Women still behind in getting PhDs: StatsCan

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California study reveals female instructors influence women to further their education

Tannara Yelland
CUP Prairies and Northern Bureau Chief

SASKATOON (CUP) — The gender divide in education has been clear for some time: Women are graduating from high school and undergraduate programs more than men, and that split is only increasing with each year.

However, that imbalance reverses itself at the highest levels of academia. Despite the fact that women account for 58 per cent of Canadian undergraduate enrolments and 56 per cent of graduate enrolments, according to Statistics Canada, women still account for only 47 per cent of doctoral enrolments.

“We have to recognize that there are still a lot of general and internalized stereotypes that as a society we impose, which we are slowly overcoming,” said University of Manitoba graduate students’ association president Meaghan Labine.

“At this point I don’t believe there is any intention for there to be less women in PhD programs, but rather that women as a whole are learning to see themselves in professions that only a short time ago were unobtainable.”
Labine continued on to say that as more women enter certain professions and disciplines, that will likely encourage more women to follow suit.

This is borne from a study conducted by the University of California Davis, where researchers examined female and male students at the U.S. Air Force Academy. The study found that a teacher’s gender had little to no effect on male students, but that “it has a powerful effect on female students’ performance in math and science classes, their likelihood of taking future math and science courses, and their likelihood of graduating with a [science, technology, engineering or math] degree.”

At the U of M, women already outnumber men in PhD programs in several disciplines, from arts and education to medicine, where there are 67 women and 49 men enrolled. The lone architecture PhD student is also a woman.

But in the areas that women most often make the poorest showing, they are still far behind. There are only 26 women working alongside 150 men to achieve PhDs in engineering, and in the hard sciences, the division is 44 to 82.

This continuing dearth of women in doctoral programs for the disciplines in which women continue to be underrepresented at all levels is disheartening because, according to the StatsCan report, far more women holding PhDs decide to go into university education and academia than men.

Of all the doctorate recipients in Canada in 2007-08, 55 per cent planned to work. And half of the women who intended to work after receiving their degree, wanted to work in universities and colleges.

These women will be teaching more young men and women, and the mere fact of their presence if they are standing at the front of a science or math class will encourage their female students to continue on in their fields.

The good news, at least for disciplines that already boast a healthy percentage of women at the upper educational levels, comes in the UC Davis study. Having women teaching encourages the women who are studying from them. Their confidence in their abilities is higher and they are more likely to obtain degrees.

The problem now seems to be encouraging more women to continue from a master’s program to a doctorate, especially in sciences and engineering.

“One method to address gender imbalance is by promoting gender equality and balance within the administration and faculty,” said Labine. She felt this would be more effective than simply “trying to get more female students through the door.”

If Labine is going to get her wish, the gender equality of students and faculty will need to increase in tandem, as one influences the other.

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