Rosemary Perez, Laura Lee Smith, and multi-institution team release first brief from study on how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting graduate students

December 07, 2020

A team of researchers including professor Rosemary J. Perez and doctoral student Laura Lee Smith, both of the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education, has announced the first set of findings from a study titled Graduate Student Experiences of Support and Stress During the COVID-19 Pandemic, funded by a National Science Foundation RAPID award for COVID-19 research. 

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The purpose of the research is to explore postsecondary institutional policies and practices that are designed to help graduate students feel supported during the COVID-19 pandemic and how this support influences their educational and career decision-making. The study contributes to a research base for graduate school administrators and faculty about how to immediately help the broadest range of graduate students during a crisis, as well as what strategies might be most effective for supporting graduate students as they make degree and career-related decisions as society emerges from the crisis.

The first brief describes the experiences and perspectives of approximately 3,500 graduate students at 12 U.S. public research universities who responded to the survey during June–July 2020, including illustrative narrative data from the surveys and initial responses from focus groups of 56 students that were held in August 2020. In both the survey and focus groups, graduate students reported concerning levels of anxiety, depression, and PTSD symptoms. They described economic precarity related to food and housing insecurity and a lack of institutional support. Further, the pandemic’s effects may be long-lasting, as many graduate students are planning longer research timelines and time to degree extensions, feel pessimistic about their career prospects, and anticipate career changes. 

Graduate students who identify as women or trans/non-binary/genderqueer, international students, and students who are parenting or caretaking reported more negative mental health effects and degree delays. More graduate students who identified as Black or Indigenous reported having relationships with others at high risk for negative outcomes from COVID-19 or having lost someone close to them due to COVID-19. Because students may be experiencing ongoing trauma responses to these combinations of events and experiences, the team closes with recommendations for graduate student advisors and university administrators based on their findings and drawing on a trauma-informed framework.

The full project team is composed from researchers at academic institutions across the country: Craig Ogilvie (PI), Montana State University; Thomas R. Brooks, Texas A&M University-Commerce; Colter Ellis, Montana State University; Garrett Gowen, Iowa State University; Kelly Knight, Montana State University; Rosemary J. Perez, University of Michigan; Sarah L. Rodriguez, Texas A&M University-Commerce; Nina Schweppe, Montana State University; Laura Lee Smith, University of Michigan; and Rachel A. Smith, Iowa State University. 

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