Bianca Bernstein, a counseling psychologist at Arizona State University, has created CareerWISE, an online tool for women in S&E doctoral programs. The site provides support for building successful partnerships with graduate advisers, balancing life in and out of the graduate program and overcoming unanticipated hurdles to graduation in S&E fields in which women traditionally have shown a higher dropout rate than men. (Titled "Giving students endurance in the graduate-school marathon" in print version.)
According to the data collected by the National Science Foundation, men consistently have outnumbered women when it comes to enrolling in graduate programs in the science and engineering fields. In 2007 alone, entering male graduate students (including those pursuing graduate studies part-time, regardless of citizenship status) outnumbered women by about 30 percent in S&E content areas (1). Under the broad S&E umbrella, the specific areas pursued by graduate students are partitioned by gender barriers as well, as women continue to be underrepresented in engineering, physics, astronomy, mathematics and other computation-oriented fields.
With this in mind, Bianca Bernstein, a counseling psychologist at Arizona State University, created CareerWISE, an online tool for women in S&E doctoral programs. The site provides support for building successful partnerships with graduate advisers, balancing life in and out of the graduate program and overcoming unanticipated hurdles to graduation in S&E fields in which women traditionally have shown a higher dropout rate than men. These were identified as areas of concern through interviews with men and women pursuing doctoral degrees. Partnering with the NSF, whose major interest is to expand participant numbers among minorities and women in all S&E fields, Bernstein’s research team officially launched CareerWISE on Nov. 4, 2010.
According to the CareerWISE team, “The site is built on an extensive foundation of theory and research of psychological processes, environmental context and personal behaviors that contribute to women’s experiences in academic and career paths.” Their goals are to help women in S&E graduate programs find ways to better manage their immediate environments and to provide a long-term resource for overcoming barriers and expanding personal support in careers.
The site contains more than 300 pages of content, all easily accessible from a map provided on the homepage. The resource is organized around four key areas: relationships with advisers, work-life balance, unwelcoming academic environments and hurdles to overcome. As stated directly on the homepage, “CareerWISE skills modules help you understand yourself better, analyze your environment, and learn strategies to stay motivated, expand your personal support, and overcome any barriers you may encounter.” Based on this premise, the modules developed by Bernstein and her team encourage coping with challenges encountered in graduate school through a four-step approach that consists of assessing the problem, outlining a likely outcome, strategizing actions to arrive at the outcome and, finally, executing and evaluating the designed plan.
CareerWISE also prominently features more than 180 video clips of women, all of whom have obtained their doctorate degrees and have transitioned successfully into the workforce, sharing their own experiences as students. This provides an atmosphere of positive psychology in which users can refer to content without having to reveal personal concerns.
A Facebook page also is being set up for graduate students who wish to come together to discuss content from the site. And simulations of critical situations are being developed with co-investigators Robert Atkinson and Jennifer Bekki as part of a recent grant from the NSF.
Materials offered through CareerWISE will be updated constantly with the hope of making it a source for graduate students not just within the United States but globally.
Summarizing the mission statement on the homepage, CareerWISE is “your personal, expert, and confidential coach,” assisting doctoral candidates during the marathon that is the graduate school experience. The resource is freely available to anyone who registers.
1. Burns, L., Einaudi, P., and Green, P. (2009) S&E graduate enrollments accelerate in 2007; Enrollments of foreign students reach new high. The National Science Foundation Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences.
Marina Pazin (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a graduate student at Northwestern University.