Different personas and difficult diplomas : a qualitative study of employed mothers pursuing graduate degrees

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Warren, Ruth M.
Murk, Peter J., 1942-
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Thesis (D. Ed.)
Department of Educational Studies
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The purpose of this study was to discover how employed mothers who were graduate students coped with their many societal personas and still achieved their academic goals. Eight employed mothers who were graduate students were interviewed. Narrative inquiry guided the structure of the study. Phenomenological interviewing was used to gather evidence. A preinterview, a life history interview, a contemporary experience interview, and a reflective interview were conducted with each participant. All interviews were audiotaped and transcribed. Profiles for each participant were created using thematic analysis and were member checked to ensure accuracy.Themes identified through the literature review were verified through thematic analysis of the transcripts. The themes identified were strength, persistence, time, self-improvement, and gender bias. The basis for the participants' strength and persistence were the life-altering events and achievements they had encountered. The participants self-identified as "survivors." To fulfill their responsibilities they were adept multitaskers and used extensive support networks. Participants pursued their graduate degrees for better employment as well as self-fulfillment. Internalized gender bias was a significant contributor to each woman's feelings of guilt. Guilt was attributed to the societal expectations imposed through being a mother, an employee, and a student. Significant tension in the form of guilt occurred between participants' perception of the role of mother as nurturing and the role of the student as empowering. Each participant managed her guilt by realizing the "self as able." The participants came to appreciate "I am good at what I do," and achieved merged identities.Global, institutional, and individual implications came from this study. In order for U. S. society to compete on a global level, more women must be educated to compete for leadership roles. Societal stereotypes made earning a graduate degree difficult for the women in this study. Institutions of higher education and those who make policies within those institutions must realize that the majority of graduate students at the master's degree level, and those in education at the doctoral level, do not fit the traditional graduate student stereotype. Women, especially, experience role conflict. The tensions participants experienced were real. Institutions of higher learning must address such issues as childcare, time to degree completion, and course accommodation if they wish to attract and retain high-level graduate women. Overall, this study found that employed mothers who are graduate students do experience significant tension and in spite of many barriers, do succeed.