The Doctoral Candidate and the Dissertation Chair Relationship

Concurrent Session 4

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Brief Abstract

Attrition and extended completion times are common in Doctoral programs.  A literature gap exists regarding the Chair-Candidate relationship implications on the overall doctoral experience and completion time.  This quantitative study will discover strategies which positively build the Chair-Candidate relationship to enhance the candidate’s overall experience and completion time.


Dr. Matasha MurrellJones is a Global Business Educator. She has over ten years experience facilitating courses in Higher Education on campus, online, as well as in the blended classroom format. Dr. MurrellJones has earned degrees in Marketing, International Business, and Organizational Leadership. Dr. Murrell Jones has conducted research in the areas of employee morale and retention, academic writing, scholarship, and mentorship. Dr. Murrell Jones has published articles in International Journals and presented her work at conferences globally. Dr. MurrellJones has a passion to research and explore education, diversity, social issues and disparities globally.

Additional Authors

Dr. Imani Akin works in higher education supporting dissertation candidates and dissertation chairs.

Extended Abstract

Developing the dissertation is done in isolation with the guidance of an expert researcher to support the new candidate. Studies have been conducted in the areas of retention and resilience in doctoral programs.  A gap in the literature exists regarding specific factors, such as the impact of the doctoral candidate and the dissertation chair relationship on the doctoral candidate’s experience, and timely completion of the dissertation (Cantwell, et. al, 2015; Fike & Fike, 2008; Lan & Lin, 2011).  A quantitative, correlational study can be conducted to discover the impact of the relationships of the doctoral candidate and the dissertation chair.

Many doctoral candidates struggle to complete the dissertation in a timely manner and have a favorable experience.  Emotions which emerge during the doctoral process, impact the well-being of the doctoral candidate and development of the dissertation (Cotterall, 2013; Gearity & Mertz, 2012; McAlpine & McKinnon, 2013).  The doctoral candidate and dissertation relationship are critical to the success and timeliness of the completion of the dissertation (Leijen, Lepp, & Remmik, 2016; Litalien & Guay, 2015). The aim of this research is to discover strategies which positively build the doctoral candidate and dissertation relationship to enhance the doctoral candidate’s overall experience and completion time.

Attrition from doctoral programs has consistently remained high over the last 50 years, even with the introduction of new programs and opportunities for success. Approximately 50 percent of all doctoral students drop out of the programs before completion ((Lovitts, 2001; MELS, 2012). This rate includes those doctoral candidates whom have earned fellowships (Wendler et. al, 2012).  Research in the area of the attrition of the doctoral learner has primarily focused on the doctoral candidates experience from the perspectives of the completion and attrition rates, time to degree, socialization processes, dissertation logistics, supervisory roles and relationships, gender and race, and disciplinary differences (Gardner, 2009). One reason for this large attrition rate is the relationship between the chair and candidate (Golde, 2005). This study seeks to study the doctoral candidate and dissertation relationship from the perspective of the length of time for completion and the emotions of the candidate throughout the process.

Hay (1995) posits the mentoring life cycle is comprised of four definable stages: initiation, establishment, maturing, and ending. Stage 1 is the initiation, orientation, or courtship stage. Stage 2 describes getting established in the mentorship, adolescence, dependency, nurturing, or the honeymoon stage. Stage 3 refers to maturing, developing, independence, or the autonomy stage. Stage 4 is the final stage and refers to the ending, termination, or divorce of the relationship.

Mentoring Enactment Theory (MET) was derived from the study of communication and personal relationships. MET proposes that proactive communication strategies assist with the development, maintenance, and restoring the mentorship relationship (Kalbfleisch, 2002,). MET provides base propositions for the use of various proactive communication strategies and application of the strategies for various mentorship situations. Nine propositions are included in MET which indicate the behavior of mentees and mentors throughout the mentorship relationship.

Audience engagement will include discussion as well as polling of shared experiences, and best practices.  Additional activities will include responses to role play and scenarios.


Cantwell, R., Bourke, S., Scevak, J., Holbrook, A., & Budd, J. (2017) Doctoral candidates as learners: a study of individual differences in responses to learning and its management, Studies in Higher Education, 4(2), 47-64, doi: 10.1080/03075079.2015.1034263

Cotterall, S. (2013). More than just a brain: Emotions and the doctoral experience. Higher Education Research and Development, 32, 174-187.

Fike, D. S., & Fike, R. (2008). Predictors of first-year student retention in the community college. Community College Review, 36(2), 68-89.

Gearity, B. T., & Mertz, N. (2012). From “Bitch” to “Mentor”: A Doctoral Student’s Story of Self-Change and Mentoring. The Qualitative Report, 17(30), 1-27. Retrieved from

Golde, C. M. (2005). The role of the department and discipline in doctoral student attrition: Lessons from four departments. Journal of Higher Education, 76, 669700. doi: 10.1353/jhe.2005.0039

Hay, J. (1995) Transformational Mentoring, McGraw­Hill Book Company 

Kalbfleisch, P. J. (2002). Communicating in mentoring relationships: A theory for enactment. Communication Theory, 12, 6369. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2885.2002.tb00259.x

Kalbfleisch, P. J. (2007). Mentoring enactment theory: Describing, explaining, and predicting communication in mentoring relationships. In B. R. Ragins & K. E. Kram (Eds.), The handbook of mentoring at work: Theory, research, and practice. Los Angeles, CA: Sage

Lan, Y., & Lin, P. (2011). Evaluation and improvement of student's question-posing ability in a web-based learning environment. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 27(4), 581-599. Retrieved from

Leijen, Ä., Lepp, L., & Remmik, M. (2016). Why did I drop out? Former students’ recollections about their study process and factors related to leaving the doctoral studies. Studies in Continuing Education, 38(2), 129-144.

Litalien, D., & Guay, F. (2015). Dropout intentions in PhD studies: A comprehensive model based on interpersonal relationships and motivational resources. Contemporary  Educational Psychology, 41, 218-231.

Lovitts, B. E. (2001). Leaving the ivory tower: The causes and consequences of departure from doctoral study. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

McAlpine, L., & McKinnon, M. (2013). Supervision – the most variable of variables: Student perspectives. Studies in Continuing Education, 35, 265-280.

McKimm, J., Jolie, C. and Hatter, M. (2007) Mentoring: Theory and Practice. Preparedness to Practice Project, Mentoring Scheme. Retrieved from

Ministry of Education, Leisure, and Sports (MELS). (2013). Education indicators: 2012 edition. Retrieved from http://www.mels.gouv.

Wendler, C., Bridgeman, B., Markle, R., Cline, F., Bell, N., McAllister, P., & Kent, J. (2012). Pathways through graduate school and into careers. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.