I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving, with plenty of food, and plenty of rest! I wanted to quickly share some information I read today from the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) Graduate School Climate Study Report. Basically, it is a survey designed to assess “what constitutes excellent graduate training.” The survey was conducted in February and March 2010, and had just under 4500 respondents from across the Graduate School. Hopefully it will give some insight into how a diverse body of graduate students feels about graduate school. If you’d like to read the entire report, it is available at the following website:
Here are some excerpts for graduate students in STEM, and for women graduate students, from the Executive Summary. Bolded emphasis is mine:
Overall Satisfaction Levels
“But satisfaction levels varied throughout the university’s schools and colleges. The most satisfied students were in the Jackson School of Geosciences, the McCombs School of Business, the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, and the Cockrell School of Engineering: more than 90% of the respondents in these colleges would recommend their departments to friends. Somewhat lower percentages were found in the College of Pharmacy and the College of Liberal Arts, with 70% and 78%, respectively, willing to recommend their departments.”
“In many ways, the graduate school climate is better for doctoral students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields than those in other fields. In STEM fields, doctoral students felt relatively well informed about their programs and professional tasks. STEM students more readily assembled and worked with collegial dissertation committees, and experienced STEM students often served as mentors to new students. Doctoral students in non-STEM fields reported more difficulties with all of these aspects of graduate training.”
“[…] college funding rates vary. Doctoral students in STEM fields are the most likely to receive funding: only 9% of physical sciences students, 10% of the biological sciences students, and 12% of engineering students were unfunded at the time of our survey, compared to 15% of humanities students, 17% of social sciences students, and 44% of education students.”
Those are some great triumphs for STEM and engineering disciplines! However, the climate changes a bit when you consider diversity:
Gender-based Differences in Experiences
“Women were less likely than men to be funded, regardless of their fields of study. Compared to men, women experienced more stress, less time for themselves, and had more limited career options in relation to those of their partners. Many of these gender differences were most acute among doctoral students.”
“Nearly 13% of the students we surveyed were parents. More women than men were single parents: 18% of mothers were unmarried, while only 4% of fathers were unmarried.”
“Women reported making more parenting sacrifices for the sake of their careers, but they also described an enduring climate of disrespect for academic mothers. Compared to men, women were more pessimistic about the dual possibility of having both success at work and children. They were more likely to say that when it comes to career planning, there is never a good time to have children.”
Obviously, there is still much more work to be done to improve the graduate school climate for women in graduate school, and especially in extending family-friendly policies to women in graduate school. I’m very happy to see NSF taking steps to lead by example with their new workplace flexibility policies for people in STEM.
I am very anxious to see how SWE will address these issues in the coming years. Thankfully, there are already a number of SWE Mega Issues (what is a SWE Mega Issue?) focused on these issues, though not specifically for graduate students. For example:
- MI00107: How can we build awareness and have a greater impact on gender-based bias issues in the workplace?
- MI00113: As we progress to get more women in the workforce, is there a need for better legislation or support for maternity leave? How can SWE support these efforts?
- MI00116: How can SWE inspire companies to provide creative opportunities for engineers who want to contribute in their industry and attend to family needs?
In closing, I wish you all luck in closing out this semester! Please leave any questions or comments below. I’d love to hear from you!
FY12 Graduate Member Coordinator
A quick disclaimer: UT Austin is my home institution, where I am currently pursuing my doctorate. I am only reporting information from UT Austin because that is the information that is readily available to me. This study was modeled after similar studies conducted at the University of Michigan, the University of California at Berkeley, and the Pew Institute, so there should be similar information out there for these other institutes. This is not a post, in any way, to promote graduate school at UT Austin over other institutions.