Saturday, May 10, 2008

Interesting.... for all.. a motivation

I've recently received an interestingpaper that study the behaviour of phD's student but I think it is usefull to all of us no matter we are still undergoing our masters. I will published the extract from time to time but if u wish to read the full version... just email me at: i will email the pdf full version.

Innovation in PhD completion: the hardy shall succeed (and be happy!)
Hugh Kearns*, Maria Gardiner and Kelly Marshall
Staff Development and Training Unit, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia
(Received 30 September 2005; final version received 18 February 2007)

What is it that makes a PhD such a difficult process, and prevents candidates from completing
on time? In this paper, we propose that self-sabotaging behaviours, including overcommitting,
procrastination and perfectionism, have a role to play. At Flinders University, we have developed a program in which we work with PhD students to help to reduce these behaviours
and give them the strategies and attitudes they need to successfully (and happily!) complete
their thesis. The program utilises cognitive–behavioural coaching, an evidence-based strategy
that we claim leads to significant and long-term behavioural change. An evaluation of the
program indicates that it is very successful, improving students’ ability to manage their time,
set specific times for writing, and show work to their supervisor regularly, and that these
behaviours were associated with lower levels of stress and improved ability to complete.
Keywords: cognitive–behavioural coaching; PhD completion; PhD students; self-sabotage;

The secret life of the PhD student

You’re sitting at your desk ready to start writing; it’s 9.30 a.m. You think, “I’ll just check my
emails for 10 minutes and then I’ll get started on my literature review.” You open up your email
and find there’s one from your supervisor asking if your draft is ready. You quickly send it to the
trash and check the next one. It’s from an honours student in your department saying they can’t
find a particular reference and since it’s your field do you know where to find it. You think, “It’ll
only take a few minutes, I’ll just do a quick check.” So you log onto to the library electronic journals.

Eventually, with a sense of great satisfaction, it’s found and emailed off to the grateful
honours student.

It’s 10.15 a.m. “Well,” you think, “I may as well just get the rest of these emails cleared”; glassware not cleaned in lab yesterday – send back saying it wasn’t me; astronomical society bash tonight – send back saying sorry, can’t come; interesting reference from co-supervisor – send back saying thanks, and go look up reference – feel very satisfied when found, printed, stapled and put in pile with 40 other articles. It is now 11.00 a.m. “Well, it’s been a busy morning, surely it’s time for a cup of coffee.” You meet a few friends in the coffee room and chat about the latest techniques for grafting boils to blue tongued sleepy lizards. It’s 11.30 a.m. As it’s only an hour until lunch you think there’s not much point in trying to start the lit review now, so you organise some references and put them into Endnote. It’s 12.30 p.m. and, with a sigh of relief, you head off for lunch. At 1.30 p.m. you come back and now feel a little tired, so think ‘I’ll just do something a bit easy until I feel more motivated.’ It’s 2.30 p.m. and another PhD student knocks on the door and asks for help with calibrating her super-sensitive bio-liquid. You are really good at this so you help and, after all, she’s helped you with Endnote in the past. After this you rush back into your office. It’s 4.30 p.m. You’re late, so you shut down your computer, grab your bag and rush out.

Your supervisor walks past and asks you how your day was. You say, “Great – very busy, did a lot”, but you have to rush now because you’re late for a meeting of the Faculty Higher Degrees Completion Committee and you are its representative!

This story is, in our experience, typical of some PhD students. They’re busy, but at the end of
some days, they don’t seem to have made much progress on their PhD. In recent years, there has been a push to get PhD students through faster, increasing the pressure on them to progress at a quicker rate. This was accelerated by the release of the Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs’ discussion paper, New Knowledge, New Opportunities (Kemp, 1999b), and the policy statement, Knowledge and Innovation (Kemp, 1999a). Among many other developments, these papers resulted in the introduction of the Research Training Scheme (RTS). The RTS dictated how universities were to receive a proportion of their funding. Under this new system, the bulk of performance-based funding was now dependent on ensuring the timely completion of postgraduate research students (Barnacle & Usher, 2003). Coinciding with this, the whole PhD process was undergoing a transition, from the traditional model of scholarship to a newer framework, focused on research training and the development of skills (Deem & Brehony, 2000). This was to forge a closer alignment between the education system and national economic goals (Leveson, 2000).

Subsequent to these policy changes was a dramatic increase in the number of Generic Capabilities (GC) programs provided by Australian universities (Borthwick & Wissler, 2003).
Although the area of GC training has been fraught with problems of inadequate definition (Gilbert et al., 2004), Borthwick and Wissler (2003) describe generic capabilities as skills desirable for a smooth transition from a degree to the workplace, but which may not be learnt during the traditional attainment of a research higher degree. The increased pressure to ensure candidates complete on time in order to receive additional funding, as well as the emphasis from the government on developing skills relevant to the workforce, saw the need for programs designed to aid completion of students’ degrees, and which would also assist in their transition to the workforce (DDOGS, 1999), hence the push for GC training. Borthwick and Wissler (2003) conducted a thorough review and analysis of GC programs in Australian universities. Their review showed that in 2003 GC programs existed in the majority of universities surveyed. The most common types of GC programs were leadership, communication, and project management, although other types of programs included self-development, stress management, and team work. Despite such programs being well liked and well attended (Borthwick & Wissler, 2003; Gilbert et al., 2004), there is little objective evidence for the effect or value of such programs to the students. This is not surprising, given the relatively short time frame in which these programs have been operating.

At Flinders University we have developed a GC program that focuses on providing skills to
PhD students that will enable them to complete their PhD faster but which can also relate to various domains beyond their candidature. As part of the program, we have also implemented an evaluation strategy to determine the objective benefits of such a scheme. As a foundation for our GC program, we have drawn extensively on the literature examining factors related to timely PhD completions. Much of the research in this area has examined the effect of demographic or situational factors on completions. For example, it has been found that those in the science-based disciplines (Seagram, Gould & Pyke, 1998), studying full-time (National Centre for Education Studies, 1996), on scholarships (Seagram et al., 1998), with prior research experience (Latona & Browne, 2001) and with high-quality supervision (Dinham & Scott, 1999; Seagram et al., 1998) are more likely to finish faster.
Manathunga (2002), however, took a more psychological approach to identifying factors
related to time to complete. She identified four ‘warning signs’ to indicate that students were not
making progress on their PhD. These indicators include: constantly changing topic, avoiding
communication with their supervisor, isolating themselves from their department and other
academics, and not submitting their work for review. Ahern and Manathunga’s (2004) work
extended this, discussing the concept of ‘academic procrastination’, which relates to putting off
academic tasks, a behaviour commonly displayed by students who are ‘stuck’. Their research
focused on ways of helping these ‘stuck’ students to get moving again. They suggested that these
blocks occur in one of three domains: cognitive, affective or social, and that by investigating these blocks, supervisors can attempt to resolve the issues and improve the student’s progress.
In our research, we focus on cognitive and emotional blocks, specifically the underlying
thoughts and feelings that prevent students from making progress on their PhD. As such, we
have adopted a program of generic skills training that focuses specifically on developing cognitive
and emotional skills for PhD students. These include programs titled: ‘The Seven Secrets of
Highly Successful PhD Students’; ‘Self-sabotage: What it is and What You Can Do About it’;
‘Your PhD: The Emotional Roller Coaster’; and ‘The Life Cycle of the PhD’. One particular
program, which was formulated around a variety of past evidence-based courses including
cognitive-behavioural principles (e.g. Gardiner, Lovell & Williamson, 2004), was developed
specifically for PhD students. The program, known as ‘Getting Your Thesis Finished: Defeating
Self-sabotage Intensive Series’, has been completed by 63 students over the past 3 years.
The aim of the program is to teach students the underlying cognitive strategies and attitudes
needed to complete their PhD on time, reduce stress, manage their time and workload better,
and generally improve their psychological hardiness and resilience. In other words, to avoid the
academic procrastination and other ‘blocks’ discussed by Ahern and Manathunga (2004) and
which the student in the opening vignette displays abundantly. These skills, which we term selfmanagement skills, are designed to not only help students to complete their PhD more quickly and with less distress, but also to impact positively on their long-term career and life goals. The particular theoretical principles that underlie the program relate to the concepts of
academic procrastination, as discussed by Ahern and Manathunga (2004). Specifically, we address the idea of self-sabotage (or self-handicapping), the process of creating obstacles to your goals – whether real or imagined – so that if failure occurs you have a plausible excuse (Berglas & Jones, 1978). Martin and colleagues (2003) suggest that in competitive environments such as academia, in which a high level of performance is expected, self-sabotaging strategies are highly likely to occur. In addition, Greenberg (1985) found that people are more likely to self-handicap when the task involved is very important to them. The PhD process is a prime example of these conditions and may increase the likelihood that self-handicapping will occur throughout candidature. Although not examined specifically in PhD students, studies have shown that up to 95% of university undergraduate students display some form of self-handicapping (Ellis & Knaus, 1977; Onwuegbuzie, 1999; Solomon & Rothblum, 1984). Self-handicapping is also associated with negative outcomes for students, such as academic underachievement (Garcia, 1995; Zuckerman, Kieffer & Knee, 1998), poorer study habits (Zuckerman et al., 1998) and poor time management strategies (Garcia, 1995). Self-handicapping in academia is likely to manifest in many different ways. From the extensive literature on the topic, we have compiled a list of self-handicapping behaviours commonly displayed by PhD students. These include: overcommitting (Koszegi, 2000), busyness (Silvera, 2000), perfectionism (Greenberg, 1985), procrastination (Ellis & Knaus, 1977; Martin et al., 2003; Onwuegbuzie, 1999; Solomon & Rothblum, 1984), disorganisation (Norem, 2001), not putting in effort (Bailis, 2001; Urdan & Midgley, 2001), and choosing performance-debilitating circumstances (Sanna & Mark, 1995).
To Be Continued...

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