Abstract: "Let's Work like Life Is Normal": Advising Support for Doctoral Students during the COVID-19 Pandemic (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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57P "Let's Work like Life Is Normal": Advising Support for Doctoral Students during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Thursday, January 12, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Stephanie P. Wladkowski, PhD, LMSW, APHSW-C, Associate Professor, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH
Rebecca G. Mirick, PhD, LICSW, Associate Professor, Salem State University
Background and Purpose: Advisors are a critical component of doctoral education, supporting professional development, educational progress, skill development, and socialization into academia (Mullen, 2020). There is little agreement on mentors’ role in providing psychosocial support (Authors, 2019; Gammel & Rutstein-Riley, 2016). During the COVID-19 pandemic, doctoral students faced multiple challenges, including a loss of institutional supports (e.g., library, IRB), negative affective responses (e.g., anxiety, distress), dissertation delays, and slowed writing productivity (Levine et al., 2021). In this context, the advising role became a critical student support (Lasiter et al., 2020; Levine et al., 2021), demanding higher levels of advisor support, empathy, and responsiveness (Levine et al., 2021). Many advisors were unprepared for this type of emergency mentoring and were experiencing parallel challenges themselves (Lasiter et al., 2020; Mullen, 2020). This study examined the experience of advising and effectiveness, from the perspective of both doctoral program directors and students during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Methods: Online surveys were sent to program directors in doctoral programs in six diverse fields of study. Program directors completed one survey (N=100) and distributed a separate survey to students (N=483). Quantitative data analysis focused on specific questions about the use and effectiveness of advising during the first 18 months of the pandemic. Open ended questions specific to advising and mentoring were analyzed using thematic analysis.

Results: Students’ use of advising varied significantly; 39.5% had fewer advising meetings but 14.5% had more meetings. In contrast, 19.0% of program directors believed student/advisee dyads met less often and 27.0% more often. Half of students (50.3%) had more availability for advising meetings while 26.1% had less availability. Many students (63.1%) used advising to discuss work/life balance and 36.4% asked for guidance on this topic. Program directors agreed with these responses (61.0% and 27.0%, respectively).

Approximately one-quarter (22.8%) went to advisors to get support around a specific problem or challenge. In these meetings, advisors helped students adjust expectations (48.2%), provide emotional support (44.6%), and supported navigation of new professional expectations and needs (24.6%). While some students had positive experiences, 60.0% said their problem remained unresolved and 43.6% felt unsupported by their advisor.

Conclusion and Implications: Findings highlight differences in access to effective advising support during the pandemic (Mullen, 2020). While some students felt advisors supported them and resolved their issues effectively, others were unsatisfied with advising and felt unsupported during this crisis. Future research should further explore advisor perspectives on the process, including their role in the provision of responsive and empathetic support. For some, this may reflect a lack institutional and departmental supports to provide the types of advising relationships needed by students during a crisis (Lasater et al., 2021). Programs should explore ways to support both students and advisors, so that these dyads can work effectively, facilitating student persistence and preventing advisor burnout; both are critical issues for departments, especially during a crisis that impacts both advisors and their students.