Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Interpersonal Hardiness as a Critical Contributing Factor to Persistence among International Women in Doctoral Programs: A Trioethnographic Study

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Interpersonal Hardiness as a Critical Contributing Factor to Persistence among International Women in Doctoral Programs: A Trioethnographic Study

Article excerpt


Recent studies report that challenges associated with work life balance among international students in graduate school are more pronounced (Brus, 2006; Colomer, Olivero, & Bell, 2015; Haynes et al., 2012; Oswalt & Riddock, 2007) than for domestic students. Moreover, even though more women are enrolling in U.S. doctoral programs, they, especially ethnic minorities, are less likely to obtain a doctoral degree (Castro, Garcia, Cavazos, & Castro, 2011). Gardner (2008) cites a lack of diversity in graduate education as a growing concern in the United States of America (USA); this has given birth to a number of recruitment and retention programs for women and students of color. Despite these initiatives there remain various challenges to the success of women in doctoral programs of study. The isolationist and anti-Muslim agenda that is currently permeating the political atmosphere in the United States also has potential implications for international students and adds to the list of concerns they must face. These concerns align with Lovitts' (2001) assertion that "it is not the background characteristics students bring with them to the university that affect their persistence outcomes: it is what happens to them after they arrive" (p. 2).

A doctoral degree is both a process of becoming and of achievement (Smith, 1995). Smith states that this terminal degree "represents a way of life, and for women, the socialization process along this path is intimately connected with one's inner sense of self' (p. 21). This results in a need to reflect on "the nature of the doctoral experience and the protocols that guide the process, [and on one's] own abilities, proclivities and tolerances that necessarily will bound the process" (p. 21). It is no wonder three women from three different continents found themselves on a path to acquiring a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction, from a college of education at a southeastern university in the (USA). Our similarities were many, so too our differences. As our paths "paralleled" and intersected we could not ignore the fact that as international women with families, this would be a challenging journey.

The 2015-16 Open Doors report indicates a total 224 places across the globe from which international students travel to pursue higher education in the USA, (Institute of International Education, 2016) with 383,935 enrolling in graduate programs. While there are no specifics on the percentage of this number that were female at the time the study was written, there is clear indication that many students continue to travel to the USA to pursue doctoral degrees and so this study will be relevant and of potential value to other women on issues relating to persevering and completing their programs.

Statement of Purpose

Research in the mid-90s reflected limited literature on doctoral education (Smith, 1995) even as the number of women pursuing doctoral degrees increased. According to Smith (1995), there was a noted absence of the voices of women in the literature. A lack of diversity in graduate education was also cited as a growing concern in the United States; this gave birth to numerous initiatives geared toward recruiting and retaining women and students of color across disciplines (Gardner, 2008). Nonetheless, current studies show that persistence issues related to completion of doctoral programs, especially for minority women with children, still lingers (Castro et al., 2011; Colomer et al., 2015). In fact, Gardner (2008) posited one challenge to their success, that of balancing time and priorities, and states that this is "particularly relevant for students with children" (p. 134). Tinto (1993) suggested that strategies for improving degree completion rates and for predicting doctoral persistence must "emerge from an understanding of the graduate experience as it is understood by doctoral students themselves" using qualitative methods (p. 243). Therefore, this study seeks to explore such experiences to ascertain the lived experiences of three international, women of color persisting in a doctoral program in the USA. …

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