This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Investigation of Advisor-Advisee Conflict Communication in U.S. Chemistry Graduate Education




Qu, Tingting

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation


Chemistry and Biochemistry

Restriction Status


Restriction Type


Date Available



The central component of a chemistry Ph.D. program is the research group, where advisors have significant impact on students’ professional development and career path. Current literature indicates that communication issues in advisor-advisee relationships in some graduate programs arise because of students’ perceived power imbalance in advisor-advisee relationships and students’ fear of advisors. These issues can negatively influence students’ conflict communication behaviors to advisors, an area that has received little attention in the literature. This study aims to identify the various conflict communication behaviors of chemistry doctoral students and explore what factors affect these behaviors. To achieve this goal, 18 chemistry graduate students were interviewed to respond to an advisor-related conflict situation in whatever way they saw fit and justify why they would respond in that fashion. The results of this qualitative study showed that although most of participants desired to openly communicate with advisors to resolve this conflict, some participants looked for help from others to avoid direct contact with advisors. In addition, different conflict communication behaviors were emphasized by participants when exemplifying how to resolve this conflict situation. Participants’ justifications indicated that students’ perceptions of advisors’ personality, their relationships with advisors, and the power imbalance between them and their advisors justified their reported actions. Based on the results, a survey was developed and piloted on a sample of 85 chemistry doctoral students. Various sources of evidence were gathered to demonstrate the validity and reliability of the survey. Following this, the full survey was administered to elicit the perspectives of chemistry doctoral students about the qualitative findings. A total of 351 responses were collected and analyzed by factor analysis and descriptive statistics, aiming to generalize chemistry doctoral students' conflict communication behaviors and perceptions of their advisors/relationships with their advisors. These findings play an important role in understanding the advisor-advisee relationship for the betterment of these relationships in chemistry doctoral education.