Understanding the Impact of Personal Challenges and Advisor Support on STEM Persistence Among Graduate Women of Color

Kerrie G. Wilkins-Yel, Jennifer Bekki, Amanda Arnold, Bianca Bernstein, C. Okwu, Madison Natarajan, Ashley K. Randall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT) posits that contextual supports and barriers can either promote or inhibit academic and career progress. However, little is known about how challenges outside of the academic setting impact academic persistence of women of color (WOC) in advanced STEM degrees. This study aims to understand the personal challenges experienced by WOC in STEM doctoral programs and their perceptions of related support from faculty advisors. A constant comparative qualitative examination was conducted using semi-structured interviews with 11 WOC who either chose to complete or discontinue their STEM doctoral programs. Two overarching themes emerged from the data: personal challenges (i.e., difficulties experienced outside of the academic setting) and advisor support (i.e., the degree to which participants perceived their advisors’ actions as supportive). Personal challenges included financial difficulties, family challenges, romantic relationship difficulties, personal health challenges, adjustment to U.S. culture, and challenges related to pregnancy and childcare. Participants also discussed whether they chose to share these challenges with their advisors and the type of support received (i.e., instrumental support or emotional support). The findings of this study highlight the personal challenges experienced by WOCin STEM doctoral programs and the role of advisor support in mitigating or exacerbating the impact of these challenges on academic persistence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)97-110
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Diversity in Higher Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022


  • Advisor support
  • Personal challenges
  • Scct
  • Stem
  • Women of color

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


Dive into the research topics of 'Understanding the Impact of Personal Challenges and Advisor Support on STEM Persistence Among Graduate Women of Color'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this