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Graduate Student Experiences As Told Through Instagram Posts

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Graduate Studies Division Technical Session 3

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Liesl Klein Purdue University at West Lafayette

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Liesl Krause is a current Ph.D. student at Purdue University in the Polytechnic Institute. She is currently funded through the Purdue Doctoral Fellowship. She has research interests in student mentorship in graduate school and student well-being. Liesl graduated from Villanova University in 2016 with her Bachelor's in Electrical Engineering and graduated from Purdue University's Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering in 2018 with her Master's. Liesl is the current President of PhD Balance, an international online community helping provide resources to promote graduate student welfare.

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Greg J. Strimel Purdue University at West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Greg J. Strimel, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of Technology Leadership and Innovation and coordinator of the Design & Innovation Minor at Purdue University. Dr. Strimel conducts research on design pedagogy, cognition, and assessment as well as the preparation of K-12 engineering teachers.

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The poor mental health experiences of graduate students, particularly in STEM fields, have recently received increased attention as it has been considered a major concern in academia (Nature Editorials, 2019). As a result, the Instagram account titled PhD Balance (formerly Ph_D_pression) was started in 2017 to help graduate students share their stories related to mental health and resilience in graduate school. As graduate school can be isolating, sharing experiences publicly can help others to recognize that they are not alone in the difficulties of academia. Through these stories, we can also learn more about the most common struggles in the graduate student experience and the most common ways students’ cope with these challenges. Therefore, 509 number of posts (all posts from the start of the page through May 2020) on the PhD Balance Instagram account were collected and analyzed through thematic coding. Through this process, the researchers identified common triggers of stress across the graduate student posts and determined the kinds of mental illness or stress they experienced in graduate school as well as their related coping mechanisms. The reliability of the coding process was addressed by having two additional coders independently code 15% of the data with the same codebook as the original researcher. Comparisons between each of the individual coded documents were made to determine the amount of overlap and potential bias of the original researcher. As a result, this study provides information that can be beneficial for higher education institutions to (1) better mitigate the most common stressors in graduate school and (2) provide enhanced mental health support to graduate students. These efforts could then result in better outcomes for graduate students, as well as a better workplace environment for all those in higher education.

Klein, L., & Strimel, G. J. (2021, July), Graduate Student Experiences As Told Through Instagram Posts Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37233

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