Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Strength from Within: A Phenomenological Study Examining the Academic Self-Efficacy of African American Women in Doctoral Studies

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Strength from Within: A Phenomenological Study Examining the Academic Self-Efficacy of African American Women in Doctoral Studies

Article excerpt


African Americans are underrepresented at the doctoral level. In 2012, African Americans received only 4.1% of doctorates across all academic and professional fields (National Science Foundation, NSF, 2015). The most glaring deficiency was in the hard sciences (e.g. biology, engineering), where African Americans received only 2.75% of all science and engineering degrees (NSF, 2015). While women received 46.2% of doctorate degrees across all fields, only 5.6% (2.6% overall) were African Americans. Of 40.6% of doctorates awarded to women in science and engineering in 2012, only 3.9% were given to African Americans (NSF, 2015). The reasons for such disproportionalities remain unclear given the increasing numbers (6.3%) of African Americans receiving baccalaureate degrees (Lewis, Ginsberg, & Davies, 2004; NSF, 2015).

Underrepresentation can be especially challenging for African American women doctoral students, who experience a "double bind," (Ong, Wright, Espinosa, & Orfield, 2011) based on their racial (e.g., Black) and gendered (e.g., woman) categorizations. They also experience additional marginalization, isolation, and alienation in departments where they are the only person of color and woman of color (Bertrand Jones et al., 2015; Ong et al., 2011). Scholars have indicated that African American women doctoral students lack adequate mentoring or support networks (Bertrand Jones et al., 2015). To contend with persistent factors thwarting African American women graduate student success, scholars have identified positive support systems that aid in persistence toward degree completion. (Bertrand Jones et al., 2015; Felder & Barker, 2013; Gay, 2007; Lewis, Ginsberg, & Davies, 2004; Nettles & Millet, 2006).

Some scholars have argued that in order for African American graduate students to persist, they simply need sufficient funding, accessible faculty, and a supportive environment (Bertrand et al, 2015; Lewis et al., 2004; Nettles & Millet, 2006). This reduced set of factors glosses over the complexity of African American students' lived experiences at predominantly White institutions (PWIs). It is important to understand the inequities that threaten the educational outcomes of African American women doctoral students at PWIs and the ways that African American female students resist by cultivating self-efficacy. This research explores the role of self-efficacy in contributing to the academic success of two African American women doctoral students.


To understand psychological factors associated with doctoral student success, this study uses selfefficacy as defined by Bandura (1997). The four components of self-efficacy are (a) performance outcomes (performance accomplishments), (b) vicarious experiences (observations of others), (c) verbal persuasion (evaluative feedback), and (d) physiological feedback (emotional arousal; Bandura, 1997). These components help individuals to determine if they possess the needed ability to accomplish specific tasks. Self-efficacy can indicate how much effort individuals will spend on an activity, how long they will carry on when experiencing challenges, and how resilient they will appear when confronting unfavorable situations (Bandura, 1986). People with low degrees of selfefficacy tend to think that tasks seem harder than they actually are and will avoid difficult tasks altogether (van Dinther, Dochy & Segers, 2011), whereas people with high degrees of self-efficacy approach potential obstacles as challenges to be overcome (Bandura, 1997).


In this study, the author employed a phenomenological research design. Phenomenological research examines experiences or consciousness from a first-person perspective (Creswell, 2013; Merleau-Ponty, 2012; Smith, 2013). The method of inquiry is most appropriate for this type of study because it examines the phenomena, self-efficacy, and its influence in the lives of two African American women in pursuit of a doctorate. …

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