Does Family Matter? A Phenomenological Inquiry Exploring the Lived Experiences of Women Persisting in Distance Education, Professional Doctoral Programs

Amanda Rockinson-Szapkiw, Lisa Sosin, Lucinda S. Spaulding
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 13  •  2018  •  pp. 497-515

The qualitative study aims to examine the lived experiences of women persisting in the distance; professional doctoral degrees as they seek to integrate and balance their family of origin and current family system with their development as scholars.

A vital reason many women choose not to drop out of their doctoral programs is that they experience conflict between their identities as women and scholars – a conflict between “the enduring sense of who they are and whom they want to become” (Cobb, 2004, p. 336). A supportive family is a salient theme that arises in studies on doctoral persistence, with many researchers noting that the family is essential in helping women navigate the doctoral journey (e.g., Lott, Gardner, & Powers, 2009; Tinto, 1993).

This qualitative study employed Moustakas’ (1994) transcendental phenomenological approach through a purposive sampling of eleven women who are enrolled in distance education, professional doctoral programs at two universities in the southern United States.

This study furthers the existing research by demonstrating that family is intimately tied to the scholarly identity development and persistence of women enrolled in distance education, professional doctorate programs. While previous research has shown that family support is a factor promoting doctoral persistence, previous studies have not examined how women integrate and balance their family of origin and current family system with their development as scholars while persisting in a doctoral degree.

Findings highlighted that the doctoral journey is marked by personal fulfillment and struggle. Women’s development and persistence are influenced by familial support, choosing to continue or discontinue family of origin patterns, and differentiation from the family.

To support women’s persistence and scholar identity development, the university can facilitate discussions and provide opportunities that explicitly orient families to the rigors of doctoral training. The university can host family webinars, create family orientations, offer family counseling, and develop family social media groups.

This study is an essential step toward understanding the role of the family in the doctoral persistence of women. The study provides a foundation for further research with women who are divorced, never married, or identify as LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, and asexual). Further study should focus on women enrolled in various disciplines and residential programs.

If women are to succeed in doctoral programs, the academic institution cannot ignore the role of the family in persistence.

The role of the family in doctoral persistence for men and residential students needs to be explored. Experience of women in distance education and residential programs should be compared to highlight differences and similarities.

distance education, women, doctoral education, work-family balance, work-family borders, persistence, family of origin, family system
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