The purpose of this explanatory mixed methods study was to assess dissertation chairs’ current practices to support doctoral students in an online practitioner program from the students’ perspective. Findings from a 2020 study on dissertation chair experiences and current practices for meeting with and providing feedback to doctoral students pursuing a scholar-practitioner terminal degree in an online doctoral program were used to develop the questions for this study. The questions addressed student success in completing the dissertation in relation to attributes of (a) regular contact, (b) multiple modes of contact, (c) timely feedback, (d) effective feedback, (e) feedback beyond the dissertation, (f) trusted guidance, (g) evolving feedback, (h) consistent message, (i) honored vision, (j) individualized coaching and guidance, (k) trust and caring behaviors, and (l) balancing institutional requirements and student needs. Forty-eight participants responded to close-ended survey questions. Twelve participants subsequently participated in an interview using phenomenological inquiry to further probe their experiences. The findings indicate the importance of multiple attributes in the students’ success. For 9 of the 12 attributes studied, there was a significant (p<0.05) correlation between the student experiencing the attribute and them deeming it to be an important attribute. Accounts of student experiences further illustrate these results. Students have expectations of their dissertation chair to serve as a trusted mentor, allowing room for dialogue and discussion, as they lead them to successful completion of their degree.
Introduction and Background
The purpose of this explanatory mixed methods study was to assess dissertation chairs’ current practices to support doctoral students in an online practitioner program from the students’ perspective. This research builds from the 2020 publication by Burrington et al. that qualitatively evaluated dissertation chairs’ current practices to support doctoral studies in an online doctoral program. The 2020 study sought the insight of dissertation chairs in understanding what works well to support doctoral students. While several meaningful results emerged from the study, it was clear that only the dissertation chairs’ side of the story was being told. To add balance to this topic, a follow-up study was conducted using a mixed methods approach to allow the researchers to gain insight on how dissertation chairs can better support doctoral students in an online scholar practitioner program.
Online practitioner programs in doctoral studies are chosen by students to fulfill needs that brick-and-mortar universities cannot. While there are similarities between brick-and-mortar and online practitioner programs in doctoral studies, Black (2017) argued the interaction between dissertation chairs and doctoral students occurs “100% of the time from anywhere” in the online environment, and that students expect unlimited access to their dissertation chair (para. 2). Dissertation chairs in turn see the need to establish trusting relationships with their doctoral students, supporting strengths and easing vulnerabilities of the students through consistency and feedback (Rademaker et al., 2016). Lehan et al. (2021) concluded through a review of the literature that student-related characteristics did not equate to doctoral student persistence. In a qualitative case study to explore the mentor-student relationship, Jameson and Torres (2019) found relatedness to be a critical factor in motivating students through completion of the doctoral program. There is a continuing need to better understand and develop virtual learning environments in higher education. Although the body of literature continues to grow, much research is qualitative and taps into the dissertation chairs’ perspective. The findings from this study further the body of literature from the students’ perspective relevant to online practitioner programs that offer terminal degrees.
An explanatory mixed methods approach was employed to gain feedback from participants who met the study criterion of having completed a scholar-practitioner terminal degree in an online program within the past 5 years. Following Colorado Technical University Institutional Review Board approval, participants were recruited via LinkedIn through recruitment postings and direct solicitation using searches targeting the study criterion. Non-probability, purposive sampling was used in this study. The recruitment email/flyer specified a study incentive of being entered in a drawing to win one of two $25 gift cards for completion of the survey and one $25 gift card for completion of the interview.
Potential participants who were interested in participating in the study were directed in the recruitment email/flyer to click on a link to SurveyMonkey to complete the first part of the study, which was a survey of their experiences (see Appendix A). After clicking on the survey link, participants were required to voluntarily agree to the informed consent terms to continue with the survey. To complete the survey, participants were also required to indicate that they met the study criterion. The survey consisted of 33 questions related to the study purpose. The questions were grouped by attributes that resulted from the 2020 study findings by the researchers (Burrington et al., 2020). The attributes and associated survey questions follow: (a) regular contact (Q3-4), (b) multiple modes of contact (Q5-7), (c) timely feedback (Q8-10), (d) effective feedback (Q11-16), (e) feedback relevance (Q17-20), (f) trusted guidance (Q21-22), (g) evolving feedback (Q23-24), (h) consistent message (Q25-26), (i) honored vision (Q27-28), (j) individualized coaching and guidance (Q29-30), (k) trust and caring behaviors (Q31-32), and (l) balancing institutional requirements and student needs (Q33-34). Question 33 asked participants to rank seven of the attributes by importance in relevance to success in completing their dissertation. Finally, participants were asked if they would like to participate in the second part of the study, which was an interview, and were asked to provide an email address if they wished to be entered into the drawing.
The first 12 study participants from the survey who indicated interest in the interview were interviewed. These participants were contacted by one investigator to obtain informed consent for the interviews, schedule a time to meet via Zoom, and conduct the interview. Participants were assigned a pseudonym for data collection and analysis. The participants responded to six interview questions that focused on the lived experiences of the participants (see Appendix B).
Forty-eight participants completed the study survey. The sample size was sufficient to employ nonparametric statistical analysis, which was appropriate based on the non-random sampling method used and the scaled data responses (Field, 2013). Participants were required to respond to each survey question to proceed with the survey; hence, there was no missing data in the 48 completed surveys. The Cronbach’s alpha coefficient for the dataset was calculated as 0.95, indicating reliability in the dataset (Tavako & Dennick, 2011). Frequency distributions were created to illustrate the survey responses. The one-sample Kolmogorov-Smirnov test was run to determine if there was a normal distribution of the data for questions requesting a scaled response. Correlations were sought between paired questions of experiencing an attribute and valuing that attribute. Due to the scaled responses of the data and non-normal distribution of data, a Spearman’s correlation test was used. The null hypothesis stated that there was no correlation between experiencing an attribute and valuing the attribute. Significance was evaluated at the threshold of p<0.05. The Spearman’s correlation coefficient, rho, was evaluated for the strength of the correlation.
The interviews were independently analyzed by two of the investigators to elicit resulting themes. One investigator reviewed the audio recordings for emergence of patterns in the data to enable the manual construction of themes for more extensive analysis by the researchers (Braun & Clarke, 2006; Braun & Clarke, 2013; Saldaña, 2016). The other researcher manually transcribed the recordings and used Dedoose (2021) to aid in the data analysis process. Results from both forms of analysis produced similar findings. The results were synthesized to produce the resulting themes (Schwartz-Shea & Yanow, 2012).
Results and Discussion
Study participants met the criterion of having completed a scholar-practitioner terminal degree in an online program within the past 5 years (2016 through 2021). Additional demographic information was not captured for this study. Survey results are presented first, followed by results from the interviews.
Survey questions one and two were used to voluntarily gain participant consent and verify the study criterion was met, respectively. Through responses to Q3, it was discovered that 87.5% (n=42) of respondents had what they considered to be regular contact with their dissertation chair. Regular contact with one’s dissertation chair was perceived by most participants to be beneficial to successfully completing the dissertation (87.5% [n=42] strongly agree, 10.42% [n=5] agree, 2.08% [n=1] strongly disagree), per Q4 responses. Most participants (91.67%, n=44) indicated that their dissertation chairs offered multiple modes of contact, such as email, phone, video conferencing, text, messenger, and other (per Q5 responses), which they found to be beneficial to successfully completing the dissertation (97.92% agreed [n=47] per Q7 responses). The modes of contact offered are indicated in Figure 1 (per Q6 responses).
Modes of Contact Offered by Dissertation Chairs
Responses to questions 9 through 34 were scaled from strongly agree to strongly disagree. Figure 2 provides the descriptive results. Appendix A provides the corresponding questions asked.
Responses to Scaled Questions 9 through 34
The concept of timely feedback was explored in Q8 through Q10. Participants were posed the question; within what period of time do you consider feedback to be timely. Responses are presented in Figure 3, demonstrating 50% (n=24) of participants were looking for feedback within 48 hours. However, it should be noted that 27.08% (n=13) wanted their feedback in 24 hours or less. There was a significant moderate correlation (rho=0.42, p=0.003) between receiving and valuing timely feedback based on the responses to Q9 and Q10.
What is Considered Timely Feedback
Effective feedback was explored in survey questions Q11 through Q16. The relationship between experiencing and valuing effective feedback was found not to be significant (rho=0.273, p=0.06). Most respondents had positive perceptions of the feedback they received, as demonstrated through responses to Q13 through Q16 (see Figure 2). In response to Q13, 89.58% (n=43) of participants strongly agreed or agreed with “my dissertation chair’s individual style of feedback was effective.” In response to Q14, 87.5% (n=42) of participants strongly agreed or agreed with “the type of content provided by my dissertation chair was effective.” In response to Q15, 89.58% (n=43) of participants strongly agreed or agreed with “the mode (e.g., email, phone, text, messenger, video conference, other) used by my dissertation chair to provide feedback was effective.” And in response to Q16, 85.42% (n=41) of participants strongly agreed or agreed with “the feedback I received from my dissertation chair was individualized to my needs.”
Feedback relevance was assessed in Q17 through Q20. Responses to Q17 indicated most participants had received dissertation relevant feedback from their dissertation chair (95.83% strongly agreed or agreed, n=46). In response to Q18, 89.59% (n=43) of participants strongly agreed or agreed with “the feedback that I received from my dissertation chair was beneficial to my success in completing my dissertation.” Responses to Q19 were mixed regarding the statement “the feedback I received from my dissertation chair went beyond the specifics of my dissertation to other scholar practitioner realms.” However, 66.67% (n=32) supported the statement with a response of strongly agree or agree. Responses were mixed to Q20, which followed up on the value of the feedback that went beyond the specifics of the dissertation with 68.75% (n=33) responding strongly agree or agree. It was found that the relationship between receiving feedback that went beyond the specifics of the dissertation (Q19) and valuing such feedback (Q20) was strongly correlated (rho=0.917, p<0.001).
Trusted guidance was probed in Q21 and Q22. Most participants (89.58%, n=43) trusted the guidance of their dissertation chair and all participants (n=48) asserted such trust to be beneficial to successfully completing the dissertation, as indicated by responses of strongly agree and agree. The correlation between Q21 and Q22 was weak, but significant (rho=0.394, p=0.006).
Evolving feedback was evaluated in Q23 and Q24. Most participants (69.25%, n=40) responded strongly agree or agree to having received feedback from their dissertation chair that evolved as they progressed from a novice researcher to an independent practitioner, while 95.83% (n=46) found such feedback to be beneficial to successfully completing the dissertation. The correlation between Q23 and Q24 responses was moderate (rho=0.632, p<0.001).
The concept of consistent message was assessed through Q25 and Q26. While 87.5% (n=42) of respondents felt they had received a consistent message from their dissertation chair, all participants believed a consistent message was beneficial to successfully completing the dissertation. The correlation between Q25 and Q26 responses was moderate (rho=0.620, p<0.001).
Moderate and significant correlations were also found between experiencing and valuing having the dissertation vision honored by the dissertation chair (rho=0.653, p<0.001), individualized coaching and guidance (rho=0.475, p=0.001), and trust and caring behaviors (rho=0.533, p<0.001). Honored vision was probed in Q27 and Q28 with most respondents replying strongly agree or agree (87.5%, n=42; 91.67%, n=44). The characteristics of individualized coaching and guidance were evaluated in Q29 and Q30 with most respondents replying strongly agree or agree (93.75%, n=45; 97.92%, n=47). Trust and caring behaviors were probed in Q31 and Q32 with most respondents replying strongly agree or agree (85.42%, n=41; 97.92%, n=47).
Balancing institutional requirements and student needs were evaluated through Q33 and Q34. Many participants (85.42%, n=41) responded strongly agree or agree to “my dissertation chair accommodated both institutional requirements and my needs.” Most participants (95.83%, n=46) strongly agreed or agreed to the value in this accommodation toward successfully completing the dissertation. The correlation between Q33 and Q34 was strong (rho=0.773, p<0.001). Table 1 summarizes the correlations for all evaluated pairs of survey questions.
Question of Experience
Question of Value
Strength of correlation
Feedback Beyond Dissertation
Individualized Coaching and Guidance
Trust in me and caring behaviors
Institutional requirements and my needs
Question 35 asked participants to rank seven of the attributes by importance in relevance to success in completing their dissertation. There was no clear winner, as indicated in Figure 4. However, “regular and frequent contact with my dissertation chair” scored highest and “relevance of feedback from my dissertation chair that went beyond my dissertation to other scholarly-practitioner realms” scored lowest.
Ranking of Attributes by Importance
Note. For the full attribute label, see Appendix A question 35.
A phenomenological approach to the interviews was utilized that allowed participants to provide before, during, and after reflections about their mentoring experiences. First, we wanted to gain insight on our participants’ experiences with mentoring that occurred prior to beginning the doctorate, such as in their occupational histories. Second, we wanted to obtain responses from them regarding what their experiences were like while being mentored during the dissertation process. Finally, we wanted to learn how our participants felt the dissertation mentoring process could have worked better.
Prior Exposure to Mentoring
Learning about whether our participants had any previous mentoring experiences as either a mentor or a mentee was important because we assumed those relationships influenced expectations when being mentored during the dissertation process. Only two of our interview participants reported having been formally designated as a mentor, in an employment context, prior to beginning their doctorate. One participant reflected on being mentored at work and noted it is not a great idea to push back too hard on a mentor – especially when this person is your boss and holds a position of authority. Consequently, this individual carried their experience into the doctoral context and assumed pushing back too hard on their dissertation chair would not be advisable. The second individual reported having had very positive interactions as a mentor helping authors through individualized feedback on their manuscripts and expected a similar relationship with the dissertation mentor.
All participants reported having had both positive and negative experiences being mentored in a variety of contexts prior to beginning their doctoral programs. The positive experiences resulted from the opportunity to learn by example how to be effective in a professional context. Effectiveness examples included the mentor willingly sharing their own experiences as a learning tool for the mentee, the importance of developing trust, the model of leading by example, the necessity of communicating clearly, and the need to give effective feedback that supports skill-building.
The Experience of Being Mentored by the Dissertation Chair
For the most part, interview participants reported that their experience of being mentored by a dissertation chair was overwhelmingly positive. Nevertheless, even those who had a positive experience overall reported that there were some difficult moments. This section reports on both positive and problematic situations; however, there were participants who had experiences with their dissertation chair that were primarily negative, and these are reported separately as part of the section on how dissertation chairs might mentor differently.
The Ethos of Support and Encouragement. Participants unanimously asserted that one of the most important functions of the dissertation chair is to advocate for the student. This becomes possible ultimately by the dissertation chair’s efforts to build rapport with their students. This theme of advocacy was phrased most often as providing support and encouragement throughout the process so that students experienced that the dissertation chair was in their corner. Even when engaged in the hard processes of revisions, adjustments, and sometimes refinement of the study topic, the dissertation chairs who garnered the most appreciation were those who sought clarity from their students about their research interests and then tried to support what the student wanted to do. One example came from a participant who had a timeline of wanting to complete the doctorate within 3 years, informed their dissertation chair of this desire, and felt continually supported in their efforts to achieve this goal. Another student ran into a combination of difficulties due both to the COVID pandemic requiring changes to the study approach and a difficult pregnancy for which she was hospitalized. This participant expressed how grateful she was that her dissertation chair was there every step of the way to help her complete her research, write up the results, and successfully defend her dissertation. Another participant reported that even though their dissertation chair found the individual’s topic controversial and was not fond of it, they nevertheless supported the student in completing the study successfully and in accordance with the student’s wishes.
Guidance versus Directiveness. A second thematic element of advocacy/support/encouragement reported by most participants was related to having a dissertation chair who provided guidance but did not issue directives related to the dissertation process. On one hand, according to these participants the optimal dissertation chair maintained their gatekeeper role in ensuring that their university’s dissertation requirements were met, but at the same time they also provided guidance to the student rather than dictating what they must do to satisfy the chair’s personal expectations. Two participants recalled that their chair’s feedback was frequent, specific, and very relevant in helping them make improvements to the study process and/or the manuscript. Another participant indicated that beyond providing guidance on the study’s development and research conduct, their chair provided a great deal of guidance about what to expect for the dissertation defense, how to prepare for it, what content to address, and what kinds of questions would likely be asked. Another participant expressed that as they waited for committee member feedback, they were able to work on other tasks due to the proactive suggestions from their dissertation chair.
Accessibility. A third thematic element related to support/encouragement that emerged from this study is accessibility of the dissertation chair. Many of the study participants commented very positively about the level of availability, responsiveness, and timeliness they experienced in working with their dissertation chair. Participants echoed very similar experiences: being able to access their dissertation chair at almost any time, obtaining quick and specific responses that helped them continue their progress, and being able to learn about the chair’s own experience and expertise. For example, most participants reported that their chair typically responded quickly with detailed comments on the dissertation manuscript, providing not only feedback about what needed to be revised, but also offering the student encouragement. Similarly, another participant commented that their chair was very experienced with the dissertation process and readily shared that experience to help the student remain calm in some of the more exasperating moments. Several study participants also reported that their dissertation chairs utilized a variety of modalities to maintain regular contact with their mentees, including phone, instant messaging or texts, email, and videoconferencing.
Expertise. A fourth thematic element highlights the importance of expertise for the mentor to provide appropriate support and encouragement. Dissertation chairs often come to this role with varying types of expertise that can benefit the doctoral student. It would be disingenuous to claim that all dissertation chairs are going to have backgrounds that perfectly align with all their mentees. At base, a dissertation chair will have been prepared to mentor students through the university’s process requirements for completion of a doctoral dissertation. Their facility with the process component of dissertation development is frequently accompanied by expertise in a degree field and/or concentration related to specific types of research topics, and they usually also possess methodological expertise. However, students are not guaranteed that the chair will have process, content, and methodological expertise to satisfy their specific needs.
One student identified their dissertation chair as “phenomenal” and having the exact methodological expertise needed for the research design employed. A different participant who also labeled their chair as “phenomenal” said that the individual had so many high-quality skills that they were able to shift with each student in the cohort to meet everyone’s individual needs, yet this student also acknowledged that part of the chair’s skill set was knowing when to bring in committee members who had better content or methodological backgrounds for a specific student’s needs. Another participant called their dissertation chair a “true leader” who conceived of the chair role as being one in which they and the student shared a mutual responsibility to enable the student to succeed. Two participants mentioned their chairs were able to provide them with quantitative assistance, and a third felt their dissertation chair was a perfect fit because of their topic knowledge. In the end, many of the participants reported that they were able to count on their chair to have at least one skill set, (e.g., process, content, or methodological) and sometimes had the “bonus” of a chair who possessed several of the necessary skills to support the student.
Suggestions to Improve the Mentoring Experience
The thematic element addressed in this section is a combination of the researchers’ interests in what worked and what did not work for our participants as they were going through the dissertation process. Several offered reflections on how the experience could have been even better. Most participants found themselves in situations where a careful guide was assigned to be their dissertation chair, they had opportunities to form strong bonds with these mentors, and their experiences were growth-producing. For the most part the dissertation chairs offered their mentees an opportunity to be part of a supportive, collaborative experience out of which evolved a quality dissertation the student “owned.” Their dissertation chairs were motivated to help mentees achieve the respective universities’ requirements for the dissertation by guiding rather than telling. Despite the largely positive experience most participants reported, there were some minor glitches along the way. In addition, three participants expressed that their dissertation mentoring experience had been predominantly negative. Important lessons can be learned from both types of experiences.
Changing the Mentoring Process. One participant mentioned that due to COVID they ended up moving from an on-campus doctoral program to a 100% distance-learning environment with the same university, and for this individual the shift was initially very difficult. The student had always worked productively with their dissertation chair in person and was left with the communication practice of only emailing back and forth, as videoconferencing was not yet an option. Trying to do everything via email was difficult because the student did not feel as connected to the chair. Three participants worked with dissertation chairs they felt were autocratic in their mentoring practices. One of these participants mentioned the dissertation chair quelling the student’s desire to include the words of a song in their dissertation, identifying such inclusion as inappropriate. A second participant had similar observations and mentioned their dislike for being told “the best dissertation is a done dissertation.” The implicit message to the participant was that the dissertation was something to get done with as opposed to it being a matter of pride and high-quality accomplishment. As a result of the chair’s mentoring, the student was coached away from the preferred topic so the project could be completed quickly. A third participant resented having a chair whose style was directive as opposed to providing guidance and latitude.
Most participants made very positive comments about their overall experience of being mentored in their doctoral programs. However, many of the participants with positive experiences also mentioned factors that would have made the process even more successful for them. Several maintained that the major factor was having a dissertation chair assigned much earlier in the doctoral journey. For example, one participant recalled feeling lost during early doctoral courses and asserted they would have gotten more “traction” with earlier mentor guidance. Another suggested that having the mentor assigned as soon as the student was actively deciding upon a research topic would have helped them fix some relatively minor aspects of the proposed study earlier, and the participant opined that any student who had major changes needed in their proposed research would have faced a very difficult scenario without a mentor/dissertation chair’s early advice. Three additional participants offered variations related to expertise of the chair. These individuals felt that their dissertation chair was well prepared with respect to the dissertation process, but they also asserted that there is great benefit in ensuring that doctoral students have a dissertation chair who is familiar either with their content area or research methodology. Barring this, these participants argued that the process would have been much smoother if they also had access to additional faculty, such as committee members assigned earlier or a faculty ‘consultant’ who had relevant content and/or methodological backgrounds.
What Did Not Work. Two participants who reported dissertation mentoring disasters noted being told what to do rather than being provided supportive guidance. The directive approach resulted in both participants feeling that a positive bond was never created with their dissertation chairs. These participants did not feel they could trust the dissertation chair to have their interests at heart, and they did not experience that their work seemed important to the dissertation chair. One participant and their chair had theoretical and methodological differences, and they described the chair as very critical and condescending. The mentee felt the mentor had not tried to become familiar with their dissertation work and the result was that they did not feel they could trust the dissertation chair, nor did they feel it would be safe to stand up to the individual’s criticisms. The student completed the dissertation, but it was a battle throughout. Another participant reported going through three dissertation chairs. From this participant’s perspective the first two were not helpful from a process perspective and did not seem to know much about the student’s dissertation project. The third chair got the student through the dissertation journey successfully, and yet the student reported that this final chair was still difficult to work with because the chair and the content expert were not on the same page. Furthermore, this participant felt the chair did not effectively take on a leadership role.
There are many limitations to the methods and statistical analysis performed in this study, including the use of non-probability sampling and the corresponding nonparametric inferential statistical test. The study included a small sample size that was sourced solely from one online professional networking site, as access to this target population was otherwise challenging to obtain. Participants in this study represented more than one institution and institutional practices vary. Despite these limitations, this study adds to the body of knowledge regarding virtual learning environments and dissertation committee chairs’ current practices to support doctoral students in an online practitioner program from the students’ perspective.
Recommendations for Future Research
There are various ways one can assess dissertation committee chairs’ current practices to support doctoral students in an online practitioner program. This study can be viewed from a quantitative or qualitative methodology. One recommendation for future research would be the possibility of using secondary data, which is a systematic approach to the use of existing data to provide ways of understanding which may be additional to or different from the data’s original purpose (Largan & Morris, 2019). Another avenue to continue this research would be to use the findings from this study to refine questions for participants based on what was identified as important to them. Further research would also benefit from gaining better access to participants that would allow for random sampling and use of a larger sample size. This may be achieved through a specific university or large, active alumni association.
The purpose of this explanatory mixed methods research study was to assess dissertation committee chairs’ current practices to support doctoral students in an online practitioner program from the students’ perspective. The only participation criterion was to have completed a scholar-practitioner terminal degree in an online program within the past 5 years. Survey results indicated that most participants (87.5%) received regular feedback from their dissertation chairs and dissertation chairs communicated through multiple modes (91.67%). Half of participants considered timely feedback to occur within 48 hours of submission or request. Survey results indicated that most participants agreed or strongly agreed to having experienced and valued the attributes listed in Table 1. It was found that having experienced an attribute was significantly correlated with valuing that attribute in being beneficial to successfully completing the dissertation (p<0.05). This relationship between survey responses could have been due to simply feeling the dissertation chair was attentive, or it could have been for other reasons which were not explored in this study.
Results from interviews that probed for participant experiences presented positive and negative experiences that both offer opportunities for learning. Participants expressed their desire for support and encouragement through the dissertation process that fosters guidance over directives from dissertation chairs who are accessible and provide some form of expertise that is valued by them. The participants offered feedback to improve the mentoring process, such as assigning a dissertation chair earlier in the process and ensuring the chair has subject matter or methodology expertise that is relevant to their study.
The combination of the survey and interview results point to critical learning points for dissertation chairs and higher education administration. Students have expectations of their dissertation chair to serve as a trusted mentor; look out for their best interests as they lead them to successful completion of their degree; and allow room for discussion. While students have these expectations, they do not necessarily have expectations for how the dissertation chair executes these duties. Dissertation chairs and higher education administration can glean from the findings of this study ways to enhance the student experience and support doctoral students in an online practitioner program.
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Appendix A: Survey Instrument
- Consent screening
- Criterion screening: Have you completed a scholar-practitioner terminal degree in an online program within the past 5 years? Examples include, but are not limited to Doctorate of Business Administration, Doctorate of Computer Science, Doctorate of Education, Doctorate of Management, and Doctorate of Nursing Practice. (A PhD is not considered a scholar-practitioner degree for the purposes of this survey.; Choices: Yes, No)
- The term dissertation chair is used in this survey to encompass the role of the faculty who oversaw your doctoral research. This term may have synonyms of mentor, research supervisor, or research advisor, depending on the university. I had regular contact with my dissertation chair, defined as contact at least one time per week. (Choices: Yes, No)
- Regular contact with one’s dissertation chair is beneficial to successfully completing the dissertation. (Choices: strongly disagree, disagree, neither disagree or agree, agree, strongly agree)
- My dissertation chair offered multiple modes of contact, such as email, phone, video conferencing, text, messenger, other. (Choices: Yes, no)
- What modes of contact were offered (select all that apply)? (Choices: email, phone, text, Messenger, video conference, other)
- Having access to multiple modes of contact with one’s dissertation chair is beneficial to successfully completing the dissertation. (Choices: strongly disagree, disagree, neither disagree or agree, agree, strongly agree)
- Within what period of time do you consider feedback to be timely? (Choices: 24 hours or less, 48 hours or less, 3 days or less, 5 days or less, 7 days or less)
- I received timely feedback from my dissertation chair. (Choices: strongly disagree, disagree, neither disagree or agree, agree, strongly agree)
- Timely feedback is beneficial to one’s success in completing the dissertation. (Choices: strongly disagree, disagree, neither disagree or agree, agree, strongly agree)
- The feedback I received from my dissertation chair was effective. (Choices: strongly disagree, disagree, neither disagree or agree, agree, strongly agree)
- Receiving effective feedback from one’s dissertation chair is beneficial to successfully completing the dissertation. (Choices: strongly disagree, disagree, neither disagree or agree, agree, strongly agree)
- My dissertation chair’s individual style of feedback was effective. (Choices: strongly disagree, disagree, neither disagree or agree, agree, strongly agree)
- The type of content provided by my dissertation chair was effective. (Choices: strongly disagree, disagree, neither disagree or agree, agree, strongly agree)
- The mode (e.g. email, phone, text, Messenger, video conference, other) used by my dissertation chair to provide feedback was effective. (Choices: strongly disagree, disagree, neither disagree or agree, agree, strongly agree)
- The feedback I received from my dissertation chair was individualized to my needs. (Choices: strongly disagree, disagree, neither disagree or agree, agree, strongly agree)
- The feedback I received from my dissertation chair was relevant to my dissertation. (Choices: strongly disagree, disagree, neither disagree or agree, agree, strongly agree)
- The feedback that I received from my dissertation chair was beneficial to my success in completing my dissertation. (Choices: strongly disagree, disagree, neither disagree or agree, agree, strongly agree)
- The feedback I received from my dissertation chair went beyond the specifics of my dissertation to other scholar practitioner realms. (Choices: strongly disagree, disagree, neither disagree or agree, agree, strongly agree)
- The feedback that I received from my dissertation chair that went beyond the specifics of my dissertation was beneficial to my success in completing my dissertation. (Choices: strongly disagree, disagree, neither disagree or agree, agree, strongly agree)
- I trusted the guidance of your dissertation chair. (Choices: strongly disagree, disagree, neither disagree or agree, agree, strongly agree)
- Trusting one’s dissertation chair is beneficial to successfully completing the dissertation. (Choices: strongly disagree, disagree, neither disagree or agree, agree, strongly agree)
- The feedback I received from my dissertation chair evolved as I evolved from a novice researcher to an independent scholar practitioner. (Choices: strongly disagree, disagree, neither disagree or agree, agree, strongly agree
- Feedback received from one’s dissertation chair that evolves as the student evolves from a novice researcher to an independent scholar practitioner is beneficial to successfully completing the dissertation. (Choices: strongly disagree, disagree, neither disagree or agree, agree, strongly agree)
- My dissertation chair provided a consistent message in the feedback provided. (Choices: strongly disagree, disagree, neither disagree or agree, agree, strongly agree)
- Receiving a consistent message in the feedback provided by one’s dissertation chair is beneficial to successfully completing the dissertation. (Choices: strongly disagree, disagree, neither disagree or agree, agree, strongly agree)
- My dissertation chair honored my vision for my dissertation (i.e. let me drive the direction of the research whenever possible). (Choices: strongly disagree, disagree, neither disagree or agree, agree, strongly agree)
- The dissertation chair honoring the student’s vision for their dissertation is beneficial to successfully completing the dissertation. (Choices: strongly disagree, disagree, neither disagree or agree, agree, strongly agree)
- My dissertation chair provided individualized coaching and guidance. (Choices: strongly disagree, disagree, neither disagree or agree, agree, strongly agree)
- Individualized coaching and guidance provided by one’s dissertation chair is beneficial to successfully completing the dissertation. (Choices: strongly disagree, disagree, neither disagree or agree, agree, strongly agree)
- My dissertation chair demonstrated what I considered to be trust in me and caring behaviors. (Choices: strongly disagree, disagree, neither disagree or agree, agree, strongly agree)
- Trusting and caring behaviors demonstrated by one’s dissertation chair are beneficial to successfully completing the dissertation. (Choices: strongly disagree, disagree, neither disagree or agree, agree, strongly agree)
- My dissertation chair accommodated both institutional requirements and my needs. (Choices: strongly disagree, disagree, neither disagree or agree, agree, strongly agree)
- The dissertation chair’s accommodation of both institutional requirements and student needs is beneficial to successfully completing the dissertation. (Choices: strongly disagree, disagree, neither disagree or agree, agree, strongly agree)
- How would you rank the following in relevance to the success of completing your dissertation?
- Regular and frequent contact with my dissertation chair
- Availability of multiple modes of communication with my dissertation chair
- Timely and effective feedback from my dissertation chair
- Relevance of feedback to my dissertation from my dissertation chair
- Relevance of feedback from my dissertation chair that went beyond my dissertation to other scholarly-practitioner realms
- Trust for my dissertation chair
- Traits and actions of my dissertation chair that included individualized coaching/guidance, trust/caring behaviors, and balance between institutional requirements and my specific needs
- If you are willing to participate in a short follow up interview, please provide your email address here. Note, your email address provided here will not be associated with your responses given to this survey. ____________
- If you would like to be entered into the drawing for a $50 Amazon gift card, please provide your email address here. Note, your email address provided here will not be associated with your responses given to this survey. __________________________
Appendix B: Interview Questions
- Tell me about a good or bad experience you had with your Dissertation Chair?
- What do you think is the major influence your Dissertation Chair’s mentoring experience had on your dissertation?
- Give me an example of when your Dissertation Chair’s mentoring experiences impacted your dissertation?
- If you were to serve as a Dissertation Chair, what would you change based on your mentoring experiences?
- Give me an example of what worked and what did not work between you and your Dissertation Chair?
- Have you ever had a positive or negative mentorship experience prior to your Dissertation Chair? If so, tell me about how your previous experience impacted your expectations about your relationship with your dissertation chair?