Making it Work
Pregnant and Parenting Doctoral Students’ Attributions of Persistence
While doctoral education is growing in the United States, attrition from doctoral programs is high; 40-60% of students who begin doctoral programs do not complete them. Previous research has explored reasons for attrition, but little research has examined persistence, and none have looked at persistence for women during and after pregnancy. This qualitative study explored female doctoral students and graduates’ (n=28) attributions of persistence to completion in their professional healthcare doctoral programs (57% social work) after a pregnancy and/or birth. Two primary themes emerged from this study. First, women attributed their persistence in the program to internal resources such as determination, organization, discipline, and the ability to assess needs and shift resources, schedules, plans, or expectations to meet those needs. Second, some women attributed their ability to persist in their program to good luck, in terms of fertility, pregnancy timing, expectations of the student, and family friendly advisors and programs. Dissertation chairs and advisors can use these findings to more effectively support pregnant and parenting students, including helping them build important skills and reflect on implicit messages about caregiving women who are doctoral students.
Adorno, G., Cronley, C., & Smith, K. S. (2015). A different kind of animal: Liminal experiences of social work doctoral students. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 52(6), 632-641. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/14703297.2013.833130
Anastas, J. W., & Kuerbis, A. N. (2009). Doctoral education in social work: What we know and what we need to know. Social Work, 54(1), 71-81.
Armenti, C. (2004). Women faculty seeking tenure and parenthood: Lessons from previous generations. Cambridge Journal of Education, 34(1), 65-83.
Bair, C. R., & Haworth, J. G. (1999). Doctoral student attrition and persistence: A meta-synthesis of research (ED437008). Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED437008.pdf
Beer, C., & Lawson, C. (2017). The problem of student attrition in higher education: An alternative perspective. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 41(6), 773-784. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/0309877x.2016.1177171
Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77-101. doi: https://doi.org/10.1191/1478088706qp063oa
Brown, L., & Watson, P. (2010). Understanding the experiences of female doctoral students. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 34(3), 385-404.
Brown, R. L., & Amankawaa, A. A. (2007). College females as mothers: Balancing the roles of student and motherhood. Association of Black Nursing Faculty Journal, Winter, 18(1), 25-29.
Brunsma, D. L., Embrick, D. G., & Shin, J. H. (2017). Graduate students of color: Race, racism, and mentoring in the white waters of academia. Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, 3(1), 1-13. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/2332649216681565
Carter, S., Blumenstein, M., & Cook, C. (2013). Different for women? The challenges of doctoral studies. Teaching in Higher Education, 18(4), 339-351.
Castelló, M., Pardo, M., Sala-Bubaré, A., & Suñe-Soler, N. (2017). Why do students consider dropping out of doctoral degrees? Institutional and personal factors. Higher Education, 74(6), 1053-1068. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-016-0106-9
Cockrell, C. N., & Shelley, K. (2011). The relationship between academic support systems and intended persistence in doctoral education. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 12(4), 469-484.
Cockrell, C. N., & Shelley, K. (2019). The relationship between academic support systems and intended persistence in doctoral education. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory, and Practice, 12(4), 469-484.
Council of Graduate Schools [CGS]. (2009). Ph.D. completion and attrition: Analysis of baseline demographic data from the Ph.D. Completion Project. Washington, DC: Author.
CGS. (2015). Seven-year URM doctoral completion and attrition rates by academic-year groups and selected student characteristics, DIMAC project. Retrieved from https://cgsnet.org/seven-year-urm-doctoral-completion-and-attrition-rates-academic-year-groups-and-selected-student
Council on Social Work Education. (2018). 2017 statistics on social work education in the United States: Summary of the CSWE annual survey of social work programs. Retrieved from https://www.cswe.org/CMSPages/GetFile.aspx?guid=44f2c1de-65bc-41fb-be38-f05a5abae96d
Dickerson, S. H., Byers, V. T., Smith, R. N., Hwang, E., Angrove, K. E., Chandler, J. I., …Onwuegbuzie, A. J. (2014). Survival strategies: Doctoral students’ perceptions of challenges and coping methods. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 9(2014), 109-136. doi: https://doi.org/10.28945/2034
Drago, R., Colbeck, C. L., Stauffer, K. D., Pirretti, A., Burkum, K., Fazioli, J., Lazzaro, G., & Hasbasevich, T. (2006). The avoidance of bias against caregiving: The case of academic faculty. American Behavioral Scientist, 19(9), 1222-1247.
Drago, R., Colbeck, C., Stauffer, K. D., Pirretti, A., Burkum, K., Fazioli, J., Lazarro, G., & Habasevich, T. (2005). Bias against caregiving. Academe, 91(5), 22-25.
Gardner, S. K. (2009a). Conceptualizing success in doctoral education: Perspectives of faculty in seven disciplines. Review of Higher Education, 32(3), 383-406.
Gardner, S. K. (2009b). Student and faculty attributions of attrition in high and low-competing doctoral programs in the United States. Higher Education, 58, 97-112. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-008-9184-7
Gardner, S. K., & Holley, K. A. (2011). “Those invisible barriers are real”: The progression of first-generation students through doctoral education. Equity & Excellence in Education, 44(1), 77-92. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/10665684.2011.529791
Golde, C. M. (2000). Should I stay or should I go? Student descriptions of the doctoral attrition process. Review of Higher Education, 23(2), 199-227.
Golde, C. M. (2005). The role of the department and discipline in doctoral student attrition: Lessons from four departments. Journal of Higher Education, 76(6), 669-700. doi: https://doi.org/10.1353/jhe.2005.0039
Golde, C. M., & Dore, T. M. (2001). At cross purposes: What the experiences of today’s doctoral students reveal about doctoral education. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED450628.pdf
Grover, V. (2007). Successfully navigating the stages of doctoral study. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 2, 9-21. doi: https://doi.org/10.28945/54
Kulp, A. M. (2016). The effects of parenthood during graduate school on PhD recipients’ paths to the professoriate: A focus on motherhood. New Directions for Higher Education, 2016(176), 81-95. doi: https://doi.org/10.1002/he.20211
Kulp, A. M. (2019). Parenting on the path to the professoriate: A focus on graduate student mothers. Research in Higher Education, published online.
Kurzman, P. A. (2015). The evolution of social work doctoral education. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 35(1-2), 1-13.
Lott, J., Gardner, S. K., & Powers, D. A. (2009). Doctoral student attrition in the STEM fields: An exploration of event history analysis. Journal of College Student Retention, 11, 247-266. doi: https://doi.org/10.2190/cs.11.2.e
Lovitts, B. E. (2001). Leaving the ivory tower: The causes and consequences of departure from doctoral study. Lanham, UK: Rowman & Littlefield.
Martinez, E., Ordu, C., Della Sala, M. R., & McFarlane, A. (2013). Striving to obtain a school-work-life balance: The full-time doctoral student. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 8, 39-59. doi: https://doi.org/10.28945/1765
Mason, M. A., Goulden, M., & Frasch, K. (2009). Why graduate students reject the fast track. Academe, 95(1), 11-16.
Mason, M. A., Wolfinger, N. H., & Goulden, M. (2013). Do babies matter? Gender and family in the ivory tower. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
McAlpine, L., & Norton, J. (2006). Reframing our approach to doctoral programs: An integrative framework for action and research. Higher Education Research & Development, 25(1), 3-17. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360500453012
McBain, T. (2019). Resiliency and doctoral student attrition in counselor education. Journal of Behavioural Science and Psychology, 2(2), 1-9. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/f418/f1418fc5167ce8aae5fba87a41f5cc92c803.pdf
Mirick, R. G., & Wladkowski, S. P. (2018). Pregnancy, motherhood, and academic career goals: Doctoral students’ perspectives. Affilia, 33(2), 253-269.
National Science Foundation. (2017). Doctoral recipients from US universities. Retrieved from https://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2017/nsf17306/static/report/nsf17306.pdf
Rockinson-Szapkiw, A. J., Spaulding, L. S., & Bade, B. (2014). Completion of educational doctorates: How universities can foster persistence. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 9, 293-308. doi: https://doi.org/10.28945/2072
Smith, R. L., Maroney, K., Nelson, K. W., Abel, A. L., & Abel, H. S. (2006). Doctoral programs: Changing high rates of attrition. Humanistic Counseling, Education, and Development, 45, 17-31. doi: https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2161-1939.2006.tb00002.x
Sowell, R., Allum, J., & Okahana, H. (2015). Doctoral initiative on minority attrition and completion. Washington, DC: Council of Graduate Schools. Retrieved from https://cgsnet.org/ckfinder/userfiles/files/Doctoral_Initiative_on_Minority_Attrition_and_Completion_2015.pdf
Spaulding, L. S., & Rockinson-Szapkiw, A. J. (2012). Hearing their voices: Factors doctoral candidates attribute to their persistence. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 7(1), 199-219. doi: https://doi.org/10.28945/1589
Springer, K. W., Parker, B. K., Leviten-Reid, C. (2009). Making space for graduate student parents: Practice and politics. Journal of Family Issues, 30(4), 435-457.
Tower, L. E., & Latimer, M. (2016). Cumulative disadvantage: Effects of early career childcare issues on faculty research travel. Affilia, 31(3), 317-330.
Wao, H. O., & Onwuegbuzie, A. J. (2011). A mixed research investigation of factors related to time to the doctorate in education. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 6, 115-134. doi: https://doi.org/10.28945/1505
Washburn-Moses, L. (2008). Satisfaction among current doctoral students in special education. Remedial and Special Education, 29(5), 259-268.
Weiner, B. (1985). An attributional theory of achievement motivation and emotion. Psychological Review, 92(4), 548-573.
Willis, B., & Carmichael, K. D. (2011). The lived experience of late-stage doctoral student attrition in counselor education. Qualitative Report, 16(1), 192-207. Retrieved from https://nsuworks.nova.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1046&context=tqr
Wladkowski, S. P., & Mirick, R. G. (2019). Mentorship in doctoral education for pregnant and newly parenting doctoral students. Journal of Women and Gender in Higher Education, 12(3), 299-318. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/26379112.2019.1654394
Wladkowski, S. P., & Mirick, R. G. (2020). Supports and recommendations for pregnant and newly parenting doctoral students in health professions. Journal of Social Work Education, 56(2), 312-326. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/10437797.2019.1656580
Young, D. S., & Wright, E. M. (2001). Mothers making tenure. Journal of Social Work Education, 37(3), 555-568. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/10437797.2001.10779074
Young, S. N., Vanwye, W. R., Schafer, M. A., Robertson, T. A., & Poore, A. V. (2019). Factors affecting PhD student success. International Journal of Exercise Science, 12(1), 34-45. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6355122/
Copyright to works published in Advances in Social Work is retained by the author(s).