Female Graduate Students’ Experiences and Career Orientations in Stem: A Comparative Case Study
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Dr. Brandy A. Pleasants
Dr. William W. Cobern
Dr. Cathryn D. Bailey
Dr. Cody T. Williams
STEM, doctoral students, women in STEM, comprehensive exams, peer interactions, career orientations in STEM
Regardless of implementation of government policies to promote STEM education and eradicate the underrepresentation of women and minorities, the number of women choosing STEM throughout their educational career remains low. In 2018 65% doctorate degrees were awarded to men and only 35% to women. Moreover, 40% of all students enrolled in doctorate programs drop out before completion. The process of socialization in graduate school and students’ non academic responsibilities play critical roles in graduate students’ success and future career orientations. Processes of socialization involve interactions with faculty, peers, and administration while taking courses and conducting dissertation research. Non academic engagements include family, part time jobs, and other out of school activities that may impact students’ experience in graduate school.
This research evaluates the experiences of doctoral students, in the context of the socialization process at graduate school. A comparative case study methodology was utilized to explore the experiences of twelve females and eight male doctoral students in STEM. Using focus group discussions, students’ perceptions of faculty, advisors, and peer interactions were captured. Additionally students’ experiences with curriculum, teaching assignments, future career intentions, and non academic engagements were also evaluated. A gender and discipline based comparison of students’ perceptions were derived.
Overall students considered course work to be marginally beneficial in research or future careers. Availability of courses was an issue for all departments except geosciences. Female students faced some gender bias in their course taking experience in physics, chemistry, math, and geosciences. Additionally, departments requiring comprehensive exams provided less positive experience compared to other departments. A majority of students had positive interactions with their research advisors. Female students perceived peer interactions to be beneficial at various stages of doctoral study including taking courses, research projects and collaborative writings. As TAs all students perceived teaching experience to be valuable in their future career in academia but had concerns about lack of training. Female students connected the experience gained from teaching assignments with future careers more strongly than male students. Females had more non academic engagements as compared to male students that impact success in the program and career intentions negatively.
Findings indicated the need of several intervention strategies to improve the process of socialization in each area of study. First, gender bias in different departments should be assessed and some forms of bias interrupters be implemented. Second, providing more training to TAs, in particular before the first assignments, should be considered. Third, the evaluation of curriculum design including the numbers and type of courses, availability of courses being offered is highly recommended to provide a maximum benefit to students. Additionally, an assessment of comprehensive exams' objectives in the light of its advantages and disadvantages to students may help in overall success of all doctoral students. Finally, to promote gender diversity and overall success of all students a culture of school-family balance is highly recommended.
Pannu, Jasvir K., "Female Graduate Students’ Experiences and Career Orientations in Stem: A Comparative Case Study" (2020). Dissertations. 3688.