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Understanding Graduate Women’s Reentry Experiences

Updated on April 11, 2013

This qualitative case study focused on describing the experiences of women reentering a university as a full-time doctoral student after having left their education to work or stay at home to provide for families.

The case study began with support for the need for more research in relation to women.

“A recent Bureau of the Census publication reported 1993 college enrollment at 13.9 million, with more women than men enrolled in 2-year colleges, 4-year colleges, and graduate schools” (Padula & Miller, 1999).

It also explained the reasoning behind choosing a qualitative method for researching this topic.

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Participants were specifically chosen due to the characteristics that had that matched the needs of the research study and that they were willing participants that would discuss their experiences.

Data were collected through multiple sources of information, like interviews, participant observations and documents and they were analyzed taking into account ethical considerations, verification strategies and an understanding of reentry experiences.

From the data analysis emerged themes of the decision to return to school, expectations versus reality, measuring up to other students, frustrations and difficulties, changing family relationships, the necessity of organization, and expected rewards.

The authors suggested that this study would not only add to the growing body of literature, but that it “illustrates the usefulness of the qualitative case-study method in studying women’s issues” (Padula & Miller, 1999).


A number of questions were raised by this study that still need answers.

This study specifically looked at the reentry experiences of women who were full-time graduate students in heterosexual married relationships with children.

The authors admit that this is a disadvantage in the way that the results of this study cannot be generalized to all populations.

Being that only four students were involved in the study, they suggest that this study be repeated in order to verify that others in the same situation experienced the same needs, concerns, and feelings.

In their study, the authors quoted researchers like Lincoln, Guba and Quantz in describing the approach they were taking in the study.

The authors chose this particular topic, and participants with these characteristics, specifically because the primary researcher was a graduate reentry student who met the same criteria and had access to similar participants at the time of the study. The case study research method was defended for this topic and this study because it met specific qualifications:

- “The goal of case-study research is to seek greater understanding of the case” (Padula & Miller, 1999). They chose to study married women with families returning to school because they wanted to better understand their experiences returning to be full-time students after years of absence.

- “Case studies focus on one specific phenomenon of interest and study that phenomenon in depth” (1999). In this case, the phenomenon was reentry experiences of four married women with children.

- Case studies are typically used when ‘how’ or ‘why’ questions are being asked, the researcher has no control over the events, and the focus is on a real-life phenomenon. The authors truly wanted to understand how these women perceived and interpreted their reentry experiences.

- The focus of case study research is on a bounded system. “This study is bounded by the unit of analysis (the participants), the context (reentry experiences in psychology doctoral programs at a major Midwestern research university), and sampling criteria (graduate reentry women who were married with children)” (1999).


Padula, M. A. & Miller, D. L. (1999, June). Understanding graduate women’s reentry experiences: Case studies of four psychology doctoral students in a Midwestern university. Psychology ofWomenQuarterly, (23)2, 327-343. Retrieved from

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