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.

Advisor Issues

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.

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Balance

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.

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Climate

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.

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Delays

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.

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Recognizing Sexism

Some displays of sexism and gender discrimination are easy to identify; however, there are also forms of sexism and discrimination that are so central to the experience of women and minorities that they often go unnoticed.

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Family Friendly Policies

If you are a graduate-student parent struggling to fulfill program expectations and family needs, you are not alone. The good news is that there may be family friendly services and policies that your university has available for graduate students.

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University Resources for Graduate Students

At most universities, there is a variety of graduate student resources available. It is important to know what resources and services are available and how you can access them.

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First-generation Students

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.

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International Students

Graduate programs in science and engineering enjoy a large proportion of international students—approximately 30%. Identifying cultural factors that influence the graduate experience is important for assessing a problematic situation and managing it.

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The Me Generation

Generational differences can cause common conflicts and misunderstandings. In fact, it is possible that many conflicts and misunderstandings experienced by graduate students can be explained by generational differences in values and expectations.

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Expectations for Graduate Students

Being a graduate student is different from being an undergraduate. Understanding what faculty members expect of you can help in assessing a problem and meeting expectations.

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Stakeholders

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.

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Sexual Harassment

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.

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