Women's Doctoral Student Experiences and Degree Progress in Education versus Engineering
This study's purpose was to compare the lived experiences of doctoral women studying Education, a prototypically female field, with women studying Engineering, a prototypically male field to illustrate the phenomenon of doctoral degree progress in the two fields. Using critical feminist theory and Valian's (1999) concept of gender schemas, this study examined doctoral education culture in Education and Engineering and how these cultures influence women's doctoral student experiences and in turn their degree progress (Tong, 2009). Although women represent over 50% of doctoral student enrollment and degrees earned, gender disparities exist in Education and Engineering. Once enrolled, women are proportionally more likely to complete Education doctorates and less likely to complete Engineering doctorates (Council of Graduate Schools, 2008; Gonzales, Allum, and Sowell, 2013; Nettles and Millett, 2006). This trend is important because it implies there is something about Education and Engineering doctoral environments that make them more and less conducive for women's success, respectively (Gardner and Mendoza, 2010). This study used a qualitative interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA) approach to capture the essence of women's doctoral degree progress by interpreting the lived experiences of 10 Education and 11 Engineering doctoral women (Smith, Flowers, and Larkin, 2009). After 63 in-depth interviews and two focus groups, four themes emerged. Overall, the Education women reported fewer positive doctoral experiences and more barriers to degree progress than the Engineering women due to the funding and research assistantship structure, the faculty advisor relationship, and the department environment. Both groups of women described doctoral education culture as proactive, independent, and competitive - characteristics more consistent with masculine gender schemas. Doctoral education culture also reflected the feminine gender schemas of flexibility and collegiality/collaboration, which were more apparent in the prototypically masculine Engineering field than in the prototypically feminine Education field. Implications for how doctoral education can be re-conceptualized, delivered, and researched are provided, calling for the incorporation of more feminine gender schemas into doctoral education culture in order to promote and achieve gender equity.