Becoming a Professional: Examining Professional Development Practices of Communication Doctoral Students
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Higher education is currently facing a number of challenges that are leading doctoral students to seek employment outside of the traditional research-focused institution. With students looking for different jobs, professional socialization and development activities need to be re-examined to understand whether current practices are meeting the needs of doctoral students. Sociologists have explored what it means to be professional at length, but a communicative voice is needed in this conversation. This research seeks to understand how to "do" professionalism in mundane, everyday contexts. Graduate student socialization, identity, and professional development literature was used as a backdrop for exploring this phenomenon. Interviews with doctoral students in communication and directors of graduate studies in communication were conducted and documents were collected from graduate programs and the National Communication Association. This material was subsequently analyzed to explore what it means to be a professional, how to develop as a professional, and how professionalism is tracked and evaluated. The analysis suggested that what it means to be professional is composed of traditional conceptualizations of research, teaching, and service, and a number of other practices and values such as independence, collaboration, collegiality, and work-life balance. This analysis also showed that while students developed these qualities through formal means, they relied more on informal methods of developing to enhance their professionalism. Formal assessment measures helped in the evaluation process, though they did not measure many of the characteristics of a communication professional. Informal means of evaluation served as a way to track some of these characteristics. Findings showed several challenges that doctoral education currently face. First, students are increasingly pursuing careers outside the traditional Research I institutional context and increasingly pursuing more teacher-centric goals. While development opportunities should reflect student goals, a shift away from a research focus could undermine placement at Research I institutions and decrease the value of the PhD, given the increase in fixed-contract hiring at public and for-profit universities. Second, doctoral students and advisers are not adequately prepared to have difficult conversations about career goals, which may be connected to students feeling underprepared to go on the job market. Third, current assessment procedures do not measure many of the more abstract qualities and values identified as professional, which makes it difficult to assess student development. Finally, this research highlighted how the role of the body in white-collar work has been overlooked and how academic practices discipline the body in particular ways. Future research and practical applications regarding each of these challenges were explored, and limitations were also discussed.
Rashe, Rachel (2012). Becoming a Professional: Examining Professional Development Practices of Communication Doctoral Students. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from