PhD first-generation and continuing generation students’ academic experience and strengths

Hana Bahack, Audrey Addi-Raccah

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study identifies the factors that help doctoral students cope with difficulties in their studies, based on social reproduction theory and the anti-deficit approach. A thematic analysis of 23 semi-structured interviews of doctoral students at six universities revealed that first-generation and continuing generation doctoral students had to overcome challenges, and each group represented unique experiences. Continuing generation students reported facing emotional difficulties, and relied on parents’ support and cultural capital. First-generation doctoral students described their academic path as an obstacle course, including academic and economic barriers and cultural difficulties, as well as culture shock, otherness, and ambivalent reactions from their families. This group mainly relied on personal resources as aspirational capital and grit. We argue that personal resources may play a significant role in social mobility of disadvantaged groups. Greater awareness to non-cognitive resources and in-program holistic support including social and psychological support may contribute to higher education equitable opportunities.

Original languageEnglish
JournalHigher Education
StateAccepted/In press - 2022


  • Anti-deficit approach
  • Cultural capital
  • Doctoral students
  • First-generation students
  • Non-cognitive skills


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