[EAS]Not For Women Only

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Sat Feb 2 02:50:55 EST 2002

Mail*Link¨ SMTP               Not For Women Only

More about women in science and engineering graduate programs,
from the IEEE Press.  --PJK

Date: 2/1/02 4:51 AM
From: Rick Reis
"Women with dreams of a doctorate in science or engineering would be 
well served to forget what mama always said about  playing nice."
		"desk-top faculty development, one hundred times a year"

		   Note: Previous Listserv postings can be found at:


The review below is of a new book, The Woman's Guide to Navigating 
the Ph.D. in Engineering & Science, by Barbara B. Lazarus, Lisa M. 
Ritter, and Susan A. Ambrose, published by IEEE Press. It should be 
of interest to all graduate students and faculty in engineering and 
science. The review, by Margaret Mannix, appeared in the January 
2002, Volume 11, No. 5, of ASEE Prism, the journal of the American 
Society of Engineering Education. http://www.asee.org/prism/ 
Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis
reis at stanford.edu
UP NEXT: Using Mentoring as a Form of Professional Learning

		            Tomorrow's Graduate Students and Postdocs

		----------------------------- 1,300 words 

			            NOT FOR WOMEN ONLY

By Margaret Mannix
ASSE Prism pp 34-35

A new book unravels some of the mystery for women about graduate 
school programs in science and engineering-and offers insights to 
administrators and advisers on keeping them in the program.

Women with dreams of a doctorate in science or engineering would be 
well served to forget what mama always said about  playing nice. If 
females want to succeed in graduate school, they've got to be just as 
pushy, bossy, and aggressive as their male lab partners. Says one 
doctoral student in physics: "You really can't survive if you're 

That's just one of the lessons in the new  book, The Woman's Guide to 
Navigating the Ph.D. in Engineering & Science, recently published by 
IEEE Press. In this day and age, it's hard to fathom the necessity of 
such a tome. But one look at the numbers and you'll understand why: 
According to the National Science Foundation, women earned less than 
half of the doctorates in science in 1998. Of those, only 16 percent 
were in engineering.

Culture is to blame for some of that imbalance, as society seems to 
rubber-stamp males as the brainiacs of math and science. Women who 
excel in those disciplines are oftentimes considered anomalies. 
However, some of the bleak showing in the statistics lies in the 
nature of the doctoral programs. Co-author Barbara Lazarus, associate 
provost for academic affairs and adjunct professor of educational 
anthropology at Carnegie Mellon University, says the 
testosterone-laden fields of science and engineering are 
booby-trapped with all sorts of stereotypes and hidden barriers. 
"Women need to learn how to maneuver in a predominantly male graduate 
school environment, how to think like academics, and how to be 
politically astute," she explains in the book.

Doctoral candidates aren't the only ones who will find the insider 
secrets spelled out in the book to be illuminating. If higher 
education is serious about attracting more women to engineering, then 
administrators, advisors, and professors of both sexes must 
critically examine what's going on in their own backyards.

That's crucial, says Lazarus, because "there are all kinds of little 
ways in which the system does not work for women." It could a good 
old boy atmosphere that short-changes female opinions and 
contributions. It could be that the male doctoral candidates gather 
for informal lunch bunches, unwittingly trading inside knowledge much 
like key business gets conducted on a golf course. It could be that 
department meetings are held at a time when, say, children  need to 
be picked up from school, a disadvantage to someone who has a major 
role in child rearing-typically the female half of the parenting duo. 
It could be a dearth of female role models or inequality in financial 

Lazarus et al have divided their counsel into four sections that 
reflect the graduate school experience: How a Ph.D. program operates; 
making it work; potential perils and pitfalls; and, last but not 
least, life after the Ph.D. (In other words, finding a job.) 
Sprinkled throughout the various chapters are instructive vignettes 
from current doctoral students and women in leadership positions in 
academia, like Lydia Villa-Komaroff, associate vice president for 
research administration and professor of neurology at Northwestern 
University. During graduate school, Villa-Komaroff purposely avoided 
contact with anyone who didn't think women belonged in the world of 
science. "I guess that was a blessing because I never felt like I 
didn't belong or shouldn't be pursuing something that I loved. I 
learned early on that it's a very good ploy to act confident even 
when you're not because then people perceive you as confident, and 
that makes a big difference."

One of the most important strategies in a successful doctoral journey 
is working with the right adviser, one that will help develop a 
student's full potential and remain a lifelong sponsor. Lazarus and 
her co-authors highlight what makes such a relationship tick. A 
faculty member who shares the same interests and philosophies tends 
to make a candidate feel more comfortable. An adviser should be able 
to communicate honestly and effectively. After all, the pairing may 
last several years. Of course, senior faculty members are no doubt 
better connected, but may not be able to spend as much time with the 
student as a junior faculty member. But what if the match isn't made 
in heaven? Changing advisers might be tough. Perhaps other faculty 
can fill the void in the existing twosome. In any case, remember to 
approach the problem with tact. You never know when you'll need to 
rely on your former adviser. The chapter also provides insightful 
tips and nitty-gritty advice on acing qualifying exams, choosing a 
dissertation topic, and developing a thesis action plan. For example: 
"Plan far ahead when ordering equipment for experiments. It may take 
a long time for it to arrive."

Women graduate students with low self-esteem will find the book chock 
full of ways to exude confidence, a major prerequisite when defending 
research, abilities, and accomplishments. As most professors and 
students in science and engineering are male, woman may need to bring 
in reinforcements. Lazarus suggests building a support group, seeking 
counseling, joining professional organizations, participating in 
student activities, and attending conferences. Above all, get a grip 
on the realities of graduate school. "It's not a sign of weakness to 
need a supportive environment," say the authors.

Women might also find the learning method in graduate school 
unfamiliar, intimidating, or  difficult. No more lecture-study-test 
that defines the undergraduate years. In graduate school, learning 
stems from critique and discussion. Some women tend to feel 
browbeaten when bombarded with seemingly harsh questions or consider 
them personal affronts. Negative feedback should be viewed as part of 
the process. Learn to evaluate criticism (opinion) and decide if it's 
valued, say the authors. Females also tend to internalize problems, 
which leads to discouragement and feelings of self-doubt. The man "is 
more likely to think the equipment was bad or the gods were 
conspiring against him," says Lazarus. "He is more likely to 
externalize the problem."

Women students who strive to balance school and private lives may 
also find their doctoral  sojourn a smoother ride. Learn to focus on 
the task at hand, prioritize, and set realistic goals. Everyone-not 
just graduate students-occasionally feels overburdened and anxious. 
Again, turn to friends and colleagues for support and advice. "Find a 
group of confidants whom you can trust." And, for goodness sake, ride 
a bike, sit down to dinner with the family, or take a vacation.

Making use of a newly earned Ph.D. can be a challenge, so the book's 
final chapter helps students decide what type of job they might like, 
how to approach and conduct the job search, and how to go about the 
all-important task of networking. "No one should be left out of your 
circle; you never know who can give you a promising lead on the 
perfect job," say the authors. Facing an academic or industry 
interviewer? The book spells out how they differ. There are examples 
of what sorts of questions a student might expect and shouldn't 
expect ("Are you pregnant?" is a no-no) from a potential employer and 
how to be a model interviewee. "Always have at least a few questions 
for the interviewer. It shows your interest in the job and in the 

Of course, one of the most important questions in the job search is 
usually saved until last: salary. For women, negotiating an offer can 
be a daunting task. But consider this, says Lazarus: A man and a 
woman are offered the same salary in the same department. "She will 
say thank you very much and take the job. He will say, is that your 
best offer? He will get another $4,000 and she won't." That smaller 
sum can haunt a woman during her career, as increases are typically 
percentages of current compensation. Who says talk is cheap?

Margaret Mannix is a freelance writer based in suburban Washington, D.C.
She can be reached at mmannix at asee.org.


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