Academic identity development: Insights of doctoral students from Pakistan

The development of doctoral students’ academic identity is an emerging area of research. However, there is limited research that has investigated the roles and activities which contribute to the transitions students undergo in the journey towards the formation of an academic identity. Research of this nature has become especially relevant as a number of countries, especially developing countries, are seeking ways to engage and socialise doctoral students into a professional or academic identity during their studies. Pakistan is an example of a country which is trying to address these concerns. There has been an increase in doctoral enrolments in Pakistan, the site of this study, and the resulting growth in the number of those with PhDs has intensified competition for academic positions. The Higher Education Commission is struggling to provide sufficient support and resources to ensure doctoral programmes prepare graduates for professional roles and develop their academic identities. Recent reports indicate that doctoral students are facing numerous challenges which hinder their successful socialisation and academic identity development. This narrative study aimed to scope doctoral students’ expectations and experiences during their doctoral journey and transition towards an academic identity. The research focused on doctoral students in the field of Education. Six students from a prestigious Pakistan university were recruited through purposive sampling. All the participants were near to completing their PhD; they were working on their data analysis or waiting for their examination reports. All the participants intended to pursue academic careers upon completion of their studies. Each participant completed two online narrative interviews. Thematic analysis of the narrative interviews was completed using a guiding framework which integrated a doctoral socialisation perspective, a stage approach of doctoral education, and role identity theory. This framework provided rich opportunities to examine the role identity development of each of the students. The analysis of each case revealed that students’ academic identity development happened through shifts in their prominent role identities across three key institutional milestone stages. The students outlined different socialisation experiences and identification based on the prominent roles in each milestone stage. These prominent roles were consistent with their increasing competence, confidence, and independence to perform a range of academic activities. The first coursework stage developed students’ prominent role identity as that of a learner. They developed a prominent role identity as an emerging researcher in stage two when crafting and presenting their research proposal. In the final stage, when they were writing their dissertation, students developed a prominent role identity as an emerging academic. In this stage students continued and expanded the researcher role and engaged in a range of academic activities (teaching, writing research papers, attending research conferences, managing research journals and research projects) beyond those involved in their dissertation work. The combination and dynamic development of multiple role identities (learner, emerging researcher, and emerging academic) served to prepare these doctoral students for an academic and professional identity. Importantly, while students had a learner role identity in all stages, the focus of their learning moved from mastering prescribed content to application and then production of knowledge. Cross case analysis identified that social interaction, personal motivation and the nature of academic writing were the dominant aspects in the composition and development of students’ role identities. Social interaction was the key means through which students could gain support and validation from others for their different role identities. Motivation was a personal dimension which drove students’ courage and persistence to engage in academic activities and seek to meet the expectations of each role identity. The writing aspect provided students with evidence for self-evaluation and evaluation by others in relation to their progress within the different role identities. The study contributes to understanding of the complex socialisation processes doctoral students experience and the various roles they perform as they progress through their doctoral journey. Findings suggest that creating more opportunities for doctoral students to engage in learning activities and extend their interactions with teachers, peers, supervisors, and experts within an academic community would assist them to gain the competence, confidence, and the independence needed to perform relevant academic activities.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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