Preliminary Investigation Into Social Processes that Influence the Development of a Researcher Identity in Doctoral Education

Macquarie University, Australia


As widely acknowledged, the PhD is a journey in which becoming a researcher is one of the roads travelled (eg. Barnacle & Mewburn, 2010). The PhD journey is as much social as intellectual, and as such the formation of a researcher identity during doctoral study is a social undertaking. Based on the theoretical concepts of identity by Adams and Marshall (1996), McAlpine, Jazvac-Martek, and Hopwood (2009) and Tonso (2006) this paper explores how the social contributes to the students' feeling of becoming a researcher and feeling of belonging to a researcher community. Based on focus groups with 30 PhD students from Macquarie University this paper presents instances of identity development in form of students' narratives, and analyses how these relate to the process of forming a researcher identity. The paper finds that social processes that candidates identify as playing a role in identity formation include informal social settings and extend beyond the HDR environment to include family and friends. The identified social connections cross geographic, cultural and linguistic borders and present valuable support networks in the PhD process. Therefore, we acknowledge doctoral education as preparation of today's graduates for a "globalized knowledge economy" (Nerad & Heggelund, 2011). In recognition of the diversity of HDR candidates, findings are presented in case studies of international/domestic, Sciences/Humanities, and full-time/part-time student groupings. The paper concludes with critical reflections on the notion of the doctoral journey and how institutions and research groups may support the development of researcher identities.

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