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Surviving And Thriving In Engineering And Science: A Woman’s Guide To Navigating The Ph.D.

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



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Page Numbers

6.918.1 - 6.918.11

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Paper Authors

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Lisa Ritter

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Barbara Lazarus

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Susan Ambrose

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

Session 2492

Surviving and Thriving in Engineering and Science: A Woman’s Guide to Navigating the Ph.D.

Barbara B. Lazarus, Lisa M. Ritter, Susan A. Ambrose Carnegie Mellon University


This paper is based upon findings from the authors’ recent book, The Woman’s Guide to Navigating the Ph.D. in Engineering and Science.1 Here, we present some typical challenges that women may face in engineering and science doctoral programs, and share some insights, reflections and strategies from women who are working toward or who have completed doctorates in engineering or science.


Depending on the field or the university, women sometimes comprise but a small minority of the doctoral students in engineering or science departments. But just over 100 years ago, women were not formally admitted at all to doctoral programs at any university in the United States.

Although they weren’t officially accepted into graduate school at that time, many women did find ways to get in, usually as “special” or nondegree students. In 1870, for example, Ellen Swallow Richards applied to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for a graduate degree in chemistry. She was admitted, but as a special student who was seeking a second bachelor’s degree (her first one was from Vassar). MIT, it was argued, didn’t want its first graduate chemistry degree awarded to a woman.2

Even after being admitted, however, women still had to struggle to be awarded the degree for the work done. One of the most infamous examples of this discrimination was the case of mathematician Christine Ladd-Franklin, who completed her dissertation in 1882 at Johns Hopkins University but was not awarded her degree until forty-four years later. 2

By the early 1900s, women were being admitted to most graduate programs,2 and, by 1940, were earning 13% of all doctorates.3

In the past thirty years, numbers of women in graduate engineering and science programs have increased dramatically. In 1970, women earned just 13% of life science doctorates;4 today, they earn more than 40% of those doctorates.5 In 1970, women earned just 3.6% of engineering, physics and mathematics doctorates combined;4 today, 13% of engineering doctorates are earned by women. Although figures are looking up, there is still concern that the number of engineering doctorates earned by women is still quite low. After all, for the past twenty years the United States has faced a critical shortage of scientists and engineers with doctoral degrees in a number of fields.

Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition Copyright ©2001, American Society for Engineering Education

Ritter, L., & Lazarus, B., & Ambrose, S. (2001, June), Surviving And Thriving In Engineering And Science: A Woman’s Guide To Navigating The Ph.D. Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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