CareerWISE I: Internet-Delivered Resilience Training to Increase the Persistence of Women PhD Students in STEM Fields

Principal Investigator: 
Co-Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

The numbers of women pursuing graduate degrees in science and engineering have grown significantly as have the number of degrees awarded. Nevertheless, the proportions of women to men in physical science and engineering graduate programs still lag their representation at earlier educational levels. In a 2008 study of doctoral student persistence by the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), a gap of seven to nine percent was found between men’s and women’s rates of completing the doctorate once enrolled. In fact, CGS concluded that gender is the No. 1 predictor of doctoral degree completion.

The CareerWISE research program has two major thrusts: 1) the development, optimization and formal evaluation of internet-delivered psychological education with the goal of increasing women’s persistence in science and engineering doctoral programs and 2) a research agenda that includes characterizing the experiences of women who are pursuing and leaving PhD programs in STEM discipline, developing theoretical models of women’s persistence in science and engineering, measuring learning in non-technical professional skills.

Setting: 

The CareerWISE program is specifically designed for women in science and engineering PhD programs.

Research Design: 

Focus groups and semi-structured interviews were used to identify specific elements in science and engineering doctoral programs that encourage or discourage women to persist in completing the PhD. Women with PhDs in science and engineering were interviewed individually about their experiences in graduate school and their approaches to handling challenges. Women who left before completing their doctoral programs in science and engineering were interviewed regarding their experiences that preceded their decision to withdraw.

An interdisciplinary team of faculty and graduate students developed the conceptual framework for the online resilience training, drafting content, designing the presentation, integration and delivery of content, constructing assessment instruments, and so on. Throughout this process, many small-scale and larger studies have been completed to gather user feedback on the appropriateness and usefulness of the content, test the functionality and utilization of various technical elements, and to assess preliminary learning gains. Qualitative and quantitative paradigms have been used for designing and implementing the studies and analyzing the results. The data were applied in a continuous feedback loop to improve the resources.

Finally, to test the effectiveness of CareerWISE I, a nationwide Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) was performed in 2009-2010. Participants in the study were recruited nationwide and include more than 130 women pursuing PhDs in STEM fields from more than 20 well-known graduate programs in the physical sciences and engineering. Randomized assignment was used to assign participants to treatment and wait list control groups. The treatment consisted of at least five hours on the CareerWISE web resource. Pre- and post-treatment online assessments were administered. Comparisons were made between the treatment and wait list control groups based on the first round of post-assessments as well as between the first and second round of post-assessments within the wait list control group.

Findings: 

Analysis of focus group and interview data revealed a unique set of challenges and sources of support experienced by women in STEM PhD programs. Four primary sources of discouragement were identified: lack of timely success or progress with dissertation research; difficulty balancing the demands of academic work with a personal life, coping with a professional climate that can be unfriendly toward women, and managing a difficult relationship with the primary dissertation advisor. Women who left PhD programs before earning the degree were found to experience a substantial erosion of confidence during the program and received little or no encouragement to persist.

Results from evaluation studies supported the usability, interest, and usefulness of the website materials and provided initial evidence of learning outcomes. Data on utilization patterns have been used in making modifications to the design of the website and curriculum. A series of studies is in progress, including randomized clinical trials to test the effectiveness of the beta version of online resilience training.

Results from the RCT indicated that when compared to research participants who were not given access to the resource, participants who had access to the CareerWISE site for five hours showed statistically significant advantages in self-assessed CareerWISE -related competencies, resilience, and confidence. These and other findings from the RCT provide strong evidence of the effectiveness of the resource. Details of the study and results of the RCT can be found in both the Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering and in Advances in Engineering Education

Publications & Presentations: 

For the most up to date list of publications and presentations from the CareerWISE research program, please see https://careerwise.asu.edu/?q=publications-presentations .

Bekki, J.M., Bernstein, B.L. Fabert, N.S., Gildar, N.J., & Way, A. (in press). Efficacy of an online resource for teaching interpersonal problem solving skills to women graduate students in engineering,” Advances in Engineering Education.

Azarnoush, B., Bekki, J. M., Runger, G., Bernstein, B. L, & Atkinson, R.K. (2013). An Associative Based Approach to Analyzing an Online Learning Environment, Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education, T217.

Azarnoush, B., Bekki, J. M., Runger, G. C., Bernstein, B. L., & Atkinson, R. K. (2013). Toward a framework for learner segmentation. Journal of Educational Data Mining, 5(2), 102-126.

Bekki, J. M., Smith, M. L., Bernstein, B. L., & Harrison, C. (2013). Effects of an online personal resilience training program for women in STEM doctoral programs. Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, 19 (1), 17 – 35. DOI: 10.1615/JWomenMinorScienEng.2013005351

Bernstein, B. L., Bekki, J., Smith, M. L. & Harrison, C. (2012, August). Effectiveness of an online intervention for STEM women: A randomized controlled trial. In B.L. Bernstein (symposium chair), Advancing women and minorities in STEM: New directions from social-cognitive research. American Psychological Association, Orlando, Florida.

Bernstein, B. L., Fabert, N, & Wilkins, K. (2012, February). Boosting, boasting and banning bashing: self-promotion techniques for women. Career workshop, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Vancouver, BC.

Bernstein, B. L. (2011). Managing barriers and building supports in science and engineering doctoral programs: Conceptual underpinnings for a new online training program for women. Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering. 17 (1), 29-50. DOI: 10.1615/JWomenMinorScienEng.v17.i1.40

Coulombe, P. (2011) CareerWISE: The power of you. Association for Women in Science (AWIS) Magazine, 42 (2), 23-24.

Fabert, N., Cabay, M., Rivers, M. , Smith, M.L., & Bernstein, Bianca L. (2011). Exaggerating the typical and stereotyping the differences: Isolation experienced by women in STEM doctoral programs. Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education. [AC 2011-704].

Cabay, M., Smith, M. L., Fabert, N., & Rivers, M. (2011, August). Qualitative analysis of everyday experiences in the lives of women in STEM doctoral programs. American Psychological Association, Washington, D.C.

Fabert, N., Prime, D., & Bernstein, Bianca L. (2011, August). Perceived faculty supports in STEM doctoral programs and women’s intentions to persist. American Psychological Association, Washington, D.C.

Prime, D., Fabert, N., & Bernstein, Bianca L. (2011, August). STEM women’s perceptions of work-life balance and the relation with anxiety/stress levels. American Psychological Association, Washington, D.C.

Way, A., Russo, N. F., & Bernstein, Bianca L. (2011, August). Coping with gendered environments: Reflections by STEM women who persisted. American Psychological Association, Washington, D.C.

Bernstein, B. L., Fabert, N., & Hita, L. (2011, February). Keeping your batteries charged in grad school: Staying motivated and productive. Career workshop, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington D.C.

Murguia, E., Kube, E., Bekki, J., & Bernstein, Bianca L. (2010). CareerWISE: an interdisciplinary experience for graduate students. Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education, 13232.

Bernstein, B. L., & Russo, N. F. (2010, August). Virtual mentoring in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. American Psychological Association, San Diego, CA.

Bernstein, B. L. (2010, April). Psychological education for women in science and engineering: conceptual underpinnings for a new online program. American Educational Research Association, Denver, CO.

Bernstein, B. L., Fabert, N., & Kube, E. (2010, February). When there is a chill in the air: Managing your academic environment. Career workshop, American Association for the Advancement of Science, San Diego, CA.

Bernstein, B. L., Jacobson, R., & Russo, N. F. (2009). Mentoring woman in context: Focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. In C. A. Rayburn, F. L. Denmark, M. E. Reuder, & A. M. Austria, (Eds.). A handbook for women mentors: Transcending barriers of stereotype, race, and ethnicity. Westport, CN: Praeger Publishers.

Rohlfing, J., Kube, E., Yabko, B., Murguia, E., Bekki, J., & Bernstein, Bianca L. (2009). Improving STEM doctoral students’ relationships with their advisors: Web-based training in interpersonal problem-solving skills. Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education.

Fabert, N., & Bernstein, B.L. (2009, August). Women’s attrition from STEM doctoral programs: Reflections from non-completers. American Psychological Association, Toronto, Canada.

Bernstein, Bianca L, Fabert, N., & Rohlfing, J. R. (February, 2009). When it's not a perfect fit: Overcoming advisor challenges. Career workshop, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Chicago, IL.

Bekki, J. M., Bernstein, Bianca L., Ellison, K., Sridharan, A., Hita, L., & Spadola, Q. (2008). Using case studies to increase the retention of female doctoral students in STEM fields. Proceedings of the ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education, T4F9-T4F10.

Bernstein, B. L. & Russo, N. F. (2008). Explaining too few women in academic science and engineering careers: A psychosocial perspective. In M. Paludi (Ed.), Series on The psychology of women at work: Challenges and solutions for our female workforce: Obstacles and the identity juggle (Vol. 2, pp. 1 – 33). Westport, CN: Praeger Press.

Bekki, J. M. Bernstein, B. L. Ellison, K. Sridharan, A. Hita, L. & Spadola, Q. (2008). Using case studies to increase the retention of female doctoral students in STEM fields. Proceedings of the ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education, T4F9-T4F10. DOI: 10.1109/FIE.2008.4720366

Bernstein, Bianca L. (2008, October). Webinar: Building your personal resilience in chilly climates: A preview of the new CareerWISE resource. National Academy of Engineering, Center for the Advancement of Scholarship on Engineering Education (CASEE), 2008 Dane and Mary Louise Miller Symposium and Inaugural E-Conference.

Bernstein, B. L., Rohlfing, J., McBride, D., DiGangi, S., & Boylan, M. (2008, March). Applying psychology and educational research to women’s persistence in STEM: Tribulations, trials, and early findings. American Educational Research Association, Chicago, IL.

Bernstein, Bianca L., Ellison, K., Russo, N. F, & Dean, D. J. (2008, February). I can do this: Building personal resilience to get where you want to go. Career workshop, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Boston, MA.

Anderson-Rowland, M., Bernstein, B. L., Russo, N. F. (2007). The doctoral program experience in engineering and computer science: Is it the same for women and men? Proceedings of the Women in Engineering Programs and Advocates Network, 1-14.

Anderson-Rowland, M.R., Bernstein, B.L. Russo, N.F. (2007). Encouragers and discouragers for domestic and international women in doctoral programs in engineering and computer science. Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education, 1-12.

Bernstein, B. L., & Russo, N. F. (2007). Career paths and family in the academy: Progress and challenges. In M. A. Paludi & P. E. Neidermeyer (Eds.) Work, life, and family imbalance: How to level the playing field. (pp. 89-119). Westport, CN: Praeger Press.

Bernstein, B. L., McBride, D., Russo, N.F., & Rohlfing, J. (2007, August). Everyday discouragers and encouragers for women in physical science and engineering Ph.D. programs: Implications for persistence and attrition. In B. L. Bernstein (symposium chair), Predictors of science and engineering involvement: Three NSF-funded studies. American Psychological Association, San Francisco, CA.

Bernstein, Bianca L. (2007, March). What is a research doctorate? The desired competencies of research doctoral graduates. International Conference on Forms and Forces in Doctoral Study, Center for International Research on Graduate Education (CIRGE), Melbourne, Australia.

Other Products: 

The CareerWISE online resource, available at the URL listed below helps women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs find ways to better manage the challenges in their immediate environments and expand personal skills for thriving in their future career environments. The CareerWISE resource is an individualized online program that delivers empirically based pedagogical content. It is the first program of its kind to provide systematic training in resilience skills customized for female students in STEM. The program is built on an extensive foundation of theory and research on psychological processes, environmental context, and personal behaviors that contribute to women’s experiences in academic and career paths.

The CareerWISE Resource: Details

  • Customized for women pursuing PhDs in STEM fields.
  • Organized around four key areas of concern reported by women STEM doctoral students: relationships with advisors (Advisors), struggle to manage both academic and personal priorities (Balance), chilly climates in academic departments (Climate), and facing unexpected hurdles during the degree (Delays).
  • Teaches a four-step, solution-focused problem-solving model that is tailored to augment the technical problem solving frameworks already familiar to STEM students and build skills to handle personal and interpersonal problems.
  • Includes modules on understanding yourself and the context of situations.
  • Contains hundreds of HerStory clips from videotaped interviews with women who have successfully navigated the hurdles of graduate school in a variety of STEM fields.