This study was an investigation of how educational psychology doctoral students built their professional identity throughout their graduate studies by calling upon the power of their envisioned future possible self as grounded in their local context as well as the broader intellectual field. In a qualitative study that used staggered developmental enrollment of 34 participants, 20 students, 10 from practice-oriented and 10 from research-oriented programs, became focal participants who were observed and interviewed as they faced the important mandatory requirements (qualifying process, dissertation proposal and final oral defense, internship application) of their degree plans. Grounded theory analysis resulted in a model of a central phenomenon, an emerging professional identity, that coalesced through reciprocal interactions with four sub-processes: evaluating the congruence between past and current identities, developing disciplinary knowledge and skills, envisioning a possible future self, and imagining one's self in a community of practice. By focusing on how graduate students build a new professional identity, this study contributes to the literature in that it provides a theoretically-informed understanding of the longitudinal process by which identity, including one's professional identity, is constructed.
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