Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Alfredo Ortiz Aragón


Julie Nadeau


Sandra Guzman Foster


Factors for Success of International Female Doctoral Students in Science in the United States

Many international doctoral female students in the sciences in the United States do not obtain a degree despite their large investment in time, effort, and financial resources. The loss of highly prepared and credentialed international female doctoral students, who have a genuine interest in science but who choose not to pursue their studies to graduation or switch careers due to real or perceived barriers, signifies such a loss not just for the women themselves and their families but for their countries of origin, their hosts universities, the scientific professions, and society in general (Castillo et al., 2014). The purpose of this qualitative transcendental descriptive phenomenological study was to explore the lived experiences of international female doctoral students who succeeded in their doctoral programs in the United States in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), or completed a professional program in the health sciences.

I utilized a transcendental descriptive phenomenological approach to explore, describe, and understand how international female doctoral students succeeded in their doctoral programs in the United States in the sciences. To improve the methodological validity of the study, triangulation of data sources and data methods were used. Through multiple methods and multiple sources, I gathered data which provided a rich description of the phenomenon investigated (Bloomberg & Volpe, 2016). I utilized Arts Based Research and testimonios to arrive at key findings.

Key findings explained the what, the why, and how these participants overcame insurmountable barriers and succeeded in their doctoral science programs in the United States. Families provided what was needed in terms of finances, resources, and support. Regardless of specific traditional religions or spirituality, faith gave strength and provided endurance to all participants during crisis. Support from academic advisors, research supervisors, faculty, and mentors were the number one factor for retention and student success for female international STEM and doctoral health science students in the United States. The role of peers was important. Balance also played an important role in the success of international doctoral females in the sciences. The most resilient group was high risk students. The participants persevered due to personal, social, and institutional factors. Participants underwent a process of transformation to create their new doctoral and scientific identities. Findings from Testimonios revealed that participants contributed human capital, and suffered cultural dissonance, discrimination, sexual harassment, and gender, cultural, and class microaggressions.

Universities in the United States can provide “safe spaces” on their campuses to serve as refuge centers that deliver a sense of belonging and support for those international female doctoral science students who suffer from discrimination, alienation, and/or microaggressions. Universities must provide safe methods, formal and informal, to report sexual harassment and provide fair and equitable access to resources for all employees and doctoral students. They must create policies that support faculty and doctoral students during times when family and personal life demands are overwhelming, specifically for raising young children, taking care of an ill or disabled family member, caring for elderly parents, or when in a personal crisis.