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Challenges faced by PhD women in academia and research

Dec 11, 2022 | 0 comments

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Dec 11, 2022 | Essays | 0 comments

In the academic field that men have dominated for a longer period, Ph.D. women still face numerous problems in finding their place even though achieving gender equality has been the main aim for several decades in academia (Valian, 2004; Rees, 2001). Even though as many women as men are currently enrolled in postgraduate programs, the academic world is still dominated by men because men hold positions with higher salaries, higher status, and greater power (Monroe et al., 2008). For example, Monroe et al. (2008)indicated that in the united states. However, the percentage of women enrolling in graduate programs for the past two decades has been above 50%; for the Ph.D.’s awarded, Ph.D. women account for only about 44%, in all higher education institutions only 38% of full-time faculty, and 14% of the tenure-track and tenured faculty in ‘’top’’ departments. Generally, males form 80% of the tenured professors (Monroe et al., 2008). these figures are also similar in New Zealand, Australia, and the united kingdom( white, 2004; Thanacoody et al., 2006; Ramsay, 2000; Nerad & Cerny, 1998; Johnson et al., 2000;)

Many researchers have attempted to explain the reasons why females have a higher likelihood compared to men leaving the path of achieving senior academic positions (Quinn, 2011; Menges and Exum, 1983, Levinson et al., 1991; Dabney & Tai, 2013). overall, the researchers agree that the positioning of females in academia is influenced by several exposures originating (1) work and academic environments (that is, the work schedule flexibility, several other similar women in the environment, an organizational culture that supports equality and availability of top women role models in the organization) (Kinman & Jones, 2008),(2)the overall environment, that is the societal exceptions of sex roles (Menges &Exum, 1983), and lastly (3)gender-specific and individual factors(that is the family background, capacity to take risks, tolerance to stress) (Kundu and Rani, 2007). Therefore, these organizational, structural, and individual factors explain how inequality manifests after establishment in academia. Yet, it is not solely these factors but also women’s experiences of these factors that might shed light on the phenomenon of inequality in academia.

The paper further argues that it is of great significance to understand female Ph.D. students’ wellbeing at the point in the academic career of a female where it appears inequality is less apparent compared to the further academic hierarchy steps to shed some light on the academic career of women development. In summary, the paper questions the direct effect of different exposures on the academic development of women rather than concluding that it is through an understanding of streaming experiences from these exposures and manifested in the gender-biased experiences that are subjective of well-being that one can fully understand the career path of females in academia.

Even though many authors and researchers have addressed the issues of Ph.D. student’s well-being (Stubb, Pyhältö & Lonka, 2011; Haynes et al., 2012), most of the literature has concentrated on the attributes that are isolated instead of taking a perspective that is more holistic that considers numerous factors shaping wellbeing and simultaneously interact with each other. Therefore, the literature review of this paper provides a rationale for applying a holistic perspective that is experience-based to the female Ph.D. student’s well-being.

Challenges faced by female doctoral students

The research on the academic staff well-being, of which natural the Ph.D. students are part, has indicated that their well-being is usually shaped by self-assessment and self-perception (Flaxman et al., 2012; Beckman et al., 2010), physical and mental health (Flaxman et al., 2012; Beckman et al., 2010), and supporting structures like work, social and academic environments (Kinman &jones, 2008; Beckman et al., 2010).

Doctoral students are a special category among the academic staff for several reasons. As a doctoral student, life is often characterized by frequent evaluations, constant peer pressure, high workload, low status, financial difficulties, paper deadlines, active participation in the environment of scholars, including the conferences, and pressure to publish(Tammy & Maysa, 2009; Kurtz-Costes et al., 2006). According to Holligan (2005), entering a Ph.D. studentship is often associated with switching from the practical profession to the somewhat new obscure academic world. While the issues generally could be attributed to students of Ph.D., Doyle & Hind (1998) argued that they represent a particular occupational subcategory in which the well-being experiences might be attributed to several very specific, contextual factors related to Ph.D. studies.

Motivated by the findings of recent research, which indicated that the rate of attrition for enrolled women in Ph.D. programs is higher than that of men (Marschke, 2007; Mansfield et al., 2010; Castro et al., 2011), many researchers have started laying particular emphasis to understand the reasons behind the results. This paper narrowing its focus on the progress of Saudi Female Doctoral Students in Urban Universities was also influenced by the studies (Rothman et al., 2003) indicating that well-being experiences differ between the genders.

The active researchers in the gender-oriented stream of their studies have found that female doctoral students face many difficulties coping with their doctoral studies. This is triggered by a lack of experience or with experiences of different support systems( Hayness et al., 2012; Damrosch, 2000), difficulty navigating the culture and climate of the organization (Rhode, 2003), or difficulties balancing the roles of work and family, and financial matters in addition to other obligations(Moyer et al., 1999). furthermore, Lee (2008) pointed out that unsatisfactory mentor-supervisor relationships and lack of guidance are some of the additional obstacles that might lead to no completed or prolonged doctoral studies (Castro et al., 2011). part-time studies instead of full-time (white, 2003), late enrolment to a postgraduate study (Chesterman, 2001), feeling of marginalization (Thanacoody et al., 2006), childcare responsibility (Jackson, 2008), and having a complex life situation (Hill & McGregor, 1998) are other some other reasons for high rates of attritions, according to the literature among the female Ph.D. students.

However, Doyle and Hind (1998) argued that it might be futile to look at isolated well-being attributes since it is the attributes and interrelations of female Ph.D. student life that could give an explanation to the experienced issues by women during and after their academic doctoral studies. Therefore, while the identified aspects offer an insight into what the female Ph.D. students have to struggle with, more exploration of their progress during their studies might explain the complexity of interactions and influences of the attributes of their well-being studied previously in isolation from each other. This paper’s purpose, therefore, is to explore the progress of Saudi Female Doctoral Students in Urban Universities.

The challenge that international female students face

For the past three decades, Leong (1984) identified three primary challenges facing international students of which females are included, and they include academic difficulties, health issues, and personal concerns. Years later, Adler (1986), in his study, identified culture shock as the fourth challenge to international students.

Academic Difficulties

Scholars have deliberated international female students’ educational matters in five principal groupings: discussing English language skills, performance in class, dwindling to meet educational mentors’ expectations, lacking admission to support amenities, and comprehension of the American educational system (Shaw, 2010). The adjustment of Saudi students in the United States is considerably associated with their self-perceived language capability. Lack of English language abilities is likely to influence international students’ educational and social performances, which, in turn, may affect their emotional change to a new culture.

In addition, to female international students facing problems with the English language, academic problems such as performance in curriculums and studying in English appeared as the most challenging characteristic the students encountered while learning in the United States. Saudi Arabia international students faced academic difficulties such as failing to reach academic advisors’ study expectations and experiencing English language problems. Saudi Arabia international students experienced many difficulties adjusting to university student living in the United States related to lack of access to support from United States institutions. In addition, Saudi Arabian female international graduate training assistants experienced separation from their students since they did not comprehend the graduate philosophy of an American university (Maslen, 2011).

Personal Concerns

Personal difficulties linked to such distresses as nostalgia, solitude, social upkeep networks, cultural discrimination, social relationships, living preparations, immigration guidelines, and financial matters also cause international students trauma (Liang &Fassinger, 2008). The resilient analyst of inadequate adjustment for international students was their level of nostalgia. They are less satisfied and solitary than their American colleagues. According to Wan (2001), social provision was considerably adversely correlated with acculturative trauma. Also, international female students felt White American students were frequently hostile, sidelining, or discriminating toward them. The addition of the graduate student role to other life roles of females is the most difficult for those who are parents. At the same time, some of the participants state that the relatively relaxed pace of graduate school is a pleasant change from the demanding routine of the work world. Participants who were parents of young children found that the stress of trying to be successful as both a mother and a student contributed to dissatisfaction in both roles. However, some see the diverse roles as a way to keep a balanced personal and academic life. They can separate their parent roles from being a researcher and, thus, provide an outlet outside of themselves to explore. This dichotomy illustrates the diverse issues that every graduate student faces and that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the problems facing our graduate students (Wan, 2001).

Furthermore, another challenge is the Saudi female students’ experiences related to prejudgment and racism. Saudi and Arabian Gulf students experience social-personal difficulties similar to those of other international students, except that the Saudi female students, as Arab Muslims, also go through discrimination due to contradictory looks and culture that many non-Arab international scholars do not have to go through. In addition, Saudi female students encounter some discrimination, for example, punitive remarks regarding their cultural upbringing, and they experience being victimized, mainly concerning the scores they attain in contrast to American students (Wan, 2001).

Health Issues

Another challenge international female students experience while learning in the United States includes health concerns such as despair, headaches, sleep difficulties, illnesses, physical well-being, and emotional distress (Wang & Mallinckrodt, 2006). In an interaction with 199 international scholars from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, who were learning in the United States, Rahman and Rollock established that an advanced level of depressing indications was anticipated by higher apparent prejudice faced in the United States. Female college students studying in the United States who are less acculturated to Western habits are more likely to certify depressive signs. In addition, these international students may experience headaches, pimples, sleep disorders, loss of hungriness, and gastrointestinal complications. Wang and Mallinckrodt’s findings indicated that high attachment concern and high evasion were strong forecasters of psychological suffering and socio-cultural change difficulty in Saudi international students.

Culture Shock

According to Stewart (2003), culture shock is a state of being censored from the social indications and identified configurations with which one is familiar and exists or working over a lengthy period in a location that is vague, taking the values that you had beforehand reflected principles brought into query. In addition, it is frequently put into situations where you are anticipated to function with supreme ability and speed but where the guidelines have not been clarified. On the other hand, Culture shock is the nervousness that comes from losing all our accustomed signs and codes of social interaction. International students not only experience problems linked with being students but also meet difficulties associated with culture shock. International students face culture shock over differences in dialect, communication style, foodstuff, and way of life. Culture shock is evident emotionally or physiologically due to stress. Female international students need to acculturate to adapt and study in America. According to Adler (1986), the acculturation process has four stages that Adler suggested international students go through, namely;

I. the Honeymoon Period, where the student feels like a visitor.

II. Depression phase, where the student is overcome by personal insufficiency in the new culture.

III. Self-rule phase, where the student comprehends both good and bad facets of the host culture.

IV. Biculturalism phase, where the student is relaxed in the host culture as back home.

Studies have found that cultural adjustment is related to the degree to which the host and home nation cultures differ. These studies propose that international students who come from values very dissimilar from that in the United States, e.g., Saudi Arabia, may have a tougher time changing to the societies, way of life, and civilizations of the United States than international students from cultures closer to the United States, e.g., Canada. As the research will indicate, scholars have recognized the challenges international students, especially girls, have faced. Since many international students maintain mutual values from their home nations, it is imperative to place individual and academic objectives in the setting of their families and nations of origin. The cultural characteristics of Saudi Arabia that can influence people from that nation who are learning for international students in the United States will now be reflected to offer a cultural background for Saudi Arabian international university students learning in the United States.

The Culture of Saudi Arabia

According to Long &Maisel (2010), over the past few decades, Saudi Arabia has undergone a collision between custom and modernization to a pronounced level. Saudi Arabia has accomplished upholding a balance between conventional Islamic ethics, ideals, cultural rules, and rapid modern improvements. The population of Saudi Arabia is nearly 27 million and is rising by about 3.7% a year. Long and Maisel termed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a nation of startling differences, a huge island, and a lesser population; an unproductive desert topography located over great oil prosperity; a traditional Islamic society experiencing rapid transformation; a closed culture that is often in the news (p. 1). While an attentiveness to the Kingdom’s differences is appreciated, the roles of faith, family, linguistics, sex, finances, learning, government, and land and individuals will be debated in the next segment to offer an experience for understanding the personal and academic involvements Female Saudi Arabian international university students may face in United States bodies of higher learning. These findings may have implications for higher education professionals and contribute to the literature on cross-cultural education and international students’ adjustment issues.

On the other hand, Graduate students utilize various coping strategies to deal with the demands of their graduate programs. For female students, these strategies include healthy habits like talking to friends, receiving therapy, and aromatherapies, and negative habits like comfort foods. Additionally, older female graduate students use strategies including
exercising and reducing course loads, while parents of young children may sacrifice aspects of
their student role. For graduate students to manage the multiple roles they play, they may use strategies aimed at redefining their structural roles, personal roles, or time management skills. Many universities offer resources to provide these strategies or teach students to use them, and female students are more likely to express interest in these resources than their male counterparts. Doctoral programs that emphasize a balance between the social and academic lives of students ensure better departmental integration of students. Further, graduate students with a support group or network of colleagues tend to perform better academically, experience less emotional and physical distress, withdraw less often from confusing or tension-producing situations and agonize from less severe bodily and psychiatric sickness that socially inaccessible individuals undergo. Characteristics associated with a positive graduate experience included a high level of administrative, social, and financial support provided by the student’s department, a democratic supervisory structure, mentoring, and positive experiences when utilizing counseling services. A positive advisor relationship in which the student feels comfortable and can approach her advisor is a key component to doctoral persistence. Graduate students who develop more relationships with their faculty members as professional colleagues are more likely to be involved in their doctoral program, develop professionally, and progress through their program. Feminism/feminist adult education and research are basically about improving women’s conditions, encouraging them to think critically about oppression and domination and to see themselves as agents of change in their own lives and society (Szekely, 2008).

The conflict between motherhood and academic roles

There is minimal research that examines post-graduate student mothers’ specific experiences. This section will review two studies; research by Pare (2009), which examined student mothers’ experiences, and the second by Lynch (2008), which examined how graduate students in the United States who are mothers combined the two identities of a student and a mother.

The research of Pare’s (2009), “Lived Experiences of US student Mothers,” was to understand the experiences of 24 student mothers, of which ten were at the post-graduate level. The participants included in the study were mothers aged 18-30 years, who have enrolled in a graduate or post-graduate program on at least part time basis. They were the primary caretakers or either one or even more dependants below the age of 5 years.

The participants were interviewed either over the telephone, in person, and through a short survey. The interview, which was semi-structured asked questions about the feelings of the participants being a mother, the feelings of the family on her decision to study, why she was a mother, whether the family life interferes with the schedule of studying, whether they offer help, how she spends her time daily, the networks she has on campus, how she juggles well to study and motherhood, and support questions. Other questions covered her role as a student. From the interview, Pare (2009) came to three major themes (1) how women experience and think about their role as mothers, (2) how women experience and think about their roles as students, and (3) the social support they needed or were receiving.

In the Pare’s (2009) study, the women revealed that the mother’s role in their lives was of primary importance. Pare (2009) observed that these women did not challenge the social expectations of motherhood and the mother’s role subsumed all other identities and roles of the participants. Pare revealed that the mother had embraced “New momism,” a term by Douglas and Michale (2004) which required mothers to give their whole intellectual, emotional, psychological and physical beings to the motherhood riles. All the study participants considered motherhood as their main social role, while other roles as wife, worker and student as secondary. This outcome contrasted the research by Este’s (2011) which indicated that the parent-students blended their two roles to create a new identity of parent-student. Pare (2009) found out that al the participant mothers had already made a conscious decision to give priority to motherhood, because they feared they could quickly ruin their children, whereas university in the same way could not be ruined. This was an observation which led Pare to make a conclusion that social construction of motherhood that encompassed the notion that “bad children are raised by bad mothers” and “good children are raised by good mothers” may have an influence to their decisions.

According to Pare (2009), the women experienced spill-over in their responsibilities as student and mother, which required them to make a compromise and prioritise daily. The graduate students experienced more conflict of mother-student role compared to the undergraduates, possibly because of the graduates’ programs intensity. 21 of the women participants believed that not every mother is capable of managing both roles of a student and a mother because of the intrinsic difficulties. The reason for those was that the first priority of a woman is motherhood and hence could interfere with education or paid work. The conclusion of Pare (2009) was that her study participants considered motherhood core to their identities, and that “good mothering” was interfered by studying especially on the case of the married mothers. Moreover to the unmarried mothers studying enabled them to be “good mothers” because by getting a degree it would allow them in future to provide for their children. Therefore, the role of student was only significant when it became an extension or was bolstered on good mothering.

Lynch (2008) in her study “Doctoral Student Mothers in the United States” examined post graduate student mothers in U.S.A. the study was intended to further understand about rates of attrition among this group of doctoral students, and it was based on an interview with 30 participants who are graduate student mothers at five different universities and are enrolled in doctoral programs. The participants had an average of 2 children with average age of 4 years and were interviewed. Lynch (2008) examined how private and public mind-sets concerning the meanings of “mother” and “graduate student” can jeopardise educational attainment of women and impact on their advancement in academia. The results of the interview were presented in two groups; “socio-cultural identities” and “structural environments.”

The “structural Environment” section encompassed the major mismatch areas between “mother” status and the position within academia; childcare and financial support. Among the participants, the most common complaint was insufficient financial aid about their university. It was seen that financial aid was better suited for the childless and single students, and this was specifically evident when many women changed to part-time enrolment after giving birth, and found out that they were unable to access opportunities of funding because of their changed enrolment status. Every participant in the study indicated that affordable childcare was a matter of great concern, and were in agreement that there was “no real support” offered by the American higher education system. Moreover, the participants paid for the childcare expenses and reported being told that costs of childcare were not recoverable by any fellowship or grant application.

The section of “socio-cultural identities” encompassed two inherent socio-cultural practices in re construction of the identity of “mother/student”; identity support and identity practices. Lynch’s (2008) study significantly revealed how student mothers who are graduates avoided the role conflict and ensured they are successful in both of the roles. They employed two strategies; “academic invisibility” and “maternal invisibility” depending on the situation. Maternal invisibility means the mothers hiding from the public view their maternal status, by allowing themselves to appear like ordinary students and preserving the graduate students’ cultural norm who is committed to her studies 100%. On the other hand, academic invisibility is where the women appeared to be mothers full time, thereby preserving the good mother notion was committed to her children 100%. At the university, Lynch (2008) argued that maternal role of the graduate student mothers was downplayed, and outside the university they downplayed their student role. Lynch (2008) suggested that by understanding the manner in which motherhood and graduate student in dominant American culture were conceptualised, explained their behaviour. particularly at the graduate level, good students were judged by their career path devotion and judgement on the good mothers were done on their devotion to children; hence every role demanded maximum commitment and this resulted to inherent conflict for the women who pursues both (Lynch, 2008).


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