School of Education


Doctor of Philosophy


Lucinda Spaulding


Grit, Doctoral Persistence, Growth Mindset, Personal and Social Responsibility, Higher Education, Grounded Theory


Education | Higher Education | Psychology


The purpose of this systematic grounded theory study was to generate a model explaining how grit and a growth mindset develop and influence doctoral persistence in doctoral completers. The theories guiding this study were Tinto’s (1975) student integration theory of college persistence, Duckworth’s (2016) theory of grit, and Dweck’s (2016) theory of mindset. Interview and reflective journaling data, as well as scores on the Short Grit Scale (Duckworth, 2016) and the Dweck Mindset Instrument (Dweck, 2016), from 12 doctoral completers were analyzed using systematic coding consistent with a grounded theory research design. The central research question of the study was, “How do grit and a growth mindset develop and influence doctoral persistence?” The central theme of Personal and Social Responsibility (PSR) carries theoretical, empirical, and practical implications for doctoral, or any other leaders who wish to develop grit in others, as well as individuals seeking to develop the trait within themselves. The findings also produced sub-themes of expectations, engagement, service, and personal loss in the life experiences of the doctoral completers. Sub-themes of religious faith and passion for their field were also discovered as significant factors in the participants’ grit development, and the personal characteristics of flexibility and shame resilience (Brown, 2006) were revealed. Findings also confirmed prior persistence literature citing the imminent value of personal and academic relationships (Tinto, 1993). The conceptualization of the Grit Growth Model was grounded in the identified themes. Since doctoral attrition has historically plagued institutions of higher learning, with conflicting explanations reported in the literature, program leaders will benefit by understanding these factors associated with persistence which can be addressed through direct intervention.