The phenomenon of doctoral student motherhood/mothering in academia: cultural construction, presentation of self, and situated learning




CohenMiller, Anna S.

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This study examined the phenomenon of doctoral student motherhood/mothering in academia in a unique way by utilizing (1) an interdisciplinary theoretical framework, (2) examining the experiences of doctoral students who have become mothers for the first time, and (3) by integrating visual data collection into a phenomenological study. Participants included four doctoral student mothers from across colleges at one university. Three interviews were conducted with each participant and included visual data collection during each interview (e.g., drawing created by the participant). Additional data sources included a demographic/background questionnaire and archival data. Through phenomenological analysis of the data sources, three invariant themes (Gendered Experience, Strategic Experience, Sense of Belonging) and seven sub-themes (Realizations, Pregnancy Relationships, Childcare, Multiple Identities, Flexibility, Pushing Through, Informal Policies, and Expectations) were identified. For the doctoral student mothers in this study, doctoral student motherhood/mothering in academia was experienced in multiple ways. Distilled, the essence of doctoral student motherhood/mothering in academia is a gendered experience that is strategic and embedded with a varied sense of belonging. Implications of this study speak to the need to continue examining internal practices and policies to support female doctoral students and promoting recruitment, retention, and equity throughout academia. Recommendations for individuals and departments/institutions are provided, as well as, a suggested research agenda for future studies on motherhood in academia.


The author has granted permission for their work to be available to the general public.


Goffman's theory of face, interdisciplinary theory, motherhood/mothering in academia, phenomenology, presentation of self, situative theory of learning



Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching