Introduction to the Problem
Online and traditional PhD programs in higher education have given adult
learners the opportunity to complete advanced degrees asynchronously, or without having
to visit an on-ground university setting. Undertaken from a distance, doctoral learners
engage in the online learning environment with instructors, academic mentors, peers, and
various forms of media, to complete academic research that leads to the doctorate. Many
media tools such as email, webcam chat, search, or document sharing that support the
writing of a dissertation study are now commonplace for those who use the internet for
study (Cook, 2012; Dominguez, 2013; Fletcher & Mullen, 2013).
The process of communication between the faculty mentor and researcher-mentee
is a primary function within the online learning environment, and utilizes those
supportive media tools, during the entire doctoral process. Wolff (2010) emphasized the
exchange of written communications between PhD faculty mentor and researcher-mentee
were framed as a social-cognitive apprenticeship, and the writing of the dissertation seen
as a ‘guided writing journey’. Through exchange of drafts, mentor comments, references,
and other graphical exemplars, the mentor directs the researcher in construction of the
research plan and the process of academic scholarship.
The communications between faculty mentor and researcher also take on many
tasks that are included in the process of academic research scholarship. Formulation of a
research problem for study, searching of relevant literature, framing of the conceptual and
theoretical frameworks, and developing an interpretive strategy, all take place during the
writing of a dissertation study (Boden & Kippers, 2012; Booth, 2013; Kwan, 2009; Lee,
2008; Ravitch & Riggan, 2012; Roberts, 2010). The mentor’s guidance in each phase is
paramount to successful progress for the researcher, leading to a completed doctorate.
In the beginning phases of mentoring the dissertation researcher, the faculty
mentor discusses the researcher’s interests in topics and helps with the development of a
research problem. During these exchanges, the researcher will need to read from
the academic and professional literature that helps to frame a researchable problem for study.
Studies in academic research as professional practice cite that the practice of literature
reviewing for research should be taught by the mentor and seen as a professional practice
from the start (Dominguez, 2013; Yob & Crawford, 2012). The sharing of scholarship
practices by the mentor with the researcher-mentee constitutes the transformational
learning and resulting perspective transformation (Mezirow, 1994) for the practitionerscholar
into a scholar-practitioner (Capella University, 2014).
The topic of this study was the influence of faculty mentoring on the review of
scholarly literature. Included within mentoring communication, the mentor provides
professional insight to the mentee for how to develop the research study design. This
process helped to establish the interpretive strategy for study. Research has noted that
faculty advisors, mentors, and PhD research students have trouble with their
understanding about what goes into a conceptual and theoretical framework, making it
difficult to do literature reviewing and formulating of the plan for research (Boote &
Beile, 2005; Lesham & Trafford, 2007; Maxwell, 2006; Maxwell, 2013). Indeed, Lesham
and Trafford (2007) surveyed more than 600 faculty, committee members, advisors, and
research students, who had difficulty in defining and utilizing a conceptual and
theoretical framework. This study aimed to find out about how PhD faculty mentors
guide their researcher mentees during a process of developing dissertation study and
literature reviewing; what best practices they employ when communicating with mentees,
and how they convey important scholarship knowledge.