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Abstract

The focus of this study was to examine motivations and reactions in context of a midlife decision to seek a doctoral degree. Participants were 116 non-traditional age, men and women graduate students and recent alumni from one of three geographically distributed and blended delivery model doctoral programs. Demographic information was collected, including career history and goals, age, gender, and ethnicity. The mean and median ages were between 41 and 50. The research questionnaire featured narrative questions regarding “midcourse corrections,” any experienced trauma, and life satisfactions. Autobiographical material was also analyzed thematically, providing further illustrative examples of the midlife experiences in the course of negotiating a doctoral education. Both the narrative responses and autobiographies were analyzed using content analysis (Ryan & Bernard, 2000). Forty-four percent of the sample reported seeking the doctoral degree as part of a career change plan, while 56% sought to achieve an advanced degree in their current fields. Despite a high rate of reported regret, surprise, and even trauma, considerable life satisfaction (91%) was reported as the result of seeking doctoral education in midlife, by definition a “midcourse correction.”

Keywords

Midcourse Corrections, Life Satisfaction, Mid-Career Students, Life Review, Qualitative Research

Author Bio(s)

Catherine E. Hiltz, Ph.D., is an adjunct faculty and team lead in the college of online and continuing education at Southern New Hampshire University. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: Catherine E. Hiltz-Hymes at, cathiltz@gmail.com.

Susan Spicer, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist at the Psychological Affiliates in Winter Park, Florida. Correspondence regarding this article can also be addressed directly to: Susan Spicer at, susie.spicer@gmail.com.

Elizabeth A. Hardy is a clinical assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine in Dayton, Ohio. Correspondence regarding this article can also be addressed directly to: Elizabeth A. Hardy at, eahardy@earthlink.net.

Manuela Waddell, M.A., is a clinical psychology doctoral student in the psychology program at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, California. Correspondence regarding this article can also be addressed directly to: Manuela Waddell at, mwaddell@email.fielding.edu.

Sherry L. Hatcher, Ph.D., ABPP, is faculty chair in the psychology program at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, California. Correspondence regarding this article can also be addressed directly to: Sherry L. Hatcher at, shatcher@fielding.edu.

Acknowledgements

This research was funded by the Office of the Provost at Fielding Graduate University and awarded to Sherry Hatcher, Ph.D., Principal Investigator. The views expressed in this manuscript do not necessarily reflect those of the granting agencies.

Publication Date

10-26-2015

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 4.0 License.

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