Best practices in doctoral retention: Mentoring

  • Judie L. Brill Walden University
  • Karen K. Balcanoff Walden University
  • Denise Land DBA Core Faculty Walden Univeristy
  • Maurice Gogarty Walden University
  • Freda Turner DBA Program Director Walden University


 The aim of this critical literature review is to outline best practices in doctoral retention and the successful approach of one university to improve graduation success by providing effective mentorship for faculty and students alike. The focus of this literature review is on distance learning relationships between faculty and doctoral students, regarding retention, persistence, and mentoring models. Key phrases and words used in the search and focusing on mentoring resulted in over 20,000 sources. The search was narrowed to include only doctoral study and mentoring. Research questions of interest were: Why do high attrition rates exist for doctoral students? What are the barriers to retention? What are the benefits of doctoral mentoring? What programs do institutions have in place to reduce attrition? The researchers found a key factor influencing doctoral student retention and success is effective faculty mentorship. In particular, the design of a mentoring and faculty training program to increase retention and provide for success after graduation is important. This research represents a key area of interest in the retention literature, as institutions continue to search for ways to better support students during their doctoral programs and post-graduation.

DOI: 10.18870/hlrc.v4i2.186


Ali, A., & Kohun, F. (2006). Dealing with isolation feelings in IS doctoral programs. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 1, 21-33. Retrieved from

Ampaw, F. D., & Jaeger, A. J. (2012). Completing the three stages of doctoral education: An event history analysis. Research in Higher Education, 53(6), 640-660.

Barnes, B. J., & Austin, A. E. (2009). The role of doctoral advisors: A look at advising from the advisor's perspective. Innovative Higher Education, 33, 297-315.

Black, R. (2012). The dissertation marathon. Contemporary Issues in Education Research, 5(2), 97-104. Retrieved from

Cochran, J. D., Campbell, S. M., Baker, H. M., & Leeds, E. M. (2014). The role of student characteristics in predicting retention in online courses. Research in Higher Education, 55(1), 27-48.

Crisp, G., & Cruz, I. (2009). Mentoring college students: A critical review of the literature between 1990 & 2007. Research in Higher Education, 50, 525-545.

Espino, M. M., Munoz, S. M., & Kiyama, J. M. (2010). Transitioning from doctoral study to the academy: Theorizing trenzas of identity for Latina sister scholars. Qualitative Inquiry, 16(10), 804-818.

Ewing, H., Mathieson, K., Alexander, J. L., & Leafman, J. (2012). Enhancing the acquisition of research skills in online doctoral programs: The Ewing model©. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 8(1), 34-44. Retrieved from

Ford, L., & Vaughn, C. (2011). Working together more than alone: Students’ evolving perceptions of self community within a four-year educational administration doctoral cohort. The Qualitative Report, 16(6), 1645-1668. Retrieved from

Girves, J. E., & Wemmerus, V. (1988). Developing models of graduate student degree progress. The Journal of Higher Education, 59(2), 163-189.

Grant-Vallone, E., & Ensher, E. A. (2000). Effects of peer mentoring on types of mentor support, program satisfaction and graduate student stress: A dyadic perspective. Journal of College Student Development, 41(6), 637-642. Retrieved from

Gregoric, C., & Wilson, A. (2012). Informal Peer Mentoring During the Doctoral Journey: Perspectives of Two Postgraduate Students. In M. Kiley (Ed.), Proceedings of the 10th Quality in Postgraduate Research Conference: Narratives of Transition: Perspectives of Research Leaders, Educators and Postgraduates (pp. 83-92). Retrieved from

Hadijoannou, X., Shelton, N. R., Fu, D., & Dhanarattigannon, J. (2007). The road to a doctoral degree: Co-travelers through a perilous passage. College Student Journal, 41(1), 160-176. Retrieved from

Heinrich, K. T. (2005). Halfway between receiving and giving: A relational analysis of doctorate- prepared nurse-scholars’ first 5 years after graduation. Journal of Professional Nursing, 21(5), 303-313.

Holley, K. A., & Caldwell, M. L. (2012). The challenges of designing and implementing a doctoral student mentoring program. Innovative Higher Education, 37(3), 243-253.

Holmes, B. D., Robinson, L., Seay, A. D. (2010). Getting to finished: Strategies to ensure completion of the doctoral dissertation. Contemporary Issues in Education Research, 3(7), 1-8. Retrieved from

Kaplan, K. (2012). Postgraduate options: Academia misses the mark. Nature, 485, 535-536.

Kowalczyk, N., & Truluck, C. (2013). Literature reviews and systematic reviews: What is the difference? Radiologic Technology, 85(2), 219-222. Retrieved from

Ku, H.-Y., Lahman, M. K. E., Yeh, H.-T., & Cheng, Y. - C. (2008). Into the academy: Preparing and mentoring international doctoral students. Educational Technology, Research and Development, 56(3), 365-377.

Leeds, E., Campbell, S., Baker, H., Ali, R., Brawley, D., & Crisp, J. (2013). The impact of student retention strategies: An empirical study. International Journal of Management in Education, 7(1/2), 22–43.

Lim, J. H., Dannels, S. A., & Watkins, R. (2008). Qualitative investigation of doctoral students’ learning experiences in online research methods courses. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 9(3), 223-236. Retrieved from

Linden, J., Ohlin, M., & Brodin, E. M. (2013). Mentorship, supervision & learning experience in PhD education. Studies in Higher Education, 38(5), 639-662.

Lovitts, B. (2008). The transition to independent research: Who makes it, who doesn’t and why. Journal of Higher Education, 79(3), 296-325.

Lunsford, L. G. (2011). Psychology of mentoring: The case of talented college students. Journal of Advanced Academics, 22(3), 474-498.

Martinez, E., Ordu, C., Della Sala, M. R., & McFarlane, A. (2013). Striving to obtain a school-work-life balance: The full-time doctoral student. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 8, 39-59. Retrieved from

McAlpine, L., Jazvac-Martek, M., & Hopwood, N. (2009). Doctoral student experience: Activities and difficulties influencing identity development. International Journal for Researcher Development, 1(1), 97-109.

Mullen, C. A. (2007). Trainers, illusionists, tricksters, and escapists: Changing the doctoral circus. The Educational Forum, 71(4), 300-315.

Nimer, M. (2009). The doctoral cohort model: Increasing opportunities for success. College Student Journal, 43(4), 1373-1379. Retrieved from

Nurmi, J., & Salmela-Aro, K. (2002). Goal construction, reconstruction and depressive symptoms in a life-span context: The transition from school to work. Journal of Personality, 70(3), 385-420.

Peterson, E. (1999). Building scholars: A qualitative look at mentoring in a criminology and criminal justice doctoral program. Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 10(2), 247-261.

Pinheiro, D., Melkers, J., & Youtie, J. (2014). Learning to play the game: Student publishing as an indicator of future scholarly success. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 81, 56-66

Pilbeam, C., Lloyd-Jones, G., & Denyer, D. (2013). Leveraging value in doctoral student networks through social capital. Studies in Higher Education, 38(10), 1472-1489.

Pyhalto, K., Toom, A., Stubb, J., & Lonka, K. (2012). Challenges of becoming a scholar: A study of doctoral students of becoming a scholar. ISRN Education, 2012, 1-12.

Rose, G. L. (2005). Group differences in graduate students’ concepts of the ideal mentor. Research in Higher Education, 46(1), 53-80.

Smith, C. (2012). (Re) discovering meaning: A tale of two losses. Qualitative Inquiry, 18(10), 862-867.

Stevens, D. D., Emil, S., & Yamashita, M. (2010). Mentoring through reflective journal writing: A qualitative study by a mentor/professor and two international graduate students. Reflective Practice: International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives, 11(3), 347- 367.

Sugimoto, C. R. (2012). Are you my mentor? Identifying mentors and their roles in LIS doctoral education. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 53(1), 2-19. Retrieved from

The 7th International Conference. (2012). American Institute of Higher Education Conference Proceedings, 5(1), 1-571. Retrieved from

Thien, A. H., & Beach, R. (2010). Mentoring doctoral students towards publication within the scholarly communities of practice. In C. Aitchison, B. Kamler, & A. Lee (Eds.), Publishing pedagogies for the doctorate and beyond (pp.117-137). New York, NY: Rutledge

Webb, A., Wangmo, T., Ewen, H. H., Teaster, P. B., & Hatch L. R. (2009). Educational Gerontology, 35(12), 1089-1106.

West, I. J. Y., Gokalp, G., Pena, E. V., Fischer, L., & Gupton, J. (2011).Exploring effective support practices for doctoral students’ degree completion. College Student Journal, 45(2), 310-323. Retrieved from

Yob, I., & Crawford, L. (2012). Conceptual framework for mentoring doctoral students. Higher Learning Research Communications, 2(2), 34-47.
How to Cite
BRILL, Judie L. et al. Best practices in doctoral retention: Mentoring. Higher Learning Research Communications, [S.l.], v. 4, n. 2, p. 26-37, june 2014. ISSN 2157-6254. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 20 sep. 2017. doi:


Doctoral mentoring, retention, attrition, doctoral programs, doctoral graduation