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Research On The Doctoral Defense

Research on the doctoral defense

As I was writing my parts for our co-authored book about the doctoral defense, it struck me how little research has been done on the emotional dimension of the defense. So, I set out to gather data on the topic.

My first finding is that minorities experience the doctoral defense differently than those from the majority. There is a clear difference for those who self-identify as women PhD candidate during the defense, and those who self-identify as men.

You may find the findings of my article Students’ Perceptions of Doctoral Defense in Relation to Sociodemographic Characteristics interesting – it’s published open access and the dataset is available in the public domain as well.

Here’s the abstract of the paper:

The doctoral defense is considered to have three dimensions: the scholarly dimension, the emotional (affective) dimension, and the cultural dimension. In this work, I explore the link between sociodemographic factors and students’ perception of the doctoral defense to better understand the affective dimension. In particular, I focus on gender, ethnicity, and age at the time of defense, as well as current position and field of study. To address the influence of these aspects on the affective dimension of the doctoral defense, I first reviewed the literature on these sociodemographic aspects as well as the affective dimension of the defense. I then carried out an international survey on doctoral defenses, defense formats, and students’ perceptions and analyzed the 204 completed surveys for this study using quantitative and qualitative methods. The analysis included cross-correlations between students’ perceptions and the studied sociodemographic aspects. The main results of these analyses are that gender affects various aspects of the students’ perception of the doctoral defense and long-term perception, and that female candidates experience more issues with their committee. Ethnicity is important as well, although the participation of non-white respondents in this survey was limited. The influence of age at the defense is limited, and only for the youngest and oldest age groups did I observe some differences in perception. There is no relation between current position and perception of the candidates during the defense. Finally, field of study is correlated for various aspects of student perception, committee issues, and long-term perception. The conclusion of this work is that sociodemographic aspects, and in particular gender, ethnicity, and field of study, influence how doctoral candidates experience their defense.

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