Beginning graduate school can be an overwhelming experience dominated by changes in roles, restructuring of routines and habits, and shift in one’s balance of daily activities. The researchers employed a phenomenological design to explore perceptions of this experience among 33 graduate students during their first semester of a full-time entry-level Master of Occupational Therapy program. One overarching theme, turbulence and rebalancing, and four superordinate themes emerged: (I) anxiety, (II) contextual stress, (III) social supports, and (IV) self-determination. The stages the participants appeared to go through were cyclical in nature, where students experienced a recurring movement of turbulence and rebalancing, progression and regression, as they moved from undergraduate to graduate education. Across themes, the concept of self-management techniques and re-balancing was used by each participant to move to the next theme, or stage. Self-determination helped the participants rebalance and move through an apparent cycle away from stress and anxiety; yet social, environmental, and faculty barriers steered the students back to stress and anxiety, necessitating the cyclical movement. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs was applied as a means to understand the barriers and facilitators as students’ transitioned into graduate level education. Recommendations are made for how graduate faculty might facilitate adaptation during the early months of graduate school and throughout, to promote students’ academic and subsequent professional success. Graduate level faculty can access varied approaches to facilitate students recognizing their own needs, satisfying them, and achieving a healthier experience during graduate education. This in turn may improve graduate student retention and matriculation.
Judith Malek-Ismail, MEd, DHSc, OTR/L is an Assistant Professor in the Master of Occupational Therapy program at Radford University in Radford, Virginia where she has taught since 2014. Dr. Ismail has 28 years of clinical and educator experience, with 17 years in full time academia.
Sheila R. Krajnik, EdD, OTR/L is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy at Radford University where she has taught since 2009. Dr. Krajnik has 38 years of clinical and educator experience, with 9 years in full time academia.
Declaration of Interest
The authors report no declarations of interest.
Malek-Ismail, J., & Krajnik, S. R. (2018). Thriving In the First Semester of Graduate School: A Process of Rebalancing and Self-Determination. Journal of Occupational Therapy Education, 2 (3). https://doi.org/10.26681/jote.2018.020302
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.