In the news lately is an article for the Journal of Hospitality, Leisure, Sport & Tourism by UK academics Dr. Tracy J. Devonport and Dr. Andrew M. Lane, who studied the stressors encountered while completing a doctoral program on two male students and their female partners through thematic narrative analysis of five weeks of audio diaries.

Although the arrangement of data from the audio diaries by thematic narrative analysis is interesting, the sample size of two, both men close in age with female partners, is frustratingly small and homogeneous.  What differences would we see in coping methods with female doctoral candidates and their male partners, or same-gender partners, or people who aren’t in their mid-twenties?  I suspect generational differences and gendered expectations would account for several—and if they didn’t, that’s pretty noteworthy too.  It’s worth presenting that dyadic coping can take many forms—such as one woman’s help both with academic production (transcribing tapes for her partner’s research) and home life to smooth the road to productivity, as with the ironing of clothing before a conference that her partner describes—but this is not exactly breaking news.

One somewhat unexpected finding is that “Whilst well intended, it appears that these dyadic comping efforts failed to over-ride personal factors that appeared to mediate effective coping. In some instances dyadic coping was seen to increase rather [than] alleviate stress.”  One of the couples’ male partner often noted that his partner’s “efforts to motivate him towards the production of doctoral outputs were perceived as adding pressure rather than alleviating it.”  The authors hypothesize that the practical support offered by the partner of the other doctoral candidate “could result” in that feeling of pressure (but did it? We don’t know).  However, no solutions for supporting a partner without adding pressure are offered, only a fairly weak encouragement for universities to acknowledge contributions by partners to graduate students’ path to a PhD, and a suggestion that universities create guidelines to give to significant others on how best to support their graduate student partner.  (Except…apparently what these women did added pressure to their partners’ lives, so what would these guidelines contain?)

This is a topic ripe for serious study, and deep dives into experiences of stress in grad school, by both the candidate and the partner, are important methods, but we have to do this over a representative sample of people who are working towards PhDs. Looking forward to more research on this topic.

Read the full article: In It Together: Dyadic Coping Among Doctoral Students and Partners

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