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Exercising professional autonomy: Doctoral students’ preparation for academic careers

Alexandra Coso Strong (Florida International University, Miami, Florida, USA)
Dia Sekayi (Morgan State University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA)

Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education

ISSN: 2398-4686

Article publication date: 5 November 2018

Issue publication date: 5 November 2018



The purpose of this study is to examine how doctoral students navigate preparing for an academic career, particularly through instructional professional development, in the context of the entire doctoral program. For doctoral students pursuing an academic position, the dissertation process provides one avenue for developing their skills and identities as independent researchers. Yet, research shows a need to provide support for student’ instructional professional development and to understand how they are shaped into educators and researchers.


A multiple case study methodology was designed to capture the perceptions and experiences of 21 alumni of an academic career preparation program at a large, public university. In this exploratory, qualitative study, semi-structured interviews and final reports from program coursework were analyzed using a modified analytic induction methodology.


This study employs elements of self-determination theory and transition theory to interpret doctoral students’ transitions into and through the instructional professional development program under study. The participants sought competence in their teaching by participating in this voluntary and supplemental program. These students exercised autonomy in the pursuit of this professional development and in overcoming challenges to relatedness in the form of non-supportive program structures, including curriculum and faculty.


This study contributes to the graduate education literature on the experiences of doctoral students as they prepare for and transition into their future academic careers.



Coso Strong, A. and Sekayi, D. (2018), "Exercising professional autonomy: Doctoral students’ preparation for academic careers", Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education, Vol. 9 No. 2, pp. 243-258.



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