To read this content please select one of the options below:

Reasons, motives and motivations for completing a PhD: a typology of doctoral studies as a quest

Isabelle Skakni (Department of Educational Research, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK)

Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education

ISSN: 2398-4686

Article publication date: 16 November 2018

Issue publication date: 16 November 2018




This study aims to examine how PhD students with diverse profiles, intentions and expectations manage to navigate their doctoral paths within the same academic context under similar institutional conditions. Drawing on Giddens’ theory of structuration, this study explores how their primary reasons, motives and motivations for engaging in doctoral studies influence what they perceive as facilitating or constraining to progress, their strategies to face the challenges they encounter and their expectations regarding supervision.


Using a qualitative design, the analysis was conducted on a data subset from an instrumental case study (Stake, 2013) about PhD students’ persistence and progression. The focus is placed on semi-structured interviews carried out with 36 PhD students from six faculties in humanities and social sciences fields at a large Canadian university.


The analysis reveals three distinct scenarios regarding how these PhD students navigate their doctoral paths: the quest for the self; the intellectual quest; and the professional quest. Depending on their quest type, the nature and intensity of PhD students’ concerns and challenges, as well as their strategies and the support they expected, differed.


This study contributes to the discussion about PhD students’ challenges and persistence by offering a unique portrait of how diverse students’ profiles, intentions and expectations can concretely shape a doctoral experience.



Skakni, I. (2018), "Reasons, motives and motivations for completing a PhD: a typology of doctoral studies as a quest", Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education, Vol. 9 No. 2, pp. 197-212.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

Related articles