The first Capella University event that Amina Abdullah attended nearly a decade ago proved unforgettable.

It wasn’t just that her husband, a PhD student, was energized by the chance to meet other classmates at the residency they were attending. It was also impressive to Abdullah that she wasn’t the only spouse to attend. Family members had come out in force to support these Capella doctoral students.

For some time, Abdullah, who holds a master’s degree in management, had been considering getting a PhD of her own. The residency experience persuaded her to finally take the leap, and she enrolled at Capella, eventually obtaining a PhD in Human Services. Along the way, she not only benefited from the support and encouragement of her husband and other family members, she also cultivated and grew a community of fellow female students who could support each other. And so the PhD Sisters Group was born.

 

Women Helping Women

Initially, the group consisted of Abdullah and a few other Capella students who kept in touch by email, answering each other’s questions, swapping advice and wisdom, and lending an ear when things became difficult. Over time, the network grew. Abdullah started a website and a Facebook page to make the group accessible to others. “Basically, it was women inviting other women to join the group—a grassroots effort,” Abdullah says.

The PhD Sisters network has grown to encompass more than 1,000 individuals, attracting women from as far away as South Korea and Africa. The PhD Sisters Group at Capella, with roughly 400 people, is now part of a larger network that includes women students and graduates from several other schools. Participants share strategies for getting through their comprehensive exams, applaud each other when they achieve milestones, post requests for help, and much more. “Lots of wonderful things have come from the engagement,” Abdullah says. “The Sisters support one another as they successfully complete the program.”

 

Amazing Stories, Amazing Generosity

Debra Lewis coordinates Capella’s PhD Sisters program, arranging online chats by guests who offer tips on getting through comprehensives, as well as social gatherings that coincide with Capella residencies. Lewis, who is currently working to complete a PhD in psychology, says she marvels at the generosity of the PhD Sisters. “You might expect PhD students to be consumed with their own lives, but not these ladies,” Lewis says. “They always reach out and help if they can.”

Abdullah has collected the stories of several female doctoral students and published them as a book, Their Journey to the PhD: Stories of Personal Perseverance and Academic Achievement. She says she’s proud of the support the Sisters have brought to Capella and students elsewhere. She even briefly tried to start a similar group for men a few years ago, but the effort never gathered much steam, she admits. “Men don’t communicate in the same way,” Abdullah says with a laugh.

 

 

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