Social support and identity development in the journey from PhD 'student' to 'researcher' and beyond
thesisposted on 29.03.2022, 03:01 by Lilia Mantai
This thesis explores how doctoral candidates become researchers. Despite a substantial body of literature on doctoral education, how PhD candidates develop researcher identities, both internalised (feeling like a researcher) and externalised (being recognised and performing as one), largely remains a mystery. In this thesis, the PhD is framed as a journey of becoming. It uses McAlpine's (2012) theoretical framework of identity-trajectory that conceives candidates as composites of their past experiences, present circumstances and future aspirations. It positions the candidate as an active agent in their personal and professional development. The aim of this thesis is to explore the doctoral experience in regards to the identity development of students becoming researchers within the social aspects of the PhD. This research draws on three lines of empirical data using a mixed methods approach: (1) focus groups and interviews with 64 doctoral candidates from two research-intensive Australian universities, at the beginning and final stages of their PhDs, (2) 79 doctoral thesis acknowledgements, and (3) autoethnography. The findings demystify candidates' researcher identity development by presenting a nuanced and empirically supported understanding of how doctoral students become researchers. They point to issues of candidates' exclusion from professional communities and the risk of developing narrow researcher identities in contrast to candidates' diverse professional needs and outcomes. Research findings show candidates pro-actively engage in various practices beyond their PhD research to develop researcher identities for various employment contexts and to increase their perceived employability. This thesis argues that researcher identity development in the PhD is facilitated by social and collaborative practices, as well as diverse academic and other professional development and learning experiences. It suggests that PhD programs should be refocused to increase the level of connectedness of candidates with academic and other professional communities, facilitate more collaborative practices during PhDs, and support students' agency in engaging in professional development practices early on.