Why Do Women Leave Doctoral Programs in STEM Fields?

A new study by researchers at the Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University, asked a group of women doctoral students to record in a journal “incidents in the day-to-day experience of doctoral studies that strengthened or weaken a woman’s construction of her identity as a scientist.” The goal of the project was to learn why some women in doctoral programs in STEM fields leave without completing their degree.

The research found that women were expected to do lab “housework” and were often left out of discussions about their research projects. Some women reported sexual harassment, being screamed at by superiors, and having their research findings questioned. Other women noted concerns about balancing work and family life. Many reported a lack of women mentors and in some cases no women co-workers.

Melissa Rivers, an adjunct faculty member in the department of educational leadership at Northern Arizona University and a co-author of the study, said that “the number of reported incidences of microaggressions, sexual harassment and sexism in our data were shocking, but not surprising.”

Rivers added that “we submitted the manuscript to various publications and were told the research topic was not significant because the number of women in STEM fields had increased and the findings were not different than studies published in the 1980s. This further validated how there are still those in academe who refuse to believe overt sexism still occurs.”

The full report, “Chilly Climates, Balancing Acts, and Shifting Pathways: What Happens to Women in STEM Doctoral Programs,” was published in the journal Social Sciences. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/StudySTEM Fields

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