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The purpose of this collective case study was to use a critical dialectical pluralistic (CDP) philosophical lens to investigate select doctoral students’ perceptions about the challenges that they encountered while in a doctorate program and the coping strategies that they found effective in mitigating these challenges. A major goal of CDP is to empower research participants maximally by giving them the role of participant-researchers. Participants were 10 doctoral students enrolled at a Tier-II university in the United States, who were selected via convenience sampling. Each student participated in a face-to-face interview with a member of the research team—consistent with a CDP approach. A qualitative-dominant crossover mixed analysis was used wherein both quantitative and qualitative analyses were used to analyze the qualitative data, with the qualitative analysis phase being dominant. The qualitative analyses (e.g., constant comparison analysis, classical content analysis) revealed the following five themes: compartmentalization of life, outside support systems, justification for participation in program, emotional status, and structure of program. These themes indicated that although challenges are plentiful, particularly in terms of balancing one’s academic life with other obligations, participants found support and encouragement from family, friends, and other doctoral students to be the most beneficial coping strategy. These findings have important implications for the structuring of doctoral programs.


Published as: Byers, V. T. et al. (2014). Survival strategies: Doctoral students’ perceptions of challenges and coping

methods. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 9, 109-136. Retrieved from



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