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Online doctoral mentoring in a pandemic: help or hindrance to academic progress on dissertations?

Carol A. Mullen (School of Education, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA)

International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education

ISSN: 2046-6854

Article publication date: 18 August 2020

Issue publication date: 24 May 2021




The author's purpose is to identify and analyze the progress of proposals and dissertations after mentor–mentee relationships rapidly transitioned to intensive online doctoral mentoring as a result of coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19).


An exploratory pedagogic research design was implemented in 2020 to examine the COVID-19 Dyadic Online Mentoring Intervention, a four-month individualized approach to mentorship. A survey was completed by mentees in an educational leadership cohort that revealed the benefits and drawbacks of technology for learning within online doctoral mentoring contexts. Additional sources of data were published literature, mentor's notes, email exchanges, and scholarly enrichment products.


Data analysis yielded three themes: (1) mentoring strategies were utilized; (2) the pandemic unsettled reality and (3) personal professional development opportunities were evident. Although life challenges were exacerbated by the pandemic, the online doctoral mentoring intervention met dissertation-related needs and supported academic progress in a Doctorate in Education degree program.

Practical implications

Technology-mediated mentoring during crises involves more than modality changes. Faculty mentors should not be solely responsible for mitigating program and dissertation disruption. Academic cultures must support the adoption of pedagogic innovations like high-quality online doctoral mentoring.


Online doctoral mentoring structures utilizing synchronous and asynchronous technologies can help mentees make academic progress in a crisis, not only in “normal” times.



I am deeply grateful to the reviewers, Editor-in-Chief Andrew Hobson, Co-Editor Linda Searby, and Associate Editor Pam Firth for their invaluable, detailed commentaries, which strengthened this article.


Mullen, C.A. (2021), "Online doctoral mentoring in a pandemic: help or hindrance to academic progress on dissertations?", International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, Vol. 10 No. 2, pp. 139-157.



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