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S. Sunar, Ö. Geban

Middle East Technical University (TURKEY)
Doctoral degrees are research-oriented educational programs designed to ensure students have the training, education, and skills to function as independent scholars in their field of study. This design is not merely academic, but also serves a vocational function by producing a graduate with the skills and aptitude to succeed in their future career (Issac, Quinlan, & Walker, 1992), usually as a university faculty member (Frost & Clear, 2007). To achieve this outcome, programs rely almost universally on a combination of graduate coursework and incremental assessment (Stanford, 1976); students must pass various assessments before advancing to the next phase of their degree program. It remains unclear whether assessment procedures are implemented to serve explicit educational objectives or pragmatic institutional interests. These often-conflicting approaches to assessment can be understood through the qualifying examination process, which is the dominant form of examination in doctoral programs (Flanagan, 1990).
To date, little serious inquiry into the purpose, value, and use of qualifying examinations has been published in professional journals. Despite the fact that students report anxiety, insecurity, ambiguity, and extraordinary stress surrounding qualifying examinations and that faculty often question the purposes and cost-benefits of the process, doctoral qualifying examinations continue to be an integral component of doctoral programs (Burck & Peterson, 1983; Khanna & Khanna, 1972; Merenda, 1974; Thomason, Parks, & Bloom, 1980; Wolensky, 1979).
Considering these, there is a need to understand doctoral qualifying examination process. This study aims to explore students’ experiences and probe into their thoughts, feelings, concerns and worries regarding doctoral qualifying examination.
The main research question that will be addressed is as follows:
What is the meaning of taking doctoral qualifying examination for PhD students?
The sub-research questions that will be addressed are as follows:
What do doctoral students think about the quality of qualifying examination?
How do they get prepared for qualifying examination?
What are their psychological experiences concerning the qualifying examination?
Since this study aims to shed light on the feelings and experiences of students regarding the examination, the research design of the study is phenomenology. This study aims to create an in-depth understanding of the phenomenon; doctoral qualifying examination.
The participants are 9 students enrolled in a doctoral program in Turkey. They are included by using maximum variation sampling in order to present their position with respect to the qualifying examination. Semi-structured interviews are used to collect data.
This study can add to the body of knowledge regarding the experiences of graduate students during the qualifying exam phase of their doctoral program. Because only a limited amount of information is available on this experience of doctoral students, it will be of interest to a myriad of stakeholders in the higher education process, particularly students and those administering the doctoral programs. It can also give an idea for similar experiences of graduate students in general even though the name of the assessment changes from qualifying examination to the Viva, to Upgrade or whatever it is called.