A cross-sectional survey of U.S. Ph.D. students
Beggs, Elizabeth Ann
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This work focuses on the problem of long completion times and high attrition rates among U.S. dissertation-writing Ph.D. students. Data from the Council of Graduate Schools’ Ph.D. Completion Project, as well as other studies, indicate that as many as 25 percent of beginning Ph.D. students either fail to complete degree requirements within the first ten years or leave their programs without ever completing. Most of these students unofficially exit their programs with only one task remaining: writing the dissertation. Addressing the current state of dissertation-writing Ph.D. students, I first trace the evolution of philosophy from the earliest ontological inquiries to the point when the epistemic disciplines of philosophy and rhetoric converge in the inception of the contemporary Ph.D. dissertation. Emerging from humankind’s desire to understand its origin, the earliest philosophers began asking What is? and later How do we know what is?, but with Aristotle’s orderly mind, philosophy and rhetoric became systematized. Two ideas from those systems remain tenets of these disciplines: philosophers still seek new knowledge about our world’s existence, and rhetors still seek to convey knowledge. These ideals are also the focus of a Ph.D. dissertation, which charges writers to discover and situate new knowledge within the existing body of knowledge for their chosen discipline. As writers, they must not only convey the new knowledge, but they must also persuasively take their place among prior scholars in the field. This researcher conducted an online survey of three stakeholder groups at eighteen U.S. doctoral-granting institutions. The results indicate that stakeholders value and desire writing assistance for their dissertation-writing doctoral students. As a result, the researcher recommends that campus writing centers offer several writing services (boot camp or jump-start programs, retreats, workshops, seminars or a lecture series, single lectures, and coaching sessions) for these students. Grounded in James Berlin’s notion of New Rhetoric as an interplay between writer, reality (discovery), language, and audience, these services provide writers with the tools to discover new knowledge and communicate that knowledge while writing their dissertations.