our inductive process was

Rogers-Shaw & Carr-Chellman


driven by constant comparative analysis though which emergent themes are recognized in the data
and evolve as the phenomenological analysis proceeds. In following Moustakas’ basic approach, our
steps included horizonalization, thematizing, and composite textural and structural description.

The characteristics of socio-emotional learning, the elements of the ethics of care, and learning care
features were then deductively applied to the transcripts using Quirkos, a qualitative analysis software
program. The initial codes included: self-awareness (identifying emotions, accurate self-perception,
recognizing strengths, self-confidence, self-efficacy); social awareness (perspective-taking, empathy,
appreciating diversity, respect for others); responsible decision-making (identifying problems, analyz-
ing situations, solving problems, evaluating, reflecting, ethical responsibility); self-management (im-
pulse control, stress management, self-discipline, self-motivation, goal setting, organizational skills);
relationship skills (communication, social engagement, relationship building, teamwork) (CASEL,
2017); cared for, caring for and caring about; receptive attention and reciprocity; modelling; dialogue;
practice; confirmation (Smith, 2004, 2016); respect, recognition and representation; power; resources;
and solidarity and relationships (Feeley, 2014). During the iterative process of analysis, some code
categories were merged as it became apparent that there was significant overlap and little distinction
in the interpretation between individual categories such as relationship skills and solidarity and rela-
tionships or caring about and social awareness. Coding focused on the larger category levels such as
self-awareness rather than the sub-categories like identifying emotions or accurate self-
perception. Future analysis should delve deeper into breaking the larger themes into smaller units of

Quirkos is a software package that “allows users to code, retrieve and manage data from large text-
based qualitative sources, with findings delivered in a visual format” (Bainbridge, 2014, para. 1). It
was designed by Daniel Turner in 2014, and it uses “live visualisations of the themes that develop as
researchers work, creating visual reports in the form of an interactive ‘bubble graph’ to make qual
data more engaging and easier to understand” (Bainbridge, 2014, para. 3). The bubbles, or quirks,
increase in size as more text is highlighted and dragged to that category so it is easy to recognize the
most significant themes as they emerge. The program also provides a view of theme clusters that
reveal the links between the themes (Turner, 2016).

As qualitative researchers who are comfortable hand-coding through the use of color highlighting,
spreadsheets, and charts, we found the experience of using Quirkos positive. Because we were using
a deductive process to review data we had previously analyzed inductively, we had a set of themes
with which to examine the interview transcripts. We used the characteristics of socio-emotional
learning, the ethics of care, and learning care traits. It was simple to set these elements as the the-
matic quirks, import the interview transcripts, and begin highlighting the text and dragging it to the
appropriate bubble. It was easy to identify the themes that were more prevalent and those that over-

As seen in Figures 1 and 2, the most prevalent themes included self-awareness and solidari-
ty/relationships, followed by self-management. Social awareness, responsible decision-making, re-
spect/recognition/representation and confirmation were themes in the next level of frequency.

Developing Care and Socio-Emotional Learning


Figure 1. Graph of Deductive Themes

Initially the data was coded using categories of relationship skills that included communication, social
engagement, relationship building, teamwork and solidarity/relationships. As it became clear that
quotes from one category also fit in other groups, these quirks, or themes, were combined, making
solidarity/relationships one of the larger topics. The same situation emerged with the codes for so-
cial awareness that originally separated perspective-taking, empathy, appreciating diversity, respect for
others, and caring about that included social justice, but was later combined. Further analysis should
examine these categories more closely, looking for more precise differentiation between the sub-

Figure 2. Quirk View of Deductive Themes

As seen in Figures 3 and 4, there was also significant overlap between several themes. For example,
responses identified as self-awareness, one of the most significant themes, included quotations that
also fit the themes of self-management, solidarity/relationships, decision-making, and re-
spect/recognition/representation. Participant statements that recognized their strengths and weak-
nesses often related to self-management as they discussed how they managed stress, how they main-

Rogers-Shaw & Carr-Chellman


tained motivation and academic discipline, how they organized their time in order to accomplish
tasks and meet responsibilities and how they set goals.

Figure 3. Overlapping of Self-Awareness Quirks/Themes

The second major category, solidarity/relationships, also included appreciable overlap with self-
awareness, confirmation, reciprocity, self-management, respect/recognition/representation, and car-
ing for. While the links between relationships and self-awareness were discussed, additional connec-
tions are important.

Figure 4. Overlapping of Solidarity/Relationships Quirks/Themes

For our participants, the characteristics of SEL that resonated most with them in terms of their suc-
cess during the first year of doctoral studies included self-awareness, solidarity and relationships, self-
management, social awareness and social justice, decision-making, and respect, recognition, and rep-
resentation. These characteristics contributed to their success as they were able to draw on their

Developing Care and Socio-Emotional Learning


strengths, seek support to overcome weaknesses, and pursue their goals of enhancing helping careers
while studying on the doctoral level.

Building capacity for success during the first year of doctoral study involves the cultivation of care in
several key relationships as well as the development of socio-emotional learning. Our analysis of the
data revealed prominent themes, but also significant overlap between several of those themes. This
overlap is best expressed in our discussion through the characteristics and qualities of care and socio-
emotional learning. More specifically, this discussion translates our results into key notions of care
and central concepts of socio-emotional learning through the words of our participants.

Students recognized the necessity of staying motivated. Shelly described both inner drive and out-
side supporters as essential when she said, “I think you have to have like a, a cheerleader… some-
body that says this is important, . . . you know anything to motivate you. But I also think that there
are certain people that have the motivation within them without the cheerleader.” She went on to cite
the importance of passion, “If you have something that allows you to be passionate about whatever
it is that you’re doing, I think that continues the motivation. It’s the reason to continue. Like how do
we make it better? How do we change it?” Lynn described being motivated by a peer’s actions. She
saw her classmate proactively reaching out to professors and realized she needed to follow this ex-
ample. Pam stated:

I have the same work ethic; I just have to manage more work now. I have the same drive; I
just have to dig a little deeper and I need a little more drive to get these additional responsi-
bilities that I’ve taken on to get them completed. I think what’s different is it expands your
mind. You’re learning things you didn’t know before.

Participants attributed their academic discipline to perseverance, drive and work ethic.

Some of the same traits helped students handle stress. Stress is clearly part of being a doctoral stu-
dent, and the participants were aware of its presence in their lives. They found various ways to han-
dle stress. Pam stated, “I would say on the stress Richter scale I’m way over where anyone should be.
But I’m a good time manager so I’ll just have to work it out. I’ll have to get it done.” Susan said:

I feel like having a kid makes you have to play and rest more than if I were all by myself. So I
don’t get to do . . . I can’t do work all the time. I have to like run around at the park and read
books. And so I have that built into my schedule, which is great.

Employing socio-emotional skills led to successful stress management.

Goal-setting was discussed in terms of the doctoral community and the similarities and differences
between students. Pam revealed that “By and large it’s been very good. Everyone wants the same
thing. They want to learn everything they can learn and they want to finish the dissertation. We all
have the common goals,” and Linda explained, “I really believe that everybody should be able to kind
of do what they want to do with their lives. Reach their goals. Self-actualize. But that’s going to look
so different for each of us.” Participants used their socio-emotional skills to meet their own goals.

Rogers-Shaw & Carr-Chellman


Melissa recognized the importance of time management as she said, “I mean you plan and I’m, I’m
very good at time management. That’s my strength,” and Linda acknowledged the need to handle
stress as she stated, “I work well under pressure. So that’s one trait that I have had to rely on.” Sev-
eral participants talked about the tasks they no longer fit into their schedules because they had to pri-
oritize schoolwork: “Fitness and exercise and all of that stuff you know I feel like that’s totally gone
out the window” (Linda); “I would say there’s close to no relaxation. Like I’ve had to give up yoga all
together” (Pam); “Housework has had to kind of be let go and not be a priority…. I don’t spend as
much time doing you know cleaning the house or working outside” (Linda); “House cleaning kind of
went to the, went to the side. Grocery shopping was intermittent …. like all of the other duties and
responsibilities you had they kind of go by the wayside” (Debbie). Participants talked about the dif-
ficulties of maintaining a positive family life. Pam explained:

So yeah that’s been, that’s been challenging because you don’t want to take away from your
relationship with [grandchildren] because we have so much fun together and we’re very
close…. it’s very hard to say no to a two-year-old who just wants to hang out with you…. So
I would say that the biggest change is that I have to be stronger in saying I’m going to the li-
brary now.

Other respondents added, “Yeah and my mom is really interested, but I often also don’t have much
time to talk” (Susan); “My laundry is to the ceiling. And [my husband and sons] barely get fed.
They’re learning to be chefs themselves and make for me because they still are at home. So they’ve
stepped up to the plate for sure” (Melissa). Family relationships are significant for maintaining a car-
ing environment.

These doctoral students were very conscious of the decisions they made, particularly those that led
to their doctoral study, and the reasons behind these decisions, illustrating the connections between
self-awareness and decision-making. In order to pursue doctoral study, participants made a series of
decisions over many years that prepared them to begin their studies. They made educational deci-
sions about what to study as both undergraduate and masters’ students. Lynn and Susan were both
influenced by study abroad experiences. Other participants made career decisions as well. Debbie,
Linda, and Shelly’s career change decisions led to study in a new field they wished to pursue, while
Susan and Melissa’s doctorate will provide additional opportunities in their current jobs. Participants
took diverse paths, yet they all arrived at doctoral study after a series of crucial decisions. Their con-
scious decision-making reveals their self-awareness; doctoral study did not occur by happenstance.

In their discussion of the relationships that supported them throughout their study, they clearly iden-
tified emotions triggered by these relationships, and they discussed how those who cared for them
helped them to recognize their own strengths and gain more self-confidence, providing evidence of
the link between self-awareness and solidarity/relationships. Linda described an undergraduate pro-
fessor who took an interest in her and encouraged her, and she described the importance of family in
maintaining her equilibrium, “A typical day really involves just being with my son. You know doing,
playing with him, going places with him. And just kind of being with my husband and my
son.” Melissa described her husband as her “biggest cheerleader . . . I think that is so key for anyone,
for students, for anyone is to have that person that is always going to, is always going to be there,”
and her mother who “encourages me to be the best that I can be. And I’ll say this . . . it’s that my
mom taught me somehow that if you work hard enough your dreams will come true.” Pam de-
scribed growing up “in a very service oriented family” where she “could just hear my mother going,

Developing Care and Socio-Emotional Learning


you got, you got to work with her. You’re the one . . . do it. Just do it. You’ve got to help this girl
through this, you know,” inspiring her to follow a career in special education.
Participants also expressed self-awareness when they acknowledged feeling respected and recognized
by peers and professors in their programs; as they saw themselves represented in others, they con-
cluded that they belonged in a doctoral program and became more aware of themselves as capable
doctoral students. Recognized achievement on assignments was particularly affirming for these doc-
toral students. Pam talked about her early success:

So I think it was very, very enjoyable and it was easy for me to do those [initial] readings and
make those connections to my own practice. And it was very self-affirming. So I felt like ear-
ly on the first course you take is servant leadership. And I felt like I just kicked butt in that
class because everything we read I could find a connection to my own practice. And so I got
a lot of positive feedback from classmates and a lot of positive feedback from the crabby
professor who happens to love this topic as well.

Susan also commented on the importance of having her success recognized. She said:

I just submitted a book review to the applied linguistics class. That was one of the things . . .
assignments and [the professor] said to consider submitting it for publication.… And she
wrote back and said [I] don’t need to change anything. This is amazing. And I was expecting
like you know pages of [corrections]. And I thought well I didn’t expect that.

Respect and recognition were important elements of caring relationships for the participants.

Participants appreciated the confirmation they received from family members, peers, and professors
that they belonged in a doctoral program and had the academic skills to be successful. Susan talked
about the importance of sharing ideas and academic experiences with her husband:

My husband. I feel like there’s no way I could do it if he were sort of lukewarm about it or
not … he is extremely committed to making sure that I can do what I need to do. My hus-
band is interested in adult learning because he works at the co-working space downtown and
so they do a lot of actual adult education. And so he’s … like he read some of the books
from my, my class last semester and he’s always interested.

Melissa described the confirmation she received from her peers:

So one of the first projects that we had due … I want the authentic feedback. So they gave
that, but what they also gave was that the writing was clear and that it told a story and that it
was engaging, which made me feel like wow okay. Then maybe I do belong here.

Pam related how she felt when her professor gave her positive feedback on an assignment:

And then [the professor] said [Pam], this is excellent. [Pam], this is perfect. And, and he’s re-
ally hard to please and he’s so . . . He just . . . he sets a high bar and he’s very . . . He’s picky,
and that’s okay. But he kept saying you know oh this was excellent. This was so great. You
did a great job. And he doesn’t typically say those things. So I thought like wow you know. …
And I thought oh my God this . . . I did this. And I get it.

These instances of confirmation motivated the participants and led to additional successful experi-

Mentors were important in providing that confirmation as the participants made the decision to pur-
sue doctoral study, and peer relationships were particularly influential once the students began their
programs as they experienced respectful and reciprocal interactions with cohort members. Debbie
recalled, “I don’t necessarily think that I thought that … I would be in this program, but my mentor
… once I finished that master’s program, she was like … I really think that you should consider get-
ting a doctorate,” and Melissa related the importance of peers when she said, “I will say our cohort is

Rogers-Shaw & Carr-Chellman


so supportive of each other. We text each other. We’re on a group chat. We email each other. We
share ideas. We pick each other up.”

Reciprocity was also present in family relationships that provided students with support in complet-
ing life tasks at home and managing time and commitments. Linda said:

My husband is a wonderful, wonderful person. We have a very kind of give and take equality
in our relationship. So he’s picked up a ton of stuff as far as maintenance of the house and
helping to balance everything. So he’s really freed up a lot of you know time for me, particu-
larly on the weekends if I need to get a paper done or something.

The support of her husband facilitated Linda’s learning and contributed to her success.

The significant addition in this overlap was the presence of caring for as participants’ reasons for
engaging in doctoral study were often rooted in their care for others in their family and their caring
about marginalized populations in society. Shelly, a single mother with a daughter who has a learning
disability, talked about initially pursuing graduate study in order to improve her employment oppor-
tunities: “I knew that if I didn’t educate myself further that my earning potential would be limited …
to support her became my focus…. then it turned into more about showing [my daughter] that it was
possible. That’s why I continue.” Lynn investigated workforce education, but she found that in this
area, “Nobody was interested in immigrants or nobody was interested in talking about the marginal-
ized,” yet an earlier study abroad program had “[given her] motivation and grew [her] interest toward
[working with] the marginalized [people]” so she pursued her doctorate in adult education.

The study results clearly indicate that care in doctoral study facilitates learning and contributes to
student success and feelings of well-being. Students used and further developed socio-emotional
skills, particularly in building supportive and caring relationships. They maintained motivation, man-
aged their time and stress, pursued their goals, and continued to make thoughtful decisions through-
out their first year. The caring relationships they developed with family, friends, and faculty members
reflected their self-awareness, illustrated reciprocal respect, provided recognition, and acknowledged
achievement, confirming their suitability as doctoral students and contributing to their initial success.
As our participants articulated, care and socio-emotional learning were key factors in their successful
first year of doctoral study.

According to Elias (2003), the first tenet of socio-emotional learning is that “learning requires care”
(p. 8). The participants in this study clearly used socio-emotional skills to build caring relationships
that supported their learning. Their self-awareness was a key factor in their establishment of these
significant relationships. Their self-management was important as they handled the stress of balanc-
ing family, work, and academic demands. Feeley (2014) argued that “learning care is less about sen-
timent and more about skilled, respectful learning facilitation” (p. 168); this was particularly evident
in the relationships students developed with mentors, professors, and peers. These caring relation-
ships provided validation that the students belonged in doctoral programs and would be successful in
doctoral study, reinforcing the many decisions they made over time that led to their doctoral study.

As “the complex role of care is often unrecognized, undervalued and overshadowed” (Feeley, 2014,
p. 157), particularly in the most advanced levels of education, it is important for doctoral programs
to examine what can be done to enhance relationship-building in order to increase the success of
students. This study supports the idea that “[e]ffective, lasting academic and social-emotional learn-
ing is built upon caring relationships and warm but challenging classroom and school environments”
(Elias, 2006, p. 7) and calls for more attention to care in doctoral study.

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Carol Rogers-Shaw is a Ph. D. candidate in Lifelong Learning and Adult
Education at the Pennsylvania State University. She earned a B.A. and an
M.A. in English, as well as an M.S. in Education with a concentration in
Reading from Fordham University. Certified as both a secondary school
teacher and supervisor, she taught high school English for over 30 years.
Having taught extensively in a program that transitioned learning disabled
adolescents, English language learners, and socio-economically disadvan-
taged students with weak basic skills into mainstream classes, she devel-
oped a strong interest in providing educational opportunities for margin-
alized students. Her research interests include increasing access to higher
education and lifelong learning, distance education, stigma and disability
disclosure, Universal Design for Learning, identity development of learn-

ers with disabilities, and doctoral and graduate study.

Rogers-Shaw & Carr-Chellman


Dr. Davin Carr-Chellman is an assistant professor of education in the
Adult, Organizational Learning and Leadership Program in the College
of Education, Health and Human Sciences at the University of Ida-
ho. He joined the faculty at the University of Idaho in 2016 and has an
ongoing research agenda focused on individual, organizational, and
community capacity building, especially within the framework of adult
learning and agency. The specific contexts for his investigations include
religious organizations, public schools, online education, and doctoral and
graduate education. Davin received his Ph.D. from Penn State in Adult
Education with a focus on ethical development in community based con-
texts. His B.A. and M.A. are in philosophy and are also from Penn State.

Dr. Carr-Chellman has 20 years of university level teaching experience and has been recognized as a
dedicated educator, earning several teaching awards.

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