FEBRUARY 10, 2018

Doctoral residencies: a developmental process

Group of people seated in a circle

By Dr. Pressley Rankin

Each year City University of Seattle offers three doctoral residencies. The purpose of these residencies is to build a sense of inclusion and to provide students with time to network with peers and faculty members while engaging in academic and creative activities to learn the ins and outs of the dissertation process.

CityU is committed to giving students the best start we can so that they will finish their dissertation and become doctoral scholars. Balancing our responsibilities for content with our need to help students grow professionally is the essence of the doctoral residency experience.

I have been a part of five different residencies in my time here at CityU. Each of those residencies has been different and offered a variety of experiences for students.

The importance of socialization and inclusion

In a study conducted to examine group dynamics in doctoral programs, Kruppa and Meda (2005) concluded that organizational socialization adds an element of inclusion to doctoral students. This was important to the success of the group that they studied. The feeling of inclusion becomes paramount as the student begins working on their dissertation.

We designed our residencies to include time for networking and socialization. Students come in at many different developmental levels and each residency takes on a different dynamic based on the group.

The value of socialization is clearly evident in the feedback from the residencies. Students consistently comment that: “the residency helped me to understand the dissertation process better”; “it was amazing meeting other students and seeing where they are in the process”; “I love sharing ideas with my peers”; “it was hard for me to make it in person but it was so worth it just to meet people.”

Networking during residencies prevents isolation

This feedback tells us that the peer interaction is valuable not only for social reasons but to help the students gauge where they are in relation to their peers and to not feel alone on their journey.

A key benefit I consistently observe is the value of networking during these events. In fact, students have established long-lasting friendships, learned about career opportunities, and have gotten access to information that has helped them in their dissertation.

At the same time, residencies can reveal some of the anxieties associated with the dissertation process. One of the most common comments that are associated with this anxiety is, “Why can’t you just tell me everything is fine with my dissertation problem statement?”

This feedback reminds us all about the developmental nature of the process. Students long for us, as faculty, to tell them everything is fine. They want us to remove their anxiety. They want easy answers.

The residency becomes a “safe space”

Ronald Heifetz, a leadership scholar from Harvard, wrote a seminal book in 1994 about adaptive leadership (Leadership without Easy Answers). In that book, Heifetz discussed the idea of adaptive challenges. These types of challenges are problems or processes that don’t have an easy answer (like a dissertation). There is no quick fix.

It is the job of a leader to help manage the distress that comes from not knowing the answer. He suggests that there is a level of distress that allows people to be creative and motivated. The leader must use different methods to create a safe space for the follower to learn to manage the distress and solve the challenge. Heifetz calls this the holding environment.

In many ways, the residencies are practice holding environments for the actual one that will come during the dissertation. In residency, the faculty are the leaders responsible for creating a safe space for deep thinking and the exploration of the dissertation process.

Variety of formats: something for everyone

CityU offers a variety of residency formats; in-person, mix-mode, and online. Each format offers a different twist on the residency experience. My favorite, and often my recommendation, is to come in person if you can. I can feel the energy that is created in the live space. That energy just can’t be duplicated.

Our doctoral students are so cool.


Heifetz, R. (1994). Leadership without easy answers. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Krupp, R., Meda, A. K. (2005). Group dynamics in the formation of a PhD cohort: A reflection in experiencing. Organizational Development Journal, 23(1), 56-67

Learn how you can obtain a doctoral degree in leadership or find out more about our doctoral residencies held annually. You can also explore City University of Seattle’s graduate leadership programs or visit the CityU website  and request more information. We’re all about the finish!