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Exaggerating the Typical and Stereotyping the Differences: Isolation Experienced by Women in STEM Doctoral Programs

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

WIED Poster Session

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.660.1 - 22.660.16



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Paper Authors


Natalie Fabert Arizona State University

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Natalie Fabert is a fourth year counseling psychology doctoral student with a B.A. in psychology and women’s studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara and a Master’s in Education from Arizona State University. Natalie works on the CareerWISE research and content teams, completed a master’s thesis equivalency on women’s attrition from STEM doctoral programs, and implements workshops addressing the common concerns of female graduate students in science and engineering.

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Marilyn Cabay, Ph.D. Argosy University, Phoenix


Melissa B Rivers Arizona State University

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Melissa is a doctoral candidate in Curriculum Studies, at Arizona State University. Her research interests are methodological approaches to educational research and her specific interests are in teacher education and issues of equity. She is a member of the CareerWISE research and content teams at Arizona State University.

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Mary Lee Smith Arizona State University

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Ph.D., University of Colorado, Boulder.
Professor, University of Colorado.
Regents Professor, Arizona State University.
Widely published in social science research methodology (e.g., multiple methods, meta-analysis, and qualitative research) and social policy.
Currently Regents Professor Emeritus and Senior Consultant, Integrated Research Design.

Research Design and Analysis Consultation, CareerWISE.

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Bianca L. Bernstein Arizona State University

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Professor, Counseling Psychology, Women and Gender Studies
Principal Investigator, CareerWISE research program

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Exaggerating the typical, stereotyping the di fferences: Isola tion ex perienced by wo men i n STEM doctoral programsCareerWISE is an expansive research project funded by the National Science Foundation. Ourgoals are to help understand and mitigate the “pipeline” and glass-ceiling effects for women inSTEM, specifically at the graduate school level of women’s career trajectories. Over the pastseveral years, CareerWISE has conducted several different studies with current and formerfemale doctoral students in male-dominated STEM disciplines. The results of these studies haveinformed the creation of an online career resource for graduate students.The proposed paper will describe the results of a qualitative, longitudinal CareerWISE studydesigned to better understand how career and educational choices unfold overtime bydocumenting everyday situational experiences over the course of an entire academic year.Participants recruited from private and public universities across the US submitted internetjournal entries (“blogs”) and/or were interviewed biweekly during fall and spring semesters.Ethnographic techniques were employed to elicit details of concrete incidents. Constantcomparative analysis was used for understanding journal entries and interview transcripts.A common experience of participants was “feeling different” from an implied institutional norm.Not only were women in departments dominated by men, they had differing family ties, workedand communicated remotely, were the only domestic or international student, an ethnic minority,in a different age-bracket, and/or had different lifestyle preferences than other students. The tacitpositioning of work load expectations, scheduled meetings, attendance at conferences, and socialevents geared toward “typical” students exaggerated differences and led to greater stereotypingof these women. These and other discouraging incidents led students to question theircompetence, their “fit” in the institution and by association the profession, and futureaspirations. The proposed paper will further explain academic and social isolation reported bythe participants, how this process unfolds over the course of doctoral studies, and is negotiatedby students.

Fabert, N., & Ph.D., M. C., & Rivers, M. B., & Smith, M. L., & Bernstein, B. L. (2011, June), Exaggerating the Typical and Stereotyping the Differences: Isolation Experienced by Women in STEM Doctoral Programs Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17941

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