How an online community promotes graduate students' professional development
Reasons for Engagement in “GradSchool”?
How an Online Community Promotes Graduate Students' Professional Development
Zhongrui Yao & Vanessa Dennen - Florida State University
Using a survey design, this study explores graduate
students’ experiences in an online community, and how
these experiences influence their professional development.
Findings indicate that at-risk graduate students can access
information, learn strategies and receive emotional support
related to time management, relationships with colleagues
and advisors, future careers, time management and mental
health from the online community.
As many as 50% of all Ph.D. students may not complete
their degrees (Cassuto, 2013). At-risk graduate students
may face challenges in many areas including relationships
with faculty and colleagues, time management, course work,
mental health, and future careers (Aitchison & Mowbray,
2013; Anderson & Swazey, 1998; Farkas, 2014; Morisano,
Babor, Winstanley, & Morojele, 2009; Silber et al, 1999). An
organized support networks, which may be found in online
social networks (Dennen & Myers, 2012) may help these
graduate students succeed (Farkas, 2014). The subreddit
“GradSchool” is one example of an active support network
for graduate students. This study explores how participation
in “GradSchool” supports graduate students’ professional
development. The research questions are:
Participants: American graduate students, balanced
gender, masters and doctoral level
Data Collection. 59 “GradSchool” subreddit participants
completed an online survey. Ten of them participated in
interviews. 75 posts and associated comments were
collected from the subreddit.
Data Analysis. Survey items were analyzed using
descriptive statistics. Interviews and comments were
1. What participation patterns exist among graduate
student members of the “GradSchool” subreddit?
2. Why do graduate students engage in “GradSchool” ?
3. How does engagement with “GradSchool” support
graduate students’ professional development?
• For some participants, engagement in
“GradSchool” is a regular part of their life as
• Participants agreed that a major benefit of
engaging in “GradSchool” was encountering other
students with similar problems.
• “GradSchool” supported graduate students’
professional development by providing a space to
share knowledge, strategies, and emotional
support related to graduate school issues (e.g.,
time management, relationships with colleagues
and advisors, future careers, and mental health).
• Feel unsatisfied in school, low institutional support
• 1/3 participants posted challenges they faced in school,
but19% felt low institutional support
• Seek social support
• 1/4 posts were about how to deal with stress and loneliness;
half of participants chose the option in the survey
• Seek just-in-time advice
• Over 2/3 participants trusted and valued other graduate
students’ advices; 2/3 posts were asking for advices;
• support other graduate students
• 97% participants were commenters; strategies were offered
How Engagement with “GradSchool”
Supports Graduate Students’
feeling less alone,
feeling inspired by
others’ good news
advice for sound
funding and future
Participation Pattern in “GradSchool”
• Few added other redditors as friends.
• Participants were more likely to read and comment
than initiate posts:
• Post initiators: 2/3 of the participants initiated posts annually
or less frequently and each participant only submitted one
• Readers: Over 80% (48) participants read posts 2-3 times/
week or more frequently and 1/3 spent 30-60 minutes
• Commenters: 97% (57) participants commented on others’
post more frequently than once every 3 months.
Aitchison, C., & Mowbray, S. (2013). Doctoral women: Managing
emotions, managing doctoral studies. Teaching in Higher Education,
18(8), 859-870. doi:10.1080/13562517.2013.827642
Anderson, M. S., & Swazey, J. P. (1998). Reflections on the graduate
student experience: An overview. New Directions for Higher Education,
Cassuto, L. (2013, July 1).Ph.D. attrition: How much is too much? The
Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://
Dennen, V. P., & Myers, J. B. (Eds.). (2012). Virtual professional
development and informal learning via social networks. Hershey, PA:
Farkas,D.(2014, September 14). The five major challenges of graduate
school and how you can overcome the biggest one. Retrieved from
Morisano, D., Babor, T. F., Winstanley, E. L., & Morojele, N. (2009).
Getting started: Publication issues for graduate students, postdoctoral
fellows, and other novice addiction scientists. Publishing addiction
science: A guide for the perplexed, 50-69. Retrieved from http://
Silber, E., Arnstein, R. L., Backus, V., Eddy, H. P., Liptzin, M. B.,
Notman, M. T., . . . Wenger, R. E. (1999). Helping students adapt to
graduate school: Making the grade Haworth Press, NY 13904-1580