Academic journal article College Student Journal

The Self-Worth, Physical and Social Activities of Graduate Students: A Qualitative Study

Academic journal article College Student Journal

The Self-Worth, Physical and Social Activities of Graduate Students: A Qualitative Study

Article excerpt

The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore graduate students' perspectives of how graduate school affected their participation in physical and social activities and their self worth. Seven focus groups (n = 47) were conducted using a semi-structured interview guide. Finances and quality of interactions were among the main social challenges reported. Activity availability was among the main physical activity concerns reported. Delayed gratification and an elation/depression cycle were among the themes pertaining to self-worth. Any changes to one wellness component could jeopardize an individual's well being and life balance. This study's participants' physical and social activity and self-worth were reportedly all impacted by being a graduate student; at times, some areas of their lives (i.e., school) received magnified attention at the cost of other areas. Further research is needed to explore these issues to assist graduate students' life balance.


Social relationships and how humans behave in their environments are a reflection of their social connectedness in society (Hasselkus, 2002). To be considered socially healthy, an individual must create and maintain social bonds and supports through social interactions with family, friends and acquaintances (Donatelle, Davis, Munroe, & Munroe, 1998). Graduate students encounter many unavoidable life changes in areas such as work, finances, living conditions, school and social relationships (Goplerud, 1980). According to Haworth, Reardon and Conrad (1998), master's students report that their workload is very time consuming and entails both completing and thinking continually of their work and workload, thereby limiting the time for interacting socially with others.

Physical activity is the "extent that there is a significant increase in energy expenditure during work, routine activities of daily living or leisure' (Foss & Keteyian,1998; p. 376). Research has shown that all people benefit from regular exercise (McWhorter, Wallmann, & Tandy, 2002). Findings from the 1995 National College Health Risk Behavior Survey in the United States revealed that university students' behaviors put them at increased risk for adverse health outcomes including the future onset of chronic diseases (Douglas et al., 1997). A study by McWhorter et al. (2002), revealed that physical therapy graduate students have difficulty finding the time to implement the principles of fitness they are taught during graduate school.

Graduate students may experience unique challenges regarding the physical, emotional, and social aspects of their lives during the course of their studies (Association for Support of Graduate Students, 1993). All these components contribute to how individuals view their personal sense of self-worth. According to Crocker, Sommers, and Luhtanen, self-worth is the feeling people have about themselves; the extent to which they perceive themselves to be a success or a failure in the world (2002, p. 1275). A positive sense of self-worth has been associated with graduate students' successful experiences in academic performance (Crocker et al., 2002).

Although many assumptions can be made about the impact of graduate school on students' lives, to date, there is a paucity of research that explores and documents the psychosocial experiences of graduate students from their own perspectives. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to explore graduate students' perspectives of how their occupation of being a graduate student affects their participation in physical activity and social opportunities and their overall sense of self worth.


Seven, semi-structured focus group interviews were conducted with full-time graduate students at the University of Western Ontario (UWO). UWO is a large urban campus which hosts 2,380 master's students, 1,019 doctoral students, and 19,596 undergraduate students. …

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