Date of Award

Fall 12-2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair

Dr. H. Quincy Brown

Committee Chair School


Committee Member 2

Dr. Jonathan Beedle

Committee Member 2 School


Committee Member 3

Dr. Casey Maugh-Funderburk

Committee Member 3 School


Committee Member 4

Dr. Dale L. Lunsford

Committee Member 4 School



According to Young et al. (2019), doctoral programs in the United States in math, science, engineering, and humanities have a 36–51% attrition rate. Rigler et al. (2017) suggest that online doctoral students' attrition rates average between 50–70%. According to the International Affairs Office ([IAO]; 2020), the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is the highest academic degree in the United States. Universities award the degree to students who complete coursework to become a PhD candidate before completing and defending an independent research project, or dissertation (IAO, 2020). Relationship quality between PhD candidates and their supervisors is the most common research finding associated with degree completion (Pitchforth et al., 2012; Sverdlik et al., 2018; van Rooij et al., 2019), and connectedness is the second (Lorenzetti et al., 2019; van Rooij et al., 2019; Young et al., 2019). Researchers have linked positive psychological capacities (PsyCap; Luthans et al., 2007) and authentic leader-follower interactions (Gardner et al., 2005) with sustained performance. Based on those associations, the researcher investigated a mediation model for enhancing PhD supervisors’ authentic leadership through psychological resources used during supervision (Rego et al., 2012; Woolley et al., 2011). The researcher measured 50 University of Southern Mississippi (USM) PhD candidates’ PsyCap (Luthans et al., 2007), doctoral student connectedness (DSC; Terrell et al., 2009), and perceived leader-member relationship quality (LMX; Liden & Maslyn, 1998). Further, the researcher measured 31 USM PhD dissertation supervisors’ PsyCap levels and authentic leadership to investigate relationships between those constructs. The study’s purpose was to investigate PsyCap’s influence on PhD supervisors’ authentic leadership and potential mediation on PhD candidates’ DSC and LMX. The study found two notable outcomes. PhD candidates who feel connected (like they belong and are accepted) in their doctoral programs demonstrate a more positive attitude about their dissertation supervision relationship quality (LMX). Second, the researcher found no mediation effects from PsyCap on PhD candidates’ LMX, meaning PsyCap did not influence candidates’ attitudes toward their dissertation supervision relationship quality. These findings may benefit supervisors, PhD students, university leaders, future institutions, and related research.


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