Framing The Degree: An Autoethnography of Trauma in the Graduate Student Experience

Date Awarded

Spring 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




James P. Barber

Committee Member

Virginia L. McLaughlin

Committee Member

Tony E. Adams


Traumatic experience among graduate students is overlooked as a factor impacting the graduate student experience. This study uses autoethnography to examine the psychological impact of my own traumatic experience in relation to my graduate student experience. I rely on personal narrative layered with theoretical literature on posttraumatic growth processes (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004) to illustrate the power of trauma in redefining my internal schema within the graduate student experience. Posttraumatic Growth (PTG) requires that an individual cognitively process and make new meaning from traumatic experiences. In this autoethnography, I share and examine my personal story of trauma and how I made sense of those experiences, both as an individual and within the context of my graduate program. Wisdom from trauma revealed recommendations for graduate students experiencing trauma and their faculty. For faculty, helping students process and develop posttraumatic growth requires (a) balancing support and challenge, (b) establishing open and personal communication with graduate students, (c) embracing vulnerability, (d) supporting the decisions students make following traumatic experience, and (e) being present in the journey toward growth. Wisdom for graduate students experiencing trauma include (a) knowing that it is okay to share their experiences, (b) realizing that life and school are not separate, (c) understanding that processing takes time and space, and (d) identifying trustworthy outlets to practice self-disclosure. This autoethnography further shares implications for institutional policy, advocates for using PTG as a developmental process within graduate programs, and emphasizes the value of sharing stories.



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