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Engaging and disengaging doctoral experiences in the behavioural sciences

Jenna Vekkaila (Department of Teacher Education, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland)
Kirsi Pyhältö (Institution of Behavioural Sciences, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland)
Kirsti Lonka (Department of Teacher Education, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland)

International Journal for Researcher Development

ISSN: 2048-8696

Article publication date: 6 May 2014




The aim of this paper is to explore doctoral students' engaging and disengaging experiences among a group of students whose doctoral processes had been prolonged for more than seven years.


The participants were 16 doctoral students in the behavioural sciences. The data were collected with interviews employing a visualisation of their doctoral journeys, and were content analysed qualitatively.


The results suggested that the students described their engagement in doctoral work in terms of dedication, vigour and occasionally absorption. In turn, disengagement was described in terms of insufficiency, cynicism and sometimes exhaustion. Interestingly, the source of engagement was typically a sense of belonging in the scholarly community, whereas the students often reported a lack of autonomy and a lack of belonging as sources for disengagement.

Research limitations/implications

Further longitudinal studies are needed to explore the development of engagement in doctoral work among students from different contexts.

Practical implications

In terms of developing more engaging learning environments, the findings imply that by enhancing students' sense of belonging to their scholarly community and their experiences of autonomy within it their engagement in doctoral work, and further, development as researchers can be fostered.


This study extends the understanding of what may engage or disengage students from their doctoral studies and the essential relationship between the sense of autonomy and that of belonging in doctoral student engagement, in particular in the context of prolonged doctoral studies in the behavioural sciences.



The work has been supported by a grant from the Finnish Cultural Foundation to one of the authors, Jenna Vekkaila, Grant 2106008 from the University of Helsinki, and Grant 1121207 from the Academy of Finland.


Vekkaila, J., Pyhältö, K. and Lonka, K. (2014), "Engaging and disengaging doctoral experiences in the behavioural sciences", International Journal for Researcher Development, Vol. 5 No. 1, pp. 33-55.



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Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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