Shaping a sustainable doctoral pathway: A critical analysis of reflexive mediation between structure and agency in the PhD experience

Xiujuan SUN, John Gilbert TRENT

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlespeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

This study aims to provide a complex account of a PhD candidate’s reflexive doctoral engagement process emergent from the changing doctoral environment vis-à-vis the neoliberal higher education context. Drawing on a critical realist theory of reflexivity, it analyzed narrative interview data collected with the participant over an 18-month period. The analytical focus was on how the student’s reflexivity mediated her exertion of agency within the structural affordances and constraints of her doctoral education to ultimately give shape to a unique doctoral trajectory. Findings revealed that the participant practiced distinct patterns of reflexive deliberations in three disparate but interweaving areas of her doctoral life: research progression, community belonging, and career construction. Notably, analysis highlighted the contingent and fluid characteristics of the reflexivity phenomenon and its context-dependent effects in the complexity of doctoral study. The study argues that a sociological view of reflexivity offers a novel means to understand the nuanced ways of agency-structure interplay pervading experiences of contemporary candidature. Copyright © 2022 HERDSA.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)468-482
JournalHigher Education Research & Development
Volume42
Issue number2
Early online dateMay 2022
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Citation

Sun, X., & Trent, J. (2023). Shaping a sustainable doctoral pathway: A critical analysis of reflexive mediation between structure and agency in the PhD experience. Higher Education Research & Development, 42(2), 468-482. doi: 10.1080/07294360.2022.2073979

Keywords

  • Reflexivity
  • Agency-structure interplay
  • Doctoral experience
  • Doctoral trajectory
  • PG student publication

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