Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Communication and Information



First Advisor

Dr. Bobi Ivanov


During their first semester in graduate school, graduate students, many of whom are also employees of the university (BLS, 2019), encounter multiple challenges to successful socialization (Council of Graduate Schools, 2010; Weidman et al., 2001) —several of which are related to their sense of belonging (O’Meara et al., 2017; Pascale, 2018) — and if left unaddressed, these challenges can contribute to high attrition rates (Cassuto, 2013; Gardner & Barker, 2020), with one in four graduate students typically failing to graduate within ten years, even under favorable circumstances (Baum & Steele, 2017). Since the best time to influence an individual’s sense of belonging is when they first enter an organization (Jablin, 1987), and keeping in mind many graduate students’ self-identification as students and employees (Flaherty, 2018; Gardner & Barker, 2020), this dissertation proposed approaching graduate students’ sense of belonging from an organizational perspective (Haigh & Pfau, 2006; Masterson & Stamper, 2003) and adding an inoculation message (McGuire, 1964) about it into existing orientation programming to protect and enhance graduate students’ sense of belonging and social network development during socialization. Inoculation messages offer many advantages (e.g., cross-protection and generalized immunity; Banas & Rains, 2010; Compton, 2020; Papageorgis & McGuire, 1961) over other message strategies, and its resistance effects may even be communicable to others via postinoculation talk (PIT; Ivanov et al., 2012), a form of word-of-mouth communication that could simultaneously facilitate graduate students’ social network development, a basic feature of, and a related concept to, graduate students’ sense of belonging (Gardner & Barker, 2020), as well as an important goal in and of itself (Baldwin et al., 1997; DeFour & Hirsch, 1990).

A longitudinal, quasi-experimental study with a four-group design was conducted to investigate the relationship(s) between graduate students’ sense of belonging and their social network development during socialization, as well as to test whether inoculation could directly – via a traditional inoculation message – and indirectly – via PIT – protect and enhance graduate students’ sense of belonging and social network development during socialization. Results provided limited support for the ability of a direct inoculation message to protect and enhance graduate students’ perceived insider status, which, along with graduate students’ general sense of belonging, was also found to be related to how much access graduate students had to some of the embedded resources in their social networks. These findings expand research on inoculation theory to a new topic and into a new context and suggest that inoculation messages may still be a practical orientation messaging strategy, even if its impact and reach are more targeted than previously thought. Several limitations– notably, underpowered statistical tests and the unnatural experimental manipulation of PIT – likely contributed to the lack of additional significant findings in this study. Nevertheless, these limitations and nonsignificant findings offer several directions for future research in the disciplines of communication, social network analysis, and graduate education.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

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