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When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.
Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.
Many emerging adults experience elevations in internalizing symptoms (anxiety, depressive symptoms). Developmental psychopathology theories assert that the developmental transitions inherent to this life stage, such as university graduation, may alter emerging adults’ psychological functioning. The current dissertation served to explore emerging adults’ internalizing symptoms across graduation from university, in order to delineate for whom this is a period of risk for internalizing symptoms. Specifically, the present set of studies examined how emerging adults fare psychologically prior to graduating from university (Study 1), across the year following university graduation (Study 2), and the specific risk, contextual, and personality factors that relate to different internalizing symptom patterns across the graduation transition (Studies 3 and 4).
Emerging adults in their final year of university education (n = 159; Mage = 23.22) participated in a four-wave longitudinal study focused on wellbeing across the transition from university. Participants were recruited from an urban Canadian university and completed online surveys at each wave. A mixed methods design was employed to maximize insight into this under-researched yet arguably very important developmental transition. Quantitative data were collected once in the semester prior to graduating, and at three subsequent waves post-graduation. In line with developmental psychopathology perspectives, person-centered analyses were employed to account for heterogeneous patterns of internalizing symptoms, and a multitude of factors that influence such patterns were examined. Additionally, qualitative data were collected at the final wave, one year post-graduation, and a phenomenological analysis was conducted to augment and enhance the quantitative analyses.
Results from Study 1 uncovered heterogeneity in how participants felt about their upcoming graduation, with the majority feeling positive about their graduation. Positive feelings about graduation were linked to differences in dispositional attributes (optimism, neuroticism). Study 2 examined how participants’ symptoms of anxiety and depression, respectively, changed across the graduation transition. Distinct trajectories of both anxiety and depressive symptoms emerged, however anxiety levels did not change across graduation whereas depressive symptom levels did. The majority of participants showed stable, low depressive symptoms across the transition, but a small percentage decreased in depressive symptoms (11%), whereas a sizable group (32%) increased in depressive symptoms following graduation. Studies 3 and 4 served to identify factors related to the different depressive symptom trajectories across the graduation transition. Consistent across both qualitative and quantitative analyses was the finding that personality/mindset factors related to changes in depressive symptoms, and graduation contextual factors did not. This highlights the role of one’s internal capacities in coping with a novel developmental transition. Optimism, grit, and less neuroticism emerged as key dispositional assets across the transition, along with qualitative accounts of willingness to learn from setbacks, self-efficacy, and gratitude for the university experience. Together, these results highlight the complex nature of adjustment, and clarify past research showing that aspects of emerging adults’ personality and mindsets are key determinants for how they emotionally navigate this pivotal transition period.