CHAPTER 10: BRIDGES TO GRADUATE STUDIES
If women are enrolling in geological and chemical undergraduate engineering in the proportion of 40 percent, then what prevents us from finding the recipe to increase enrolment in other disciplines as well? Despite the existing difficulties for women enroled in engineering, women are nevertheless choosing these engineering disciplines in greater numbers and perceiving these disciplines as a choice which CAN satisfy their aspirations. Why can we not replicate this success at the graduate and postgraduate levels as well? These are our challenges(Louis Cloutier, Dean of Science and Engineering, Université Laval, CCWE Conference).
While most faculties of engineering concentrate on attracting women to undergraduate programs, few have specific initiatives to encourage women to pursue graduate studies. It is vital that they do so to increase the pool of women candidates for faculty positions and senior positions in industry. Enrolments of Canadian women in master's and doctoral programs in engineering have been increasing gradually (Tables 10 and 11). As with undergraduate programs, participation of women in graduate programs varies according to discipline (Tables 12 and 13).
Attracting women graduate students
Women often tend not to proceed to the Ph.D. level in graduate studies. While the reasons are a matter of speculation, they may include factors such as the lack of 'critical mass' of women at that level of study, maternity issues, and more immediate opportunities for non-academic employment. There is a need, then, both to encourage women to continue to the PhD level and to facilitate a return to university by women who discontinue their studies before reaching that level
Faculties of engineering should identify potential women graduate students and urge them to consider careers open to engineers with master's and doctoral degrees. A list of employment opportunities for PhDs should be developed and circulated to deans of engineering, deans/ directors of graduate studies and doctoral candidates.
Potential graduate students may be encouraged to consider graduate studies if they meet women with postgraduate degrees through a speaker's series or a mentorship program.
To determine why so few women pursue advanced degrees, faculties of engineering should survey graduates of bachelor level engineering programs. Such information can be gathered through interviews and/or questionnaires. Once reasons are identified, more effective ways to attract women can be designed.
The best approach to recruit anyone into graduate school is to introduce them to interesting and challenging research, to show them that you think they are capable of doing that research, to pay them well, and to provide a promising future for someone with their qualifications
Potential women graduate students should be made aware of the range of funding available for graduate studies and ensured access to challenging and well-paid research projects. Financial assistance can take the form of scholarships, bursaries, research grants and teaching and research-assistantships. They should come from the private sector as well as universities and government. Also needed are admission criteria that facilitate the transfer of students and graduates from other disciplines into graduate studies in engineering.
Graduate programs need to be adapted to fit the special requirements of women students. Some women may be more attracted to part-time graduate studies. Women engineers in the workforce may aspire to a graduate program but be unable (for financial or other reasons such as family responsibilities) to take the time to complete a full-time graduate program.
More collaboration and communication between industries and universities is needed to ensure working engineers are able to continue their studies. Faculties should encourage industry to sponsor graduate studies for women engineers and examine the potential of integrating thesis research with work activities.
Retaining women graduate students
At the graduate level, the rate of attrition is difficult to determine because of different reporting and measuring mechanisms. In one study of attrition at Canadian universities, however, one major provincial university system reported the attrition rates of graduate students in engineering was 50 percent for women and 39 percent for men; in the humanities and health sciences, the rate was approximately the same for men and women (Gilbert, 1991).
Because women graduate students are in the minority, they need to be introduced to each other and to supportive faculty at their own and other institutions. Faculties of engineering should establish a network so that women graduate students can meet and exchange ideas with other women graduate students, faculty and industrial contacts. Such contacts will not only encourage them to persevere in their studies, but may also stimulate them to consider academic careers. The NCDEAS can facilitate such networking by compiling, maintaining and distributing a current list of women engineering faculty and graduate students in Canada.
Like undergraduates, graduate students need access to academic adjustment programs, career counselling, financial support and childcare. Faculties of engineering should also provide assistance for graduate students to attend conferences and professional development workshops to allow graduate students to develop professionally, generate business contacts and facilitate networking (Chapter 11).
Women entering graduate studies are often at a time in life when they must combine studies and career aspirations with the obligations generally assumed by women, those of marriage and parenthood. These responsibilities pose overriding restrictions on women both in terms of time to complete their graduate degrees and of their eligibility for funding (M.N.S. Swamy, P.Eng., Dean of Engineering, Concordia University, Montreal Forum).
Universities should examine ways to establish funds that can be used to support graduate students and research assistants on maternity/ paternity leave. Under the current unemployment insurance system, students are not eligible for maternity benefits. Often their only source of income is scholarships and grants that are awarded for research and study in progress. These sources of income dry up when students take maternity leave. Like on-site childcare, the availability of maternity or paternity leaves may help attract--and certainly retain--women graduate students.
Faculties and schools of graduate studies and university administrators also need to re-evaluate two-year residence requirements for students in doctoral programs because these are barriers to graduate students with family responsibilities.
Power and domination became such an issue in one working relationship that I changed supervisors. I experienced, for the first time, systemic discrimination. The situation brought me to the point of withdrawing from graduate school, which would almost certainly have happened without the intervention of my present supervisor and a very supportive family.
That story from one woman graduate student in engineering illustrates concern that female graduate students may be particularly vulnerable to harassment and discrimination because of the close working relationship required between a faculty supervisor and a graduate student. Universities should institute policies that stipulate ethical practices between graduate students and faculty supervisors and include procedures to redress inequities without reprisals. A policy outlining the responsibilities of supervisors and graduate students regarding shared research and teaching would ensure that both parties benefit from the relationship. Such a policy should compel university administrators, and particularly department chairs, to address the potential problem in a direct way and take prompt action if a problem arises.
13. The CCWE recommends that faculties of engineering accelerate efforts to attract women students to graduate studies and to ensure they continue to graduation so that the pool of candidates for faculty positions and senior positions in industry is increased.
Schedule for success: