Journal of Nursing Education

Research Briefs 

Professional Socialization of Students Enrolled in an Online Doctor of Philosophy Program in Nursing

Linda M. Goodfellow, PhD, RN

Abstract

A descriptive online survey design was used to describe professional socialization of students enrolled in an online Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) program in nursing. Twenty-six (48%) of 54 students participated by completing the Doctoral Student Socialization Questionnaire. Activities associated with four of the six dimensions of professional socialization, including student–peer interactions, supportive faculty environment, collegiality, and student scholarly encouragement, were prevalent in the analysis. Activities associated with student–faculty interactions and preparation in scholarly activities were evident but were not prevalent. Students in an online PhD program in nursing can be socialized to the graduate school environment, as well as to their future role in an academic setting. Although challenging in the online environment, faculty need to promote activities related to student–faculty interactions and preparation in scholarly activities. [J Nurs Educ. 2014;53(10):595–599.]

Dr. Goodfellow is Associate Professor, Duquesne University School of Nursing, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

This study was supported by the Center for Nursing Research at Duquesne University School of Nursing.

The author has disclosed no potential conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise.

The author thanks Dr. Liam Rourke, Associate Professor in Educational Psychology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, for initiating this project and for his insight and expertise.

Address correspondence to Linda M. Goodfellow, PhD, RN, Associate Professor, Duquesne University School of Nursing, 312 Fisher Hall, Pittsburgh, PA 15282; e-mail: goodfellow.linda@gmail.com.

Received: October 23, 2013
Accepted: July 15, 2014
Posted Online: September 29, 2014

Abstract

A descriptive online survey design was used to describe professional socialization of students enrolled in an online Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) program in nursing. Twenty-six (48%) of 54 students participated by completing the Doctoral Student Socialization Questionnaire. Activities associated with four of the six dimensions of professional socialization, including student–peer interactions, supportive faculty environment, collegiality, and student scholarly encouragement, were prevalent in the analysis. Activities associated with student–faculty interactions and preparation in scholarly activities were evident but were not prevalent. Students in an online PhD program in nursing can be socialized to the graduate school environment, as well as to their future role in an academic setting. Although challenging in the online environment, faculty need to promote activities related to student–faculty interactions and preparation in scholarly activities. [J Nurs Educ. 2014;53(10):595–599.]

Dr. Goodfellow is Associate Professor, Duquesne University School of Nursing, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

This study was supported by the Center for Nursing Research at Duquesne University School of Nursing.

The author has disclosed no potential conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise.

The author thanks Dr. Liam Rourke, Associate Professor in Educational Psychology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, for initiating this project and for his insight and expertise.

Address correspondence to Linda M. Goodfellow, PhD, RN, Associate Professor, Duquesne University School of Nursing, 312 Fisher Hall, Pittsburgh, PA 15282; e-mail: goodfellow.linda@gmail.com.

Received: October 23, 2013
Accepted: July 15, 2014
Posted Online: September 29, 2014

The purpose of this single-site descriptive study was to describe the extent to which students enrolled in an online Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) program in nursing are engaged in professional socialization. Professional socialization is a critical indictor of quality in research-focused doctoral programs in nursing. Whether professional socialization can occur in PhD programs offered at a distance has not yet been established.

Background and Review of the Literature

Professional socialization, also referred to as academic socialization, has been recognized as an important component of higher education (Baker & Lattuca, 2010; Gardner, 2008; Sweitzer, 2009; Weidman & Stein, 2003). According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN; 2001), a quality indicator of research-focused doctoral programs in nursing includes evidence of mentoring, socialization of students, and a community of scholars. Clearly noted in the sociology and educational psychology literature, “socialization is the process through which an individual learns to adopt the values, skills, attitudes, norms, and knowledge needed to belong to a given society, group, or organization” (Weidman & Stein, 2003, p. 642).

Doctoral student socialization is unique—not only is the individual becoming acclimated to the school’s environment and role as a student but also to the professional role as a productive member in an academic setting. This includes the role of a teacher; a scholar who conducts research, obtains funding, publishes and presents; and a leader who provides service to the profession, the university, and the community (Gardner, 2010). A supportive academic environment is critical for professional socialization to occur (Weidman & Stein, 2003).

The professional socialization of students in research-focused doctoral programs in nursing is critical, yet this has received little attention in the nursing literature. Stewart and Krueger (1996) recommended future work to further mentoring as a process for the socialization of nurse. A concept analysis of professional socialization was also performed by Dinmohammadi, Peyrovi, and Mehrdad (2013) to clarify the process in nursing. Others (Bozich Keith & Schmeiser, 2003; Nesler, Hanner, Melburg, & McGowan, 2001; Price, 2009) have addressed the importance of professionalization in undergraduate nursing students.

As posed by the AACN, outcome indicators of productive programs of research and scholarship include extramural grant awards; peer-reviewed publications; presentations; scientific and editorial review activities; state, regional, national, or international recognition as a scholar in a specific area; and evidence of influence on science policy in the field (AACN, 2001). To successfully meet these program outcome indicators, faculty must take an active role in the professional socialization of their students. Few studies to date were found that addressed the dimensions of professional socialization to its full extent of students enrolled in online research-focused nursing programs. This is alarming, considering the onset of advanced technology and thus the increase of distance education models used in research-focused doctoral program schools of nursing (Leners, Wilson, & Sitzman, 2007).

Billings (2000) developed a framework to assess outcomes and practices in Web-based courses in nursing that included student–faculty interaction and faculty and student support, all of which are necessary elements of professional socialization. However, the framework did not address one of the most important dimensions of professional socialization—scholarly productivity. Broome, Halstead, Pesut, Rawl, and Boland (2011) used Billings’ framework (2000) to evaluate an online PhD program and addressed socialization to the discipline and scholarly productivity of their students. They recommended that future research should focus on the relationships between students and mentors and the process of mentoring and its influence on career outcomes (Broome et al., 2011). In the study by Halter, Kleiner, and Hess (2005), PhD students enrolled in an online program interviewed their peers who identified feelings of isolation at the beginning of their program and when working on their dissertation. The lack of informal discussion with peers was extended to an informal interaction with faculty. Student scholarly productivity was not addressed. In the study by Effken, Boyle, and Isenberg (2008), 90% of students believed that a sense of community could be created online. Most students had engaged in research activities, such as attending a research conference or a dissertation defense. No information was gathered about student scholarly productivity.

Although not necessarily true, it is assumed that professional socialization can more easily occur in a traditional research-focused doctoral program in nursing, where face-to-face contact is prevalent and students can engage more freely in not only the scholarly activities of individual faculty but the community of scholars as a whole. Future role expectations can be observed by watching faculty in action.

For students of research-focused doctoral programs offered from a distance, the experiences are completely different. Although real-time technology provides students with the ability to see and interact with faculty and peers and attend scholarly events, structured times are necessary in a virtual setting. Creativity is required for student participation in faculty research because the student can be involved only with activities that can be done from a distance, such as data entries and analysis.

Because of the keen interest in professional socialization specific to online research-focused doctoral programs, as well as the accessibility of a group of students enrolled in an online PhD program in nursing, it was decided to explore professional socialization in research-focused doctoral programs by first examining the extent of professional socialization within the context of the online environment.

Theoretical Framework

Weidman, Twale, and Stein (2001) developed one of the few models specific to the professional socialization process in graduate students. The basis of this framework, used to guide this study, is the institutional environment of the university community in which professional preparation occurs. It includes both academic and peer culture, as well as the three mechanisms of socialization, including “interaction with others, integration into or sense of fit with the expectations of faculty and peers, and learning of knowledge and skills necessary for professional practice” (Weidman & Stein, 2003, p. 649). Although the core experiences by which students are socialized are considered to be under the control of faculty within the culture of the university, the framework also recognizes that doctoral students are influenced simultaneously through experiences such as participation in professional and university communities. The process of socialization is “not linear but fluid, dynamic, interactive, evolving and permeable” (Weidman & Stein, 2003, p. 643). According to Weidman and Stein (2003), professional socialization is composed of six dimensions, including participation in scholarly activities, student–faculty interactions, student–peer interactions, supportive faculty environment, department collegiality, and student scholarly encouragement.

Method

Design

A nonexperimental, descriptive design was used to explore the extent of professional socialization in students attending an online research-focused doctoral program in nursing. Institutional review board approval was obtained, and all students enrolled in the PhD program were sent an invitation via e-mail to participate in a survey that was administered through SurveyMonkey, which is a secure online data collection site. The e-mail invitation described the purpose of the study, clarified the expectations of those who participate, and ensured anonymity and protection of data. Consent was indicated by submitting the completed questionnaire.

Sample

The study sample consisted of PhD students enrolled in an online PhD program in nursing during 2010. Fifty-four PhD students were invited to participate, of whom 26 agreed.

Instruments

The Doctoral Student Socialization Questionnaire (Weidman & Stein, 2003) was used to answer the research question. Permission to use the questionnaire was obtained. The questionnaire takes 15 to 20 minutes to complete. Based on the theoretical framework by Weidman et al. (2001), the questionnaire is composed of 33 Likert-style items, reflecting six dimensions of professional socialization. Each of the six dimensions of professional socialization is scored by summing the responses over the item set to obtain a scale score. The number of items per dimension differs, as does the Likert scale. Specifically, participation in scholarly activities includes 11 items measured on a 4-point Likert scale (0 = never, 1 = once, 2 = twice, 3 = three or more times), student–faculty interaction and student–peer interaction each include four items measured on a 4-point Likert scale (0 = never, 1 = once, 2 = twice, 3 = three or more times), supportive faculty environment includes seven items measured on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = disagree strongly, 2 = disagree somewhat, 3 = neutral, 4 = agree somewhat, 5 = agree strongly), department collegiality includes three items measured on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = disagree strongly, 2 = disagree somewhat, 3 = neutral, 4 = agree somewhat, 5 = agree strongly), and student scholarly encouragement includes four items on a 3-point Likert scale (1 = not true at all, 2 = somewhat true, 3 = very true). Weidman and Stein (2003) reported internal reliability coefficients for each of the subscales, ranging from a low of 0.64 for student–faculty interaction to a high of 0.81 for student–peer interaction.

A researcher-generated demographic form was used to describe the study population in regard to age, gender, race, the number of years the participants had been enrolled in the program, and whether the participants were enrolled in course work or dissertation study.

Results

Twenty-six (48.1%) of the 54 students enrolled in the PhD program of nursing at that time completed the survey online. The majority of the participants were women (n = 24) and Caucasian (n = 20). Sixteen (61%) participants were working on their dissertation study and 10 (39%) were enrolled in course work. Students had been enrolled in the program from 3 to 72 months (mean = 37.15 months). Three (11.5%) of the participants had been enrolled for only 3 to 4 months.

Internal consistency reliability tests on data from this study were conducted. Coefficients for each of the six subscales are participation in scholarly activities (0.77), student–faculty interaction (0.64), student–peer interaction (0.81), supportive faculty environment (0.81), collegiality (0.71), and student scholarly encouragement (0.80).

Descriptive statistics were conducted for each of the six dimensions of professional socialization measured, and a correlational matrix was created to examine the relationships. Five of the six dimensions were significantly correlated, with the exception of participation in scholarly activities, which was not correlated with any of the other dimensions.

Eleven items on a 4-point (0 to 3) Likert scale measured participation in scholarly activities. Potential scores on this subscale could range from 0 to 33. Actual scores ranged from 3 to 29 (mean = 13.73; SD = 6.56). Participants were asked to “Indicate the response that best reflects your level of agreement.” Table 1 shows the specific items and percent of response by item.

Extent of Online Doctor of Philosophy Students’ (N = 26) Participation in Scholarly Activities

Table 1:

Extent of Online Doctor of Philosophy Students’ (N = 26) Participation in Scholarly Activities

Student–faculty interactions and student–peer interactions were both measured on a 4-point (0 to 3) Likert scale. Potential scores for subscales ranged from 0 to 12. Actual scores ranged from 4 to 12 on student–faculty interactions (mean = 6.58; SD = 4.21) and student–peer interactions (mean = 10.42; SD =2.50). Table 2 shows the specific items and percent of response by item.

Student–Faculty and Student–Peer Interactions by Study Participants (N = 26)

Table 2:

Student–Faculty and Student–Peer Interactions by Study Participants (N = 26)

Supportive faculty environment reflects the faculty’s support for scholarship and to act as role models for students. This dimension was measured on a 5-five point (1 to 5) Likert scale, and potential scores could range from 1 to 35. Actual scores ranged from 19 to 33 (mean = 28.46; SD = 3.87). Participants were asked to “Indicate their extent of agreement with statements concerning ways in which faculty members collectively participate in the socialization of graduate students.” Table 3 shows the specific items and percent of response by item. Collegiality reflects the extent to which an academic department is perceived by graduate students as a community of scholars, characterized by cooperation and mutual respect. Collegiality was measured on a 5-point (1 to 5) Likert scale, with a potential range of 3 to 15. Scores on this dimension ranged from 8 to 15 (mean = 12.73; SD = 1.99).

Supportive Faculty Environment and Collegiality of Study Participants (N = 26)

Table 3:

Supportive Faculty Environment and Collegiality of Study Participants (N = 26)

Student scholarly encouragement represents characteristics of a school that reflect an interest in scholarly activities and was measured on a 3-point Likert scale, with a potential range of 4 to 12. Actual scores ranged from 6 to 12 (mean = 9.81; SD = 1.83). Respondents were asked to “Indicate how true each item is in your school.” Sixty-five percent felt that the environment promoted scholarly interchange among students and faculty, 27% believed it was somewhat true, and 8% believed it was not true. Seventy percent responded very true that the environment fostered self-confidence in the students and 30% responded somewhat true. Similar results were noted by 73% of the participants, responding very true to whether the educational climate encouraged scholarly aspirations, whereas 23% responded somewhat true and 4% responded not true. Only 20% of participants responded very true to whether sufficient opportunities were offered to students to engage in scholarly activities of the faculty, 42% responded somewhat true, and 38% responded not true.

Discussion

All dimensions of professional socialization were significantly correlated with each other, with the exception of Participation in Scholarly Activities, which was not significantly associated with any of the other dimensions that are generally associated with effective socialization. For example, it would be expected that student–faculty interactions, a variable that represents a means by which scholarly norms are transmitted, would be correlated with scholarly activities. Interestingly, these results were similar to the study of engineering doctoral students enrolled in a traditional program by Weidman and Stein (2003).

Also worthy of mention is that many of the students who had never submitted a manuscript or had a manuscript accepted, never submitted a grant application, or never exchanged views with a scholar from another institution had been enrolled in the program for only 3 to 12 months. This is not necessarily an unexpected result, as professional socialization is a process that occurs overtime.

The results of the current single-site study show that faculty of one online research-focused doctoral program in nursing can foster professional socialization in regard to activities associated with four of the dimensions of professional socialization as described by Weidman and Stein (2003), including student–peer interactions, supportive faculty environment, department collegiality, and environment conductive to student scholarly productivity. The results also show that faculty of online PhD programs need to promote activities related to student–faculty interactions and preparation in scholarly activities. Specifically, faculty should offer PhD students the opportunity to work on research projects, grant applications, and manuscripts. Students also need to be offered more enrichment activities to supplement their course work, such as virtual seminars on specialty topics not covered in a course. Examples include manuscript writing, use of reference management packages, and library online resources.

Conclusions and Implications for Research

On the basis of preliminary findings, it appears that doctoral students enrolled in an online research-focused program can be socialized to the graduate school environment, the role of the student, and their future role in an academic setting. Future studies should include multiple sites for data collection. A better understanding of professional socialization as it applies to students enrolled in a traditional program, compared with a program offered from a distance, is needed. A national survey to examine professional socialization in both settings is currently underway.

References

  • American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (2001). Indicators of quality in research-focused doctoral programs in nursing. AACN position statement. Retrieved from http://www.aacn.nche.edu/publications/position/quality-indicators
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Extent of Online Doctor of Philosophy Students’ (N = 26) Participation in Scholarly Activities

ActivityNever (%)Once (%)Twice (%)Three or More Times (%)
Asked by a fellow student to critique his or her work19351432
Membership in a professional organization7281847
Asked a fellow student to critique your work19351531
Attended a professional conference8151265
Performed research not required by your program34351912
Called a scholar to exchange views2346823
Wrote a grant proposal32322214
Authored an unpublished manuscript652384
Authored a manuscript submitted for publication5723128
Presented a paper at a conference38221228
Authored a manuscript accepted for publication503668

Student–Faculty and Student–Peer Interactions by Study Participants (N = 26)

ActivityNever (%)Once (%)Twice (%)Three or More Times (%)




S-FS-PS-FS-PS-FS-PS-FS-P
Engaged in social conversation2301041475389
Discussed research interests with faculty or peers193231218124073
Discussed intellectual topics of interest with faculty or peers25025815123580
Talked about personal matters with faculty or peers311127121143173

Supportive Faculty Environment and Collegiality of Study Participants (N = 26)

ItemDisagree Strongly (%)Disagree Somewhat (%)Neutral (%)Agree Somewhat (%)Agree Strongly (%)
Supportive faculty environment
  Depend on faculty for academic advice0042373
  Faculty are aware of students’ concerns012123442
  Faculty offer enrichment activities08234227
  Feel free to call on faculty0481573
  Faculty are accessible08112358
  Engage students in scholarly activities00192358
  I identify more with faculty than students154623160
Collegiality
  Faculty treat each other as colleagues0084250
  Faculty see me as a serious scholar04233142
  I am treated as a colleague by faculty48151558

10.3928/01484834-20140922-06

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