Career path barriers of women doctoral students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) disciplines

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The under-representation of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields indicates the presence of gender related barriers that impacted the persistence of women in science and engineering doctoral

The under-representation of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields indicates the presence of gender related barriers that impacted the persistence of women in science and engineering doctoral studies. The purpose of this study was to investigate the barriers of women doctoral students in STEM fields which identified supporting factors for them as well. This study also tried to determine if there was any difference in perceiving barriers among three disciplines - engineering, life sciences and natural sciences. An online questionnaire (19 Likert-type questions and one open-ended question) was sent to women STEM doctoral students studying at the Arizona State University (ASU). Questions were based on some factors which might act as obstacles or supports during their doctoral studies. Both quantitative and qualitative analyses were conducted. Factors such as work-life balance, time-management, low self-confidence, lack of female role model, fewer numbers of women in science and engineering classes, and male dominated environment revealed as significant barriers according to both the analyses but factors such as difficulty with the curriculum, gender discrimination, and two-career problem were chosen as barriers only in the free response question. Positive treatment from advisor, family support, availability of funding, and absence of sexual harassment assisted these women continuing their PhD programs at ASU. However, no significant difference was observed with respect to perceiving barriers among the three groups mentioned above. Recommendations for change in science and engineering curricula and active recruitment of female faculty are discussed to reduce or at best to remove the barriers and how to facilitate participation and retention of more women in STEM fields especially at the doctoral level.