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My wellness is: An art-based collective autoethnographic illustration of doctoral student wellness in online distance education environments

Robert Jason Lynch (Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, USA)
Bettie Perry (Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, USA)
Cheleah Googe (Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, USA)
Jessica Krachenfels (Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA)
Kristina McCloud (Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, USA)
Brielle Spencer-Tyree (Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA)
Robert Oliver (Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA)
Kathy Morgan (Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, USA)

Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education

ISSN: 2398-4686

Article publication date: 10 February 2020

Issue publication date: 9 April 2020




As online education proliferates, little attention has been given to understanding non-cognitive success factors, such as wellness, in online graduate student success. To begin to address this gap in understanding, this paper aims to explore the experiences of doctoral student wellness within the context of online distance education. Doctoral students, and their instructor, in an advanced qualitative research course sought to use collective autoethnography to address the following questions: How do the authors perceive the wellness as doctoral students engaged in distance education, and how do the authors understand the influence of the doctoral program cultures on the perceptions of the own wellness?


This paper emerged from a 12 week advanced qualitative research course where students opted to engage in a poetic arts-based collective autoethnography to reflect on and analyze their experience of wellness as doctoral students taking online courses. Data collection included the use of reflective journaling, creation of “My Wellness Is” poetry, and weekly group debriefing. Journals and poems were analyzed individually, then collectively. First and second cycle coding techniques were used, with the first cycle including process and descriptive coding and second round coding involving pattern coding.


Through first and second round coding, three primary themes emerged: positionality as an element of wellness, the role of community in maintaining wellness and awareness and action regarding wellness.

Research limitations/implications

Due to the inherent nature of qualitative research, and specifically autoethnographic methods, the findings of this study may be difficult to generalize to the broader online graduate student population. Future research on this topic may use the experiences explored in this study as a basis for the development of future quantitative studies to measure the extent of these findings in the broader population.

Practical implications

This paper includes implications for the development of interventions that may support wellness in graduate students in online environments including support interventions from faculty advisors, leveraging academic curriculum to promote wellness, and suggestions for building community among online graduate students.

Social implications

As technology advances, online education is quickly becoming a leading mechanism for obtaining a graduate education. Scholarship in this discipline has primarily focused on academic outcomes of online students and has largely focused on undergraduate populations. This paper broadens the conversation about online education by illustrating a non-cognitive dimension of the student experience, i.e. wellness, through the perspective of graduate students.


This paper addresses a gap in the current understanding of online graduate student experiences and outcomes using methods that provide vivid illustrations of the nuanced experience of online doctoral students.



The authors would like to acknowledge Ashley Pittman, Old Dominion University, as a contributing member of our team and thank her for engaging with this project.


Lynch, R.J., Perry, B., Googe, C., Krachenfels, J., McCloud, K., Spencer-Tyree, B., Oliver, R. and Morgan, K. (2020), "My wellness is: An art-based collective autoethnographic illustration of doctoral student wellness in online distance education environments", Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education, Vol. 11 No. 1, pp. 73-88.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

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