- Three Magic Letters: Getting to PhD
In 1996, Nettles and Millet undertook the most comprehensive study on American doctoral students to date. They surveyed over 14,000 doctoral students at United States institutions representing 11 fields of study and examined "how individual, institution, field, faculty, and financial characteristics" (p. 4) affect doctoral student success and failure. Three Magic Letters: Getting to PhD is the product of their collaborative efforts.
In the first of four sections of the book, Nettles and Millett provided a brief historical context of doctoral education. In chapter 1, they developed the rationale and purpose for studying doctoral student experiences. The chapter culminates in an outline of the following chapters that parallels the format of a journal article with sections devoted to research design, findings and discussion, and recommendations for future research and practice.
In chapter 2, Nettles and Millet provided the context, trends, and conceptual analytical framework for their study. While relying on many scholars to advance their Conceptual Model of Doctoral Student Experiences found on page 28, the authors noted that the foundation for their study is based on Berelson's Graduate Education in the United States. The model developed by Nettles and Millet depicts the influence of personal and academic backgrounds, along with other acquired benefits, on five major outcome measures of a doctoral student experience: type of funding, socialization, research productivity, satisfaction and dropping out of a doctoral program, and doctoral degree completion. The descriptive analyses and a brief rational for the relational analyses used in their study are discussed at the end of this chapter. Interestingly, Nettles and Millett's exploratory analyses revealed that little of the variance in doctoral student experiences is explained by the departments in which the students are pursuing the degree.
In chapter 3, Nettles and Millet noted the problems with existing national databases and how the development of their new national doctoral student experience database would permit them to generalize to the entire United States population of doctoral students. They also discussed the survey design; justification for using the eight broad categories of variables (i.e., demographics, predoctorate preparation and screening, socialization, financial support, research productivity, personal satisfaction, rate of progress, and degree completion); the research design; and limitations of their study. The authors boasted a 70% response rate to yield a final sample of 9,036 doctoral students.
In chapter 4, Nettles and Millet introduced the demographics of the sample, including sex, race, field of study, age of doctoral students, age when student decided to pursue a doctorate, parental education levels, parental socioeconomic status, annual income, and a variety of domestic factors (e.g., educational attainment of spouses or partners, children under the age [End Page 487] of 18). Based on the characteristics of the students, Nettles and Millet concluded that their sample of doctoral students resembled those reported nationally.
In the second section of the book, chapters 5 through 10, Nettles and Millet devoted separate chapters to findings in the next five of the eight broad categories (i.e., predoctorate preparation and screening, financial support, socialization, research productivity, personal satisfaction) discussed in chapter 3. The findings from the last two of the eight categories, rate of progress and degree completion, are combined in chapter 10. Each chapter concludes with a brief summary of how the authors interpreted the results. For example, in chapter 5, Nettles and Millet commented that the variation among students' GRE scores across fields of study, race, and sex "makes us wonder about the extent to which student potential is captured by the scores, especially the relationship of the scores to student performance" (p. 69).
The third section of the book (chapters 11 through 13) is the most notable section of the book. In chapter 11, Nettles and Millet presented the statistically significant findings of the logistic and linear regression analyses used to determine the predictors and outcome measures in their Conceptual Model of Doctoral Student Experiences. Readers will share the opinion given by Nettles and Millett who noted that chapter 11...