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Challenges and Strategies for Support in Doctoral Education

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Doctorial-based education presents researchers and scholars with a training platform. This form of learning involves three major stages, including knowledge consumption, knowledge creation, and knowledge enactment (Pifer & Baker, 2016). Scholars encounter varying challenges in their doctoral program, which they may address using various strategies.  

Anticipated Challenges in Doctoral Program

During the first stage (knowledge consumption) of my doctoral education, I anticipate that I will experience challenges associated with identity shifts from being a professional to a scholar. I expect to experience disrupted identity and shift when transitioning from the career to student. It might be uncomfortable for me to drop my career identity and fit in as a student. As indicated by Sweitzer (2009), as a doctoral student, I anticipate that putting on hold my status that I had worked hard to earn, expertise gained in my previous line of duty, and taking on the identity of a novice will be challenging endeavor. Therefore, it may take a while for me to adjust to the new role as a learner.    

I also anticipate encountering challenges in the second phase (knowledge creation) of my doctoral education. Given that it has been a while since I have engaged in intense educational-related tasks, such as completing numerous coursework and proposal development, I will likely find it challenging to transition from a professional to student identity. The whole process may bring about self-doubt, fears and could be overwhelming. Additionally, as Gardner and Gopaul (2012) indicated, as a student, the transition process might be difficult due to strained time for interactions with family members and close friends. I have to sacrifice my free time to work on the assigned research-related tasks. Being unable to interact with family members and friends will likely make me feel isolated. 

Strategies to Apply in Doctoral Journey

I will apply various strategies to address the above-mentioned anticipated challenges in my doctoral journey. To address the anticipated challenges of being unable to let go of professional identity and embracing the learner’s role, I will conduct a self-assessment to determine areas that I need support. I will also seek peer support by establishing relationships with other doctoral students. Stubb, Pyhältö, and Lonka (2014) stressed that seeking peer support is critical during the doctoral journey as it helps ease stress and pressure. I will further join mentoring programs offered at the institution for additional support in my doctoral education journey.   

To address self-doubt and fears that are likely to come with the need to complete coursework, proposal development, and facing the defense team, I will approach and establish a close relationship with my advisor and defense team chair and engage them. As recommended by Baker, Pifer, and Griffin (2014), I will ask my advisor to carry out a needs assessment with me to establish clear goals and anticipations to facilitate the sustainability of the established relationship. I will also share my experiences with peers and teaching staff to ease the stress and pressure associated with the entire transition process from a professional to a scholar.   

In summary, the current essay discussed challenges anticipated in the doctoral program and strategies to apply in addressing the identified challenges. The anticipated challenges include disrupted identity, self-doubt, fear, and isolation. Strategies to apply include conducting need assessment, establishing peer support, joining the mentoring program, and engaging the advisor and defense team chair. 


Baker, V. L., Pifer, M. J., & Griffin, K. A. (2014). Mentor-protégé fit: Identifying and developing effective mentorship across identities in doctoral education. International Journal for Researcher Development, 5(2), 83-98. 

Gardner, S. K., & Gopaul, B. (2012). The part-time doctoral student experience. International Journal of Doctoral Studies7(12), 63-78. 

Pifer, M. J., & Baker, V. L. (2016). Stage-based challenges and strategies for support in doctoral education: A practical guide for students, faculty members, and program administrators. International Journal of Doctoral Studies11(1), 15-34. 

Stubb, J., Pyhältö, K., & Lonka, K. (2014). Conceptions of research: the doctoral student experience in three domains. Studies in Higher Education39(2), 251-264. 

Sweitzer, V. (2009). Towards a theory of doctoral student professional identity development: A developmental networks approach. The Journal of Higher Education80(1), 1-33.