Articulating attrition: Graduate school experiences of female doctoral students in the sciences

Kathryn Ann Osburn, Purdue University

Abstract

Despite decades of research and reform efforts designed to bolster female retention in scientific disciplines, the conundrum of women's departure from doctoral programs in the sciences remains. This qualitative case study investigated the aspects of the graduate school experience that female doctoral students described as facilitating or impeding their successful degree completion in chemistry. I analyzed the graduate school narratives of twelve female participants who represented both successful and unsuccessful doctoral recipients from four advisors at one university. Participants identified four types of experiences that facilitated their retention in the doctoral program: feeling successful and confident in meeting the program requirements, having positive research experiences, receiving support from social networks, and being dedicated to career goals. Participants cited four kinds of experiences that impeded their continued participation in the doctoral program: having negative research experiences, feeling a lack of success and confidence in meeting the program requirements, changing career goals, and receiving no support from social networks. The graduate school experiences of participants who did and did not successfully attain their degree objectives differed in terms of four dimensions: pre-program experiences, academic experiences, advisory experiences, and social experiences. Based on these findings, I have proposed a model of attrition and retention that emphasizes the role that these unique program experiences play in shaping participants' sense of professional fit within the community of doctoral chemists, consequently contributing to their differential program outcomes. This study not only offers a new perspective on the phenomenon of female doctoral attrition in the sciences but also informs the development of more gender-inclusive graduate science practices and policies that will support the retention of female doctoral students. ^

Degree

Ph.D.

Advisors

David C. Eichinger, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Education, Sciences|Education, Higher

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