Familial roles and support of doctoral students

Walsh et al. / Family Relations / February 2023

Black Father and Graduate Son

This study identifies the role(s) and support(s) that family members provide to first-gen doctoral students, including strengths and challenges of this support. Nonfinancial family support is important for the success and retention of first-generation and historically marginalized graduate students. More empirical studies of the role(s) and support of family members of these doctoral students are needed. During an intervention designed for first-generation and historically marginalized doctoral students and their families, the authors conducted four focus groups with doctoral students (n = 22) and three focus groups with the family members they chose to accompany them (n = 15). Transcripts were analyzed using thematic analysis. Two themes emerged from the data: support and connection. In addition to providing distinct types of support, families play both supportive and connective roles. There are challenges to family roles and support in areas such as communication, doctoral student stress, and different ways that family members and doctoral students think about and approach life. The study provided key insights to understanding the roles and support of family of doctoral students; more efforts are needed across graduate schools in the United States. Family science faculty and graduate schools may collaborate to provide meaningful interventions for graduate students and their families for the goal of promoting graduate student retention and success.