Understand The Context: Overview
Understanding the context refers to recognizing the environment in which a situation occurs, the types of issues that many women experience, and the people who are a part of the environment where difficulties arise. Graduate school is a type of subculture within the university that carries a set of expectations and norms. Your graduate student experiences are better understood against this backdrop of multiple cultures in which you participate. Different demographic groups, such as women, racial and ethnic minorities, and international students may experience another type of subculture. Certain issues come up for many women due to prescribed gender roles and the overlap of the biological clock with the academic timeline. You might find it surprising and comforting to know that many women in science and engineering share the experiences you may be having.
Many graduate students wish they had better and more productive relationships with their advisors, but this appears to be especially true for women in science and engineering graduate programs. Understanding what good advising is and your advisor’s role in establishing a positive alliance is an aspect of assessing the problem.
Have you faced challenges balancing your career and personal demands? If you feel like you have to choose between a career in science and a personal life, you are not alone. The good news is it is possible to maximize your personal control over these common graduate school challenges.
Have you sometimes found the norms and culture of your academic environment discouraging? Many women in STEM fields where they are outnumbered by men report experiencing isolation, hostility, stereotyping, and discrimination. Adjusting to and finding satisfaction in your environment is related to your persistence in graduate school, and you can do this by building relationships and a career network.
Have you experienced setbacks in being productive and making timely progress toward your degree? Students who are more productive in science and mathematics programs are 3.9 times more likely to complete their doctorates than students who do not produce as much research. Keep in mind that completing a graduate degree is a marathon race, not a sprint. And the race is worth it.
A first generation student is a student who is the first in the family to go to college. Recognizing the common barriers you or fellow students experience can be helpful, as well as being familiar with persistence strategies and resources that are linked to first-generation student success.
Do you know who has an interest or investment in your graduate experience and how these people affect your opportunities and progress through the program? Paying attention to the needs of stakeholders, such as your advisor, family, friends, and peers, helps in assessing the breadth of a problem and is essential to your own success and satisfaction.
Sexual harassment is a rare but serious problem for some women in graduate school. Sexual harassment constitutes behavior such as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Recognizing and responding to sexual harassment are important to your well being and advancement.
An Arizona State University project, supported by the National Science Foundation under grants 0634519 and 0910384
Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views
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