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Graduate Nursing Student Tells of Challenges to Pursuing Doctoral Degree during COVID-19

Image of soldier sitting at desk looking at laptop Graduate work often requires in-person collaboration, which has become a major obstacle during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy photo)

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For Navy Cmdr. Melissa Troncoso, a Graduate School of Nursing student pursuing a doctoral degree in Nursing Science at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU), closing the campus and moving to a virtual environment has presented challenges to her ability to complete her dissertation. Although graduate work is done independently, much of it requires in-person collaboration and data collection, presenting Cmdr. Troncoso with a number of obstacles to face and overcome during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The current quarantine situation has impacted how I engage in my dissertation in several ways, most notably in participant recruitment, data collection, workflow, and personal expectations,” Troncoso said. “I am conducting a qualitative research study using ethnography to explore the eating behaviors of junior enlisted sailors, and observations and interviews are an essential component of data collection. Since sailors are not eating in public places and we are all sheltering in places, I’ve had to put the observation component of my data collection on hold.”

Ideally, her semi-structured interviews with participants would be conducted in person; however, since quarantine, she has had to adjust her plans.

“I have been conducting all interviews via phone,” the commander explained. “Thankfully, I included telephone and videoconference as options for interviews in my Institutional Review Board protocol. I have watched webinars presented by qualitative researchers experiencing the same struggle of conducting fieldwork during quarantine.

Unfortunately, the stay-at-home orders have prevented her from recruiting face-to-face and required her to rely on her leaders and “gatekeepers” to spread the word about her study. Troncoso added, “While I am grateful to have the support of leaders to spread the word, there is nothing like connecting with individuals face-to-face.”

During these challenging times, she has continued to rely on USU support, and noted the USU Learning Resource Center and IT staff as being tremendously helpful and responsive. The mother to two school-aged children also recommends - kindness, compassion, patience and leadership to survive and thrive.

“Do your best to live in the present and focus on what you can control today,” she stated. "You are stronger, smarter, and more resourceful than you think you are.”

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