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New Ways of Being and Knowing: Women Ph.D. Students Exploring Embodiment through Feminist Phenomenological Photovoice

Being a Ph.D. student is a privilege in many ways, and it is not easy. Mind-body dualist patterns of thought and behavior within academia ignore the embodied experiences of being a woman Ph.D. student. Mental health, sexual harassment, family planning, and social relationships are among the challenges that women are often expected to handle on their own or are ignored altogether. With 20 women Ph.D. student participants, this feminist phenomenological photovoice project answers the questions: For those who self-identify as women, what is the essence of the embodied Ph.D. experience? To what extent does the experience of being in a Ph.D. program support women’s ability to live a healthy (mind and body) lifestyle? Participants completed two interviews, took photographs to illustrate their embodied experiences, and contributed photographs and artist statements for an online gallery. Data support three key findings. First, Ph.D. programs are not designed to support the embodied wellness of women. In these spaces, women Ph.D. students are either just students and brains with no bodies or they are just women with bodies and no brains. Second, it is important to address these inadequacies because there is a strong connection between women’s bodies and vii minds and their academic work. Finally, despite existing in spaces that are not necessarily designed to support their needs, women demonstrate strength and creativity when they step away from mind-body dualism towards embodiment. Findings from this study, including the online gallery, can bring these issues to key stakeholders, such as faculty members and administrators, who can create positive change in academic culture as well as encouragement and community to other women Ph.D. students in the midst of their academic journeys.
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