Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Psychology


Faculty of Health, Engineering and Science

First Advisor

Dr Ken Robinson


Although the value of educating mothers has been established in the previous research, little is known about the experiences of mothers who participate in higher education. What is known supports a largely negative portrayal of the experience; it seems that it is a difficult journey, filled with tension. This thesis reports on an exploration of the experiences of mothers who are postgraduate students in Australia. The research comprised of two phases: the first phase was a narrative study of the experiences of 14 Australian postgraduate student mothers. The second phase comprised of a Q-method study of 75 postgraduate student mothers, where Q-method is a technique that incorporates both qualitative and quantitative components. In addition, there was a precursor study was undertaken to ensure variety in the Q-statements, as well as a follow-up study which checked for confirmability of the Q-study interpretation. The findings showed that studying impacted on almost every facet of a woman’s life. Postgraduate student mothers juggled childcare and timetabling issues and, for some, their main challenge was a lack of support. They overcame these difficulties with highly developed organisation and time-management skills, oftentimes with partner support, and by sacrificing sleep and recreation time. The women were strongly motivated by the desire for personal achievement, and the opportunity to create a better future for their children. Postgraduate education rewarded student mothers with a sense of freedom, growth, pride and achievement, as well as developing their professional identity. The results of this research program demonstrated that postgraduate education provided women with a major opportunity to grow and develop their personal abilities while raising their children. This fresh perspective offers an alternative, and more positive snapshot of life as a student mother, and contrasts with the previously reported experience in the literature.

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