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Differences In Climate For Undergraduate And Graduate Women In Engineering: The Effect Of Context

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Climate Issues for Women Students

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.480.1 - 11.480.18



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Paper Authors


Elizabeth Litzler University of Washington

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Elizabeth Litzler is the Associate Director for Research at the Center for Workforce Development at the University of Washington

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Sheila Edwards Lange University of Washington

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Sheila Edwards Lange is Special Assistant to the Vice President/Vice Provost at the Office of Minority Affairs, University of Washington

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Differences in Climate for Undergraduate and Graduate Women in Engineering: The Effect of Context Abstract

When examining the impact of campus climate on the retention of women in STEM fields, it is clearly assumed that women engineering students experience “chilly climates” primarily in the classroom 1,2. Thus, as students move from the undergraduate to the graduate level where the number of classes is few, it is not unnatural to assume that the climate for women is warmer at the graduate level. However, there is little research to back up this assumption. Quite simply, the contexts in which undergraduates and graduate students experience their educations are quite different, and these different contexts may have important effects on the climate issues faced by undergraduate and graduate women in engineering. This research study conducted at a Pacific Northwest university sought to understand the extent to which assumptions about climate at the undergraduate and graduate level are true. The study found that while undergraduate and graduate women in engineering deal with some of the same climate issues, the contextual differences relative to faculty interactions and classroom experiences were significant in how climate is perceived. The differences in perceptions about climate speak to the fact that a one- size solution does not fit all, and policy changes must account for the contextual differences in the education of female undergraduate and graduate students.


First coined by Hall & Sandler in the early 1980’s to describe the classroom experiences of undergraduate women, the construct of a “chilly climate” has been extended to include experiences outside the classroom, graduate student experiences and the academic workplace for female faculty and administrators1-5. A chilly climate is defined by the isolation, subtle discrimination and persistent micro-inequities experienced by women and underrepresented groups in academic settings. Hall and Sandler identified behaviors that overlook, ignore, discount or single out women, and reflect preconceived ideas about the ability of women to succeed in academic settings4.

However, context seems to matter in the experience of climate in engineering departments. Climate in science and engineering disciplines is more problematic than in other disciplines due to the culture of science itself. In addition, what constitutes a gender difference in climate at the undergraduate level is not always a gender difference at the graduate level.

The literature contains research on gender differences in climate for graduate students and gender differences in climate for undergraduate students, but there is no research that compares gender differences in climate experiences at different educational levels. Additionally, very little research has focused exclusively on engineering climate. This study fills these gaps in the literature. This research seeks to answer the following questions: How does the educational climate experienced by women engineers at the graduate and undergraduate level differ? Are gender differences in climate pervasive, or does the context of engineering education affect the experience of climate?

Litzler, E., & Edwards Lange, S. (2006, June), Differences In Climate For Undergraduate And Graduate Women In Engineering: The Effect Of Context Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--871

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