Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

My World Is Not My Doctoral Program ... or Is It?: Female Students' Perceptions of Well-Being

Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

My World Is Not My Doctoral Program ... or Is It?: Female Students' Perceptions of Well-Being

Article excerpt

Introduction

The number of conferred doctoral degrees for females in America has increased by almost ten percent between 1997 and 2007, eclipsing male students for the first time (U.S. Department of Education, 2009). Compared to their male counterparts, female graduate students report higher levels of stress (Oswalt & Riddock, 2007). Many of these female graduate students have added the role of student to an already existing set of care taking and other life roles (B. J. Anderson & Miezitis, 1999; Dyk, 1987; Hyun, Quinn, Madon, & Lusting, 2006; Stratton, Mielke, Kirshenbaum, Goodrich & McRae, 2006).

Multiple and overlapping responsibilities can impact female students' emotional well-being and the likelihood of completing their program of study (M. S. Anderson & Swazey, 1998; Bair, Haworth, & Sandfort, 2004; Hyun et al., 2006). Female students also reported the difficulties they encounter when engaging in multiple role responsibilities including being a student, teacher, and researcher (Wolniewicz, 1996). As Offstein, Larson, McNeill & Mwale (2004) suggest, "stress is at the core of the graduate student experience" (p. 396).

Given the increasing numbers of female students in graduate schools and the pressure of pursuing a graduate program, there is a need to study the effects of graduate school programs on the well-being of female students. Well-being can be viewed with both a health and a social science lens. From a health lens, well-being can be measured in terms of physical condition and illness, where as from the social science lens, well-being reflects stress, social support, self-esteem, and psychological distress (Cotten, 2008). As education researchers interested in participant-driven qualitative methodology, we will be using the social science view of well-being to guide our research in this study.

Our purpose is to illuminate various aspects of well-being that can add to the discussion of doctoral student stress levels, academic achievement, and personal life fulfillment. More specifically, we will describe female doctoral students' metaphorical perceptions of their well-being since beginning their doctoral programs at a research-intensive university in the Southeastern United States. The central question guiding this research study is "How do doctoral students' describe their well-being since beginning their doctoral studies?"

Various Personal and Social Influences Affecting Graduate Students' Well-Being

Enrollment in graduate school can create a shift in students' focus, especially regarding physical and social well-being (Longfield, Romas, & Irwin, 2006). Because of this change, graduate students' sense of self-worth is often an outcome of their academic successes and failures. For graduate students, academics may become the priority of their life (Grube, Cedarholm, Jones, & Dunn, 2005).

For full-time graduate students performing the responsibilities of assistantships and trying to maintain a personal life, the issue of well-being becomes a concern (Brus, 2006). More so than their male counterparts, female graduate students also note finances, job, and schoolwork as the greatest contributors to their stress levels (Oswalt & Riddock, 2007). When female doctoral students add these external stressors to the need to perform multiple roles and juggle multiple responsibilities, their ability to maintain a positive sense of well-being can become challenged. In order to understand how female doctoral students perceive their well-being, we will first examine literature on managing role conflict due to multiple roles, developing coping skills, and maintaining social support.

Multiple Roles

Multiple roles may compete for a person's limited resources of time and emotional energy resulting in conflict when the time expectations of the roles are incompatible (Dyk, 1987). Graduate student roles include, but are not limited to, child, employee, friend, parent, sibling, spouse, member of cultural group, student, researcher, assistant, and writer. …

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