Using Facebook to create a participatory, arts-based online focus group, this study had two primary purposes: (1) to examine how mothers in academia present themselves as they transition from doctoral student mother (“DocMama”) to full time position as motherscholars and (2) to explore the use of a participatory, arts-based online focus group on Facebook to facilitate participant description of experiences and feelings. This study adds both to the research on online research by emphasizing a collaborative nature and art to share experiences, and also to the research about motherscholars, examining the oft overlooked transition from doctoral program to academic career as the first step in the academic ladder (CohenMiller, 2014). The four participants participated through a secret Facebook group to post images and text from geographically disperse locations across the US, Central Asia, and New Zealand. In using an arts-based online format, participants were able to continually add to and adjust their responses to best explain their experiences. Using this online dynamic format provided a useful opportunity for participants to share their experiences across time and space. To analyze the data, I used self-presentation theory (Goffman, 1959) to discover common themes relating to work and family consistent with the literature as well as an unexpected finding regarding the concept of the “ideal” motherscholar. Furthermore, results highlighted the utility of a participatory arts-based online focus group to create a supportive format for ongoing, dynamic communication, interaction, and sharing of experience across geographically distant locations.


Arts-Based Research, Online Focus Group, Innovative Research Methods, Participatory Research, Facebook, Graduate Student, Motherscholar, “DocMama, ” Mother in Academia, Self-Presentation Theory

Author Bio(s)

Dr. A. S. CohenMiller specializes in arts-based research, interdisciplinarity and gender in higher education. Currently, she is conducting research on gender equality in academia; work/life balance; and educational wellbeing. She is also Founder of The Motherscholar Project, Co-Founding Director of The Consortium of Gender Scholars, and Editor in Chief of Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: anna@cohenmiller.com.


This study was originally presented at the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) in Dublin, Ireland, in August 2016. Thank you to Dr. Howard Smith for assistance in the first stage of analysis for this study. This feedback along with the insightful comments and support from the editors and reviewers at The Qualitative Report made this article a much richer piece. Lastly and primarily, I would like to thank the motherscholars for your willingness to engage in a collaborative study and provide insights into your experiences.

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