Lower SES Ph.D. Students Experience Interpersonal Disconnection from Others Both Inside and Outside of Academia
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Description: Abstract: Students from lower socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds can experience stigma in undergraduate educational settings but little research on this topic has been conducted at the Ph.D. level, which is important for promoting a diverse generation of highly skilled researchers and educators. Lower-SES students may feel a diminished sense of social integration (i.e., feeling more isolated, a lower sense of belonging, and less social support) in doctoral education in part because they experience interpersonal disconnection—a lack of understanding and alienation from both peers inside academia and close family and friends outside of academia. This interpersonal disconnection may be a mechanism by which lower-SES leads to lower levels of social integration in academic settings. In this prospective study of first-year Ph.D. students at three North American universities (N = 608), we assessed students’ perceived levels of social integration and their interpersonal perceptions inside and outside of academia 2-8 times throughout their first year of graduate school. Relative to students from higher-SES backgrounds, lower-SES students perceived lower levels of social integration during their first year. Students lower in SES had difficulty making academic friends, felt highly dissimilar to their academic peers, and perceived a lack of understanding about their work in graduate school from close non-academic family and friends. They also reported a significant loss of non-academic social ties. These interpersonal disconnections prospectively mediated the association between lower SES and lower levels of perceived social integration. Overall, results suggest that lower SES students are at risk of impaired interpersonal relationships during doctoral education. Institutional policies to promote social connections among Ph.D. students may therefore help lower-SES students integrate more effectively into academia. Keywords: socioeconomic status, interpersonal disconnection, stigma, Ph.D. students