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.
Background and objective: In recent years, research has highlighted the prevalence of mental and emotional distress among graduate students. The objective of this manuscript-based PhD dissertation is to validate and iterate a conceptual model of Masters students mental health and wellbeing, with a particular focus on student expectations and the role of research supervision.
Studies and findings: Manuscript #1, an integrative literature review, suggests a framework of four systems of graduate education that impact students’ emotional experiences: the culture and expectations of academia, the university and department, the lab and cohort systems, and the socio-economic system. Based on this framework, Manuscript #1 proposes a conceptual model for student experiences of mental and emotional distress and wellbeing that frames the research questions of the next studies.
Manuscript #2 is a quantitative analysis focused on student expectations of graduate study. The results show that students whose expectations are aligned with their lived experiences of Masters study have less mental and emotional distress and greater wellbeing compared to students whose expectations do not match their lived experiences, and are less likely to consider withdrawing from their programs.
Manuscript #3 is a qualitative analysis of Masters students’ descriptions of their graduate school expectations and experiences. Several themes are identified in the overall sample, including the importance of research and coursework, relationships, and academic culture. Students with aligned expectations in general reported more positive experiences of graduate school across all themes. The results also suggest an extension of the conceptual model presented in Manuscript #1, to include the idea that students perform a multi-factor cost-benefit analysis of their decision to enrol in their programs.
Manuscript #4 is a mixed quantitative-qualitative study. Quantitative results show that students with greater satisfaction with supervision experience less mental and emotional distress and greater wellbeing compared to students who are dissatisfied. Qualitative results illustrate that satisfied students have positive experiences across different dimensions of supervision, whereas students who are not satisfied have equivocal or negative experiences across these dimensions.
Discussion and conclusions: The dissertation findings support and extend the initial conceptual model. Several practical implications and recommendations are discussed.