Self-Care Amongst Doctoral Students: A Pilot Study of Domestic and International Students in a Texas Public University

Emily Holtz, Xin Li, Ying Xu, Salandra Grice
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 17  •  2022  •  pp. 533-552

This study aims to understand and assess the self-care perceptions and habits of US domestic versus international graduate students in doctoral programs at an R1 university in Texas.

The number of domestic and international students entering doctoral programs in US universities continues to increase each year. However, completion rates within the Ph.D. program remain low, especially for domestic students. Previous research has suggested that mental health and issues of well-being are equated with high-stress levels and depression rather than balance and success. One way to address the low completion rates is to understand how doctoral students balance academic progress and achievement in their prospective doctoral programs with self-care efforts. This study is designed to assess the self-care perceptions and habits of domestic and international graduate students in doctoral programs as well as to understand the differences in perceptions of self-care between domestic students and international students

In the present study, researchers used an explanatory mixed methods research design to investigate the self-care practices and perceptions of domestic and international doctoral students enrolled in a public university in Texas. In the first phase, quantitative data were collected through a survey to examine the extent to which doctoral students utilize self-care practices (six self-care variables were examined in the survey: physical, cognitive, psychological/emotional, behavior, interpersonal, and existential). The descriptive statistics collected in this phase aided in the purposeful sampling of participants for the second phase of the study. In phase 2, interviews were conducted to identify the nature of self-care and self-care choices practiced by doctoral students and how these characteristics were similar and/or different between international and domestic students.

Few studies have investigated the self-care practices and perceptions of domestic and international students. The present study contributes to the body of knowledge on self-care perceptions and practices amongst domestic and international doctoral students in a Texas public university.

Through a survey of doctoral students, international students reported higher levels of self-care than their domestic counterparts. After interviews were conducted the researchers found that the students interviewed each understood the need for self-care to avoid stress and burnout, however only some were able to prioritize self-care in their day-to-day routines, citing workload from courses and faculty advisors as preventing self-care. Many attributed this to their family and cultural backgrounds.

In conducting this study, researchers concluded that self-care practices among doctoral students should become a priority in higher education programs. The participants in this study understood that they should practice self-care, but they had limited ability to engage in self-care regularly. Therefore, it is recommended that higher education institutions and faculty mentors recognize the importance of self-care for doctoral students and support their students in maintaining a work-life balance to avoid burnout and attrition.

Additional studies that include a larger sample size and specific self-care routines to be studied would be beneficial for researchers to consider.

Understanding and investing in doctoral students’ well-being and self-care practices could lead to higher completion rates and more productive programs in higher education.

Future research could be conducted to examine the differing needs of domestic and international students when considering self-care and doctoral students.

self-care, domestic doctoral students, international doctoral students
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