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The reasons for PhD student attrition seem remarkably persistent over time. Ernest Rudd conducted interviews way back in with research students who had either quit, or had taken a very long time to complete their studies.
In descending order, I found the following themes in my data: Mentioned less often were: In the comments I found three main factors: The comments are full of shame, blame and largely unspoken tensions. It seems that many people who are entertaining quitting thoughts find it hard to give them voice.
It must be easy for a disaffected student to become quite socially isolated. How then, can these stories become a valuable source of knowledge about the PhD experience? These narratives, he claims, can help us better understand and respond to the experience of people who are undergoing treatment.
The ultimate aim of this better listening is better treatment and more empathetic care giving. Distressed PhD students certainly in need of empathetic caregiving, from supervisors as well as family and friends. So I went back to my data again, this time asking myself: I hashed the multiple narratives together in a diagram which appears on the left.
The resilience narrative This is when people talk about the PhD as a journey or trial which can, or must, be overcome through the diligent personal effort. Others talk back to these expectations in defiant terms, especially those who have quit and say they feel liberated.
When we hear the resilience narrative, or find ourselves repeating it, we should perhaps pause for a moment. What do we have at stake in this person finishing their degree? The Chaos narrative These comments speak of events in aconfused, non linear way, almost as if the person is having trouble putting their experience in words.
Chaos narratives are marked by anger, fear, powerlessness, misery and apathy. This is not the same as doing nothing. The ambivalence narrative This narrative is marked by lack of faith in the future, or uncertainty about what the future holds.
Others talk in more pragmatic terms of just finishing in order to put the experience behind them. Still others seem to be falling into apathy, depression and general ennui.
I noticed it was in these kinds of stories that many students expressed thoughts about not wanting to be an academic anymore. Since I started thinking in terms of an ambivalence narrative I have started to notice how often it is voiced in my conversations with PhD students, and in blogs and interviews with them.
Perhaps the ambivalence narrative is a reaction to the uncertain work structures in academia. I certainly remember employing this narrative myself while I was a PhD student.
Sometimes I think I told this ambilvalence story as a way of testing out loud what other options and identities were available to me. How should we listen to the ambivalence narrative? Do these narratives resonate with you at all?a Faculdade de Ciências Médicas da Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Lisboa, Portugal Identification of depression in young people in school settings can be a difficult challenge, and a number of self-report tools have been developed to assist in that task (Cheung et al., ; Gray, Dubin-Rhodin.
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