Navigating Liminality: The Experience of Troublesome Periods and Distance During Doctoral Study
The purpose of this research was to examine the experiences of doctoral students, studying at a distance, whose postgraduate studies involved passing through troublesome or problematic liminal periods in understanding concepts or processes that shaped their identities as independent researchers or expert practitioners. This qualitative design used a narrative inquiry methodology as informed by an actor-network approach for elements of the analysis. Twenty-three interdisciplinary doctoral researchers and graduates from around the world were interviewed about their liminal periods and the role distance played in them. Participants reported passing transformative thresholds as they individually resolved their liminal experiences. While they reported not acknowledging or discussing their liminal challenges when they occurred, they all experienced support or encouragement from both human and non-human actors while they overcame their struggles. Distance was found to be a contentious term, and as such did not seem to hinder or otherwise extend doctoral liminality in any way. Findings revealed that doctoral liminal experiences occurred in at least one of three forms—isolation and loneliness, a lack of confidence and impostor syndrome, or research misalignment. Recommendations for supervisors included helping postgraduates to become aware of liminality during their studies and make them aware that they did not have to suffer alone in silence.
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