Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Female Graduate Students' Perceptions of Their Interactions with Male and Female Major Professors

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Female Graduate Students' Perceptions of Their Interactions with Male and Female Major Professors

Article excerpt

Women graduate students, in many fields, are more likely than their male cohorts to drop out before completing their Ph.D's [19, 25], to terminate their graduate educations after obtaining only their master's degrees [4], or to consider withdrawing from graduate school before completing their degrees [21]. This is in spite of the fact that women enter graduate school with higher mean undergraduate grade-point averages than men [19,25].

Various hypotheses have been formulated to explain these phenomena, but implicit in all of them is the assumption that women's graduate experiences differ from those of men. For example, some authors [for example, 11, 15] have argued that, unlike their male counterparts, women graduate students feel overlooked, neglected, unsupported, and even dismissed by faculty, especially outside of the classroom. Empirical support for this assertion has been offered by Hite [20], who found that male doctoral students perceived more faculty support than did their female colleagues. Similarly, Holmstrom and Holmstrom [21] found that, when asked whether professors in their departments took gradudate women seriously, 21 percent of the male and 31 percent of the female doctoral students in their sample said that professors did not. Other authors have suggested that women graduate students are at a material disadvantage compared to men graduate students. O'Connell and her colleagues [23] found that proportionally fewer women than men were offered authorships for their research participation, were asked to accompany a professor on a professional trip, and were asked to meet with scholars from other departments.

Faculty-Graduate Students Interactions

One obvious area in which the experiences of men and women graduate students may differ is in their interactions with faculty members [7, 20, 21, 22]. Such interactions are central to graduate students' reasearch training, feelings of identity and commitement to the profession, and socialization into the profession [2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 22]. Indeed, graduate students consider their relations with faculty to be one of the most important factors in determining the quality of their graduate experience [16].

Some researchers [for example, 11, 20, 21] have argued that it is beneficial to students' professional development to have same-gender faculty with whom to interact. However, compared to their male counterparts, female graduate students appear to have less opportunity to interact with same-gender faculty. Recent statistics indicate that only 27 percent of all college professors are women, whereas 53 percent of all graduate students are women [9]. Women graduate students may therefore be disadvantage in their interactions with faculty simply because there are relatively few women professors. Gilbert, Gallessich, and Evans [13] found that 35 percent of the women doctoral students in their sample who identified a role model chose a female faculty member (10 percent of the graduate faculty in this sample were women) and 65 percent chose a male faculty member. Only 15 percent of the men identifying a role model chose a female faculty member, whereas 85 percent identified a male faculty member. Thus, even though women students disproportionally choose women faculty, most nevertheless have male role models.

Faculty-Graduate Student Interactions: Effects of Faculty and Student Gender

Evidence suggests that the relative unavailability of female faculty members may be more than a mere inconvenience to female graduate students. Gilbert et al. [13] found that female graduate students in psychology who identified female professors as role models viewed themselves as more confident, career-oriented, and instrumental than did female students who identified male professors as role models. Similarly, Gilbert [12] found that female graduate students in psychology with female faculty role models rated the importance of such role models to their professional development higher than did male students with male faculty role models. …

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