Linked Lives: The Experiences of Higher Education and Student Affairs Doctoral Students and Their Partners

Dawn Culpepper, Michael A. Goodman, Lauren Norris
Journal for the Study of Postsecondary and Tertiary Education  •  Volume 5  •  2020  •  pp. 105-123

This study examines how higher education and student affairs doctoral students and their partners navigate the graduate school experience through the lens of linked lives.

Enhancing doctoral students’ ability to integrate their academic and personal lives can contribute to positive student outcomes such as retention and satisfaction. Yet, many features of graduate education may undermine students’ ability to maintain their romantic relationships.

This study draws from joint and individual interviewers with six couples (12 individuals), wherein one partner was a doctoral student in higher education or student affairs.

Many studies examine work-life integration for faculty members, but much less research seeks to understand how academia affects the experiences of graduate students and their partners. This study contributes to the literature on graduate student work-life integration by putting couples at the center of analysis, using theories of linked lives, and considers implications for doctoral students and graduate training programs in higher education and student affairs.

Our findings revealed three main ways that doctoral students and their partners navigated graduate education: shared decision-making; negotiating, turn-taking, and trading off; and strategically integrating or dividing academic and personal lives.

Graduate programs and institutions can enhance work-life integration and the experiences of doctoral students and their partners by incorporating discussion of dual-career concerns into the recruitment/admissions process and considering work-life concerns throughout the doctoral experience.

Applying the theoretical framework of linked lives brings visibility to a layer of the graduate student experience previously made invisible: the role of student’s partners.

By recognizing the work-life experiences of higher education and student affairs doctoral students and their partners, this study challenges graduate training programs to consider how to change or enhance the resources and structures offered to graduate students in ways that contribute to satisfaction and retention.

Longitudinal examination of doctoral students and their partners over time and comparison of experiences of couples in different fields/disciplines.

graduate students, graduate education, work-life integration
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