When Illness Intervenes: Doctoral Students’ Experiences of Serious and Chronic Illness
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CitationCheung, Amy. 2019. When Illness Intervenes: Doctoral Students’ Experiences of Serious and Chronic Illness. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
AbstractThrough socialization processes, doctoral students acquire professional academic capabilities and root an identity as a scholar. What happens, however, when a major disruption such as the diagnosis of a serious and/or chronic illness intervenes in that process? Several recent autobiographical accounts chronicling the development of a life-altering physical illness during the time of doctoral study has revealed impacts of illness ranging from devastating to catalytic. Yet, almost no research has expressly explored the special circumstances of doctoral students with serious and/or chronic illness, and how the specific identity of being ill factors into doctoral socialization experiences and outcomes.
To address the paucity of knowledge on this subject, I conducted 38 in-depth interviews with 13 individuals from 3 universities who were diagnosed with a serious and/or chronic illness during matriculation in a research doctoral program. Utilizing narrative and phenomenological interviewing methods, I investigated participants’ perceptions of the changes to their doctoral experience and scholarly trajectories wrought by unexpected illness. I found that illness compounded on the existing dimensions of uncertainty that participants characterized as constitutive of doctoral education. Illness not only ruptured the day-to-day experience of accomplishing work, but also it destabilized the relationships participants had to their work and institutions, and accordingly how they understood themselves as students and as future academics.
When participants engaged with university administrators, access and disability officers, faculty, and advisors, they found both facilitative support and hindering skepticism. Participants described the centrality of relational support, demonstrated by faculty and advisors who explicitly recognized that the experience of illness was meaningful to participants’ identities, but was not the entirety of who they were. Conversely, participants’ suffering was deepened when they were misrecognized by members of the university who responded to the predicament of illness with disregard, doubt, or blame.
Overall, this dissertation illuminates how doctoral students who develop illness in the midst of their education assign meaning to their illness experience. Findings suggest that university actors can support ill students by honoring their limitations when they arise, while also attending to the provision of affective and material resources that enable the continued development of students’ capabilities through illness.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37364526