Exposing the Mythology of Balance and the Ecology of Graduate Student Mother Resilience in COVID-19

Carolyn A. Oldham, Kelly Bradley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the once marginalized conversation of academia’s gendered imbalance of opportunity, discussion of its impact on graduate student mothers has remained absent. Resilience has been cited as key to overcoming in the pandemic era with little discussion of how its conceptualization continues to marginalize females in the academy. Our phenomenological study explores graduate student mothers’ conceptualizations of balance, failure, success, and resilience using a family resilience framework which acknowledges the multiple identities to which they may avow and contexts in which they may operate. Employing an ecological conceptual framework, we engaged nine graduate student mothers and their children in focus groups and analyzed data using a constructivist grounded theory approach. Our research found that many graduate student mothers’ definitions of success led them to delay qualifying exams and comps during the pandemic. Our exploration of the ecology of our participants’ resilience during quarantine begins the generation of a new graduate student mother resilience theory in which the ability to overcome adversity is rooted in celebration, gratitude, collaborative problem-solving, connection, and flexibility. We recommend continued development of this new theory and provide insight into the supports higher education can offer to address the leaky academic pipeline.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1197-1219
Number of pages23
JournalQualitative Report
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Nova Southeastern University. All rights reserved.


  • COVID19
  • Keywords constructivist grounded theory
  • MotherScholar
  • graduate student mother
  • phenomenology
  • resilience

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Education


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