The Experiences of Women in Post Graduate Physics and Astronomy Programs: the Roles of Support, Career Goals, and Gendered Experiences
In physics and astronomy the low representation of women is obvious at every stage of the educational pathway from undergraduate students to full professors. These low numbers perpetuate themselves by failing to create new mentors to foster the next generation of women. Women and men also have different experiences as they traverse into physics and astronomy careers. Women often experience chilly climates, discrimination, and challenges coordinating the demands of young families with their careers. In the literature exploring this topic, little focus is put on the experiences of women graduate students in physics and no focus is put on women graduate students in astronomy. This research seeks to fill this gap by studying the educational experiences and academic choices of women in physics and astronomy. This project uses in-depth in-person interviews with women who are pursuing PhDs in astronomy, astrophysics, or physics and have passed their qualifying examinations. In all there are 21 participants from three institutions of higher education. Analysis of interviews uses a constant comparative method to apply action codes to participants' statements. These codes are then organized into themes to understand common experiences. Results indicate that peer support and mentoring by faculty or post doctorate associates are critical for these women's success in undergraduate and graduate education. Although they had mostly positive experiences, many of the women describe micro aggressions towards them because of their genders; in a few cases women experience overt sexual harassment and in one case physical danger. Largely, these women want to pursue non-academic or teaching-oriented academic professions so they will have the time to live lives that include more than just work and will have the opportunity to raise children if they desired.