3 Key Strategies to Support Doctoral Students Struggling in Silence


Part of the doctoral student journey is not without obstacles. One such shift faced is from structured coursework to the relatively independent process of the dissertation.

It is in these moments that students are shifted into feeling so alone, burdened by their academic pursuits in order to satisfy other personal commitments. Faculty members have to adopt strategies meant to foster an atmosphere that is supportive and communicative to the student. Here are three effective ways by Ramon B. Goings through which faculty members can offer support and motivation to their doctoral students.

3 Key Strategies to Support Doctoral Students Struggling in Silence

(Photo : PEXELS / Vlada Karpovich)

1. Create a Supportive Environment

The need for an environment where students feel comfortable sharing their challenges is important. With few exceptions, students are very shy of asking for help because they are afraid of being judged and thus, may suffer from its various negative repercussions. This is especially true with dissertations when such an emphasis is placed on independence that students may feel that they should be able to get everything done on their own.

To offset this, faculty members should make every effort to be accessible and approachable. Regular meetings with the advisees allow a sense of connection to be maintained as well as the provision of a vehicle for the student to discuss their challenges. Faculties should designate specific times each week to meet with students. Doing so makes it easier for students to find a time to place on your calendar. Tools like Calendly automate this process by allowing students to schedule appointments hassle-free.

Second, there should be some discussion about student progress and well-being at faculty meetings. Perhaps at times, students do feel more comfortable talking with faculty members outside of their dissertation committee. These meetings can allow for early identification and collective problem-solving about the challenges some students face before things get out of hand.

READ MORE: 10 Dos And Don'ts For New College And University Leaders 

2. Communicate Thoughtfully

A dissertation chair's words are always heavy in a way that can either profoundly enhance a student's confidence and motivation or, inversely, shatter them into pieces. Feedback should be communicated in such a manner that it comes across as constructive and supportive rather than critical and discouraging.

One word in particular that appears to set students off-center is "concern." When students see this word, they seem to think that something is grossly wrong. To this end, faculty members should reflect on whether feedback truly warrants concern. For example, minor editorial changes often are necessary but do not change the integrity of a study and certainly should not be labeled as a "concern".

Instead, faculty should give specific feedback, providing concrete examples of how students could improve their work. Not only does this make the challenge clear to the student but it also empowers them to make the change without getting overwhelmed. Indeed, faculty, through their sensitivity to language, become very influential in engaging a positive and constructive circuit of dialogue that works for the progress and self-confidence of their students.

3. Facilitate Solutions, Don't Solve Problems

While faculty members cannot and should not solve all of the personal problems of each student, they can play a critical role in linking students with needed resources. The role of any faculty member should be not to be a problem solver but a facilitator who can listen and help these students find solutions to their problems.

For instance, if a faculty member identifies unusual behavior in the student or lagging progress, an open and empathetic discussion is needed to understand the issues at play. For example, one faculty member found that a student had to take up unexpected caregiving responsibilities with unstable housing. By connecting the student with campus resources for caregivers and housing, the faculty member was able to help the student find stability and continue the work.

This supports developing strong relationships with students. If students feel understood, supported, and cared for, they are much more likely to seek help and use the available resources which will result in better academic and personal outcomes.

Faculty members play important roles in ensuring a decided, prompt, and sage approach to the support of their doctoral students through the dissertation phase. Students will negotiate their struggles and become successful in their academic enterprises if placed in a supportive environment with careful communication and facilitating opportunities to gain access to resources. Such strategies not only enhance the experiences of students but are also conducive to graduate programs as a whole in terms of success and reputation. 

RELATED ARTICLE: 4 Steps To Cultivate An Authentic Teaching Style For Graduate Students 

© 2024 University Herald, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
Join the Discussion
Real Time Analytics