Making it Work

Pregnant and Parenting Doctoral Students’ Attributions of Persistence




Pregnancy, doctoral education, student parents, persistence, attribution theory


While doctoral education is growing in the United States, attrition from doctoral programs is high; 40-60% of students who begin doctoral programs do not complete them. Previous research has explored reasons for attrition, but little research has examined persistence, and none have looked at persistence for women during and after pregnancy. This qualitative study explored female doctoral students and graduates’ (n=28) attributions of persistence to completion in their professional healthcare doctoral programs (57% social work) after a pregnancy and/or birth. Two primary themes emerged from this study. First, women attributed their persistence in the program to internal resources such as determination, organization, discipline, and the ability to assess needs and shift resources, schedules, plans, or expectations to meet those needs. Second, some women attributed their ability to persist in their program to good luck, in terms of fertility, pregnancy timing, expectations of the student, and family friendly advisors and programs. Dissertation chairs and advisors can use these findings to more effectively support pregnant and parenting students, including helping them build important skills and reflect on implicit messages about caregiving women who are doctoral students.

Author Biography

Rebecca G. Mirick, Salem State University School of Social Work

Rebecca G. Mirick is an Assistant Professor at Salem State University School of Social Work in Salem, MA.


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