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Oral Histories as Building Blocks for New Theoretical Models: Individual Agency, Gendered Experiences, and Critical Junctures in Women’s Pathways into STEM Faculty Careers. By Jordana Hoegh
 

Oral Histories as Building Blocks for New Theoretical Models: Individual Agency, Gendered Experiences, and Critical Junctures in Women’s Pathways into STEM Faculty Careers. By Jordana Hoegh

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The number of women faculty members in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines in the US remains disproportionately small compared to women’s PhD graduation rates, ...

The number of women faculty members in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines in the US remains disproportionately small compared to women’s PhD graduation rates, despite the creation and implementation of numerous programs designed to promote women’s academic success. Much of the existing research draws on “chilly climate” and “pipeline” theoretical models to explain this phenomenon. These models address gendered experiences to an extent, but they do not adequately consider the role of individual agency on the direction of women’s career pathways. Examining the ways gendered experiences shape women’s decision-making processes at critical junctures in their career pathways may lead to new theoretical models that reflect women’s actual career paths to STEM faculty careers.

This research is part of a broader project that models women’s career pathways into STEM faculty positions and examines the ways they are similar to and/or different from chilly climate and pipeline models, and if they vary based on race and/or ethnicity. Modeling women’s career pathways into STEM faculty positions will uncover critical junctures when women’s choices may have led them to alternative careers or in the inverse, retained them in STEM faculty careers. Identifying these critical junctures has potential to inform hiring, recruitment, and retention policies aimed at increasing women’s representation among STEM faculty.

In this paper, I demonstrate the potential of oral histories to illuminate the ways individual agency and gendered experiences shape women’s pathways to STEM faculty careers. In particular, I discuss the use of oral histories to identify critical career pathway junctures and examine the relationship between gendered experiences and women’s decision-making in their career pathways to and in STEM faculty positions. I describe the results from a set of oral histories of women faculty in STEM disciplines collected as part of a NSF-funded ADVANCE grant research project aimed at improving the career success of women STEM faculty. Oral histories give participants greater voice to discuss points along their career pathways they feel are important. For context, the oral history includes biographical information, family life information, educational history, and employment history. Career path modeling includes women’s first interests in STEM disciplines, the ways those interests were fostered through education, and in-depth discussions about each job held after doctoral receipt with particular focus on current STEM faculty positions. The oral history concludes by discussing the ways participants feel gender, race and/or ethnicity affect feelings of fitting into their departments and perceptions of treatment by others because of their gender, race and/or ethnicity.

Because of the open-ended nature of oral histories, gendered experiences and emerge naturally through women’s stories about their career pathways. Women’s reflections on and perceptions of their career paths and the role of gender within it will produce rich, real-life data from which new theoretical models may be developed.

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  • Today I’m going to talk about how oral histories may be used as building blocks for developing new theoretical modes for understanding women’s persistent underrepresentation among STEM faculty.I will use a case study to illustrate this by examining individual agency, gendered experiences and critical junctures in women’s pathways into STEM faculty careersAnd I want to note that Dr. Alice Pawley has directed the course of this resarch.
  • Today I’m going to discuss existing theoretical models used to understand women’s persistent underrepresentation among STEM faculty.I will demonstrate the ways oral history methods may be used to address some of those limits.And, I will use a case study from oral history data to demonstrate the potential to of oral history data in generating new theoretical models that will shed light on women’s underrepresentation among STEM faculty
  • So, why are we focusing on women’s pathways into STEM faculty careers?To better understand women’s attrition rates from the pathways to STEM facultyWomen increasingly earn STEM doctorates but their representation among STEM faculty has not experienced a relative increaseWomen’s attrition rates from the career pathway to STEM faculty spike after doctoral receipt and before applying for tenure-track faculty positions as well as before earning tenure (National Academies 2009 report)So there’s a need for understanding these trends.
  • Before I talk about what the current theoretical models are, I want to address why we need theoretical models.Theoretical models enable us to better understand and patterns of particular phenomenon. Understanding such patterns may lead to solutions to particular problems or phenomenon.Leaky pipeline and chilly climate are two frequently used theoretical models to explain women’s underrepresentation among STEM faculty.Leaky pipeline likens the academic career path to a pipeline where potential engineers and scientists enter the pipeline and move through the pipeline completing milestones along the way to becoming academic faculty. People drop out or “leak” at particular points from the career path pipeline to STEM facultyChilly climate contends that the working atmosphere for women is so unpleasant that they leave the career track to STEM faculty altogether
  • While leaky pipeline and chilly climate theoretical models help us understand the phenomenon of women’s persistent underrepresentation among STEM faculty, they have some limits.The leaky pipeline metaphor assumes a passive actor that is pushed along through the pipeline. Individual agency, which is an individual’s ability to actively make choices, is not considered in the leaky pipeline theoretical model.Also, the pipeline assumes that the pathway to STEM faculty careers is unidirectional and has only one standard sequence and timing. As such it does not account for people who leave the pipeline for a period of time and then later reenter it. Chilly climate assumes that women perceive a negative climate and that they leave because of it. While this certainly represents the experiences of many women, it is only one piece of a larger puzzle. Chilly climate is also limited in its explanatory power as it addresses only one reason that women might leave the career path to STEM faculty.So chilly climate does not account for other reasons that women might leave, like being recruited to higher paying industry jobs, or leaving for family, or health reasons.
  • So, how might oral history methods expound the limits of leaky pipeline and chilly climate theories?Oral histories give participants voice by putting them the driver’s seat, so to speak. They enable participants to discuss what they feel is important about their career pathways rather researcher imposing their ideas about what is important.This will allow perceptions of chilly climate as well as patterns in career pathways to emerge naturally, if at all.Also, oral histories account for the individual agency of actors, which is particularly important when examining the decision-making processes at critical junctures along the pathway to STEM careers.
  • So, what are oral history methods? Oral histories are a means of capturing the totality of one’s life experiences. Interviewers guide oral histories by asking participants about particular topics pertinent to the study purpose. Interviewers are active listeners and offer probes only as necessary. So, oral histories are semi-structured, in-person interviews with broak, open-ended guiding questions.They often begin with childhood experiences and continue chronologically through significant life events.Because participants choose which experiences to share, themes emerge naturally 
  • So, what are the advantages of oral histories?In effective oral histories, interviewers build good rapport with participants and uniquely encourage participants to divulge information they would not otherwise divulge on a survey or even in a phone interview. Oral histories methods uniquely allow researchers to examine individual perceptions and personal decision-making processes. As participants detail critical points in their life paths, they talk about why they chose one path over another. If participants do not divulge the rationale for their choices, the interviewer may probe for additional explanations. Because of the conversational nature of oral histories, researchers may easily tap into the dynamics of decision-making thought processes.
  • So, to demonstrate the theory-building potential of oral histories, I will use a case study for a set of oral history data collected as part of a NSF-funded ADVANCE grant research project aimed at improving the career success of women STEM faculty.I will examine the relationship between gendered experiences and career decision-making in the context of a critical juncture in the career pathway of a women STEM faculty member.
  • I am going to talk about the case of Sandy, which is a pseudonym, who is a STEM faculty member.While in graduate school, Sandy contemplated leaving graduate school for an industry job. She was the only female on a team of 10 or so graduate student researchers. ~ humiliation in the lab~ bad mentor advising her to pursue another career path because she was not talented enough to make it~ no comraderie among fellow grad students on the research team~ She was considering leaving grad school and looked into several job opportunities in the private sector~ Now, she also had another research appointment with another professor who I dubb as “good mentor”~ good mentor pursuaded her to continue through graduate school because she has the talent to create a fruitful and successful research career~ Sandy quit working for bad professor and continued through graduate schoolShe admits that if it weren’t for good mentor, she would likely have left grad school for an industry careerAs she told her story she said that bad mentor “obstructed her” while good mentor “facilitated her” in her careerSandy’s gendered experience both negatively and positively influenced Sandy.…the bad mentor caused her to doubt her abilities and even her career path as she considered other career options…the good mentor reassured her that she is qualified, talented and capable of an academic research career. Sandy’s story highlights the significant role of mentors in the pathway to STEM faculty careers. Her story also makes use of the terms “obstructed” and “facilitated”.These ideas are the beginnings of theory development. Interestingly Sandy talks about they ways her mentors “obstructed” or “facilitated” her in passive terms. This could reflect her view of herself as a passive agent being moved along the career pathway, much like the pipeline metaphor.Or, it could be a nuance of retrospective reflection.Finally, Sandy’s story highlights a critical juncture where she actively chose to stay on the pathway to STEM faculty where others may have fallen from the career path. Her gendered experience with her male mentors and all male research team placed her in critical juncture where she considered an alternate career path but actively chose to stay the course.
  • From this case study, there is theory-building potential in exploring the role of positive and negative mentors in in the career paths of women in STEM doctoral graduate programsThere is also potential to explore the ways women view their careers as “facilitated” or “obstructed” by othersThese ideas are the building blocks for generating new theories from the ground up. These theories are important because they may inform the educational experiences, recruitment hiring, and retention of women into STEM faculty careers.

Oral Histories as Building Blocks for New Theoretical Models: Individual Agency, Gendered Experiences, and Critical Junctures in Women’s Pathways into STEM Faculty Careers. By Jordana Hoegh Oral Histories as Building Blocks for New Theoretical Models: Individual Agency, Gendered Experiences, and Critical Junctures in Women’s Pathways into STEM Faculty Careers. By Jordana Hoegh Presentation Transcript

  • Oral Histories as Building Blocks for New Theoretical Models: Individual Agency, Gendered Experiences and Critical Junctures in Women’s Pathways into STEM Faculty Careers
    Jordana Hoegh
    Dept. of Sociology, ADVANCE Research Team
    Dr. Alice L. Pawley
    School of Engineering Education, ADVANCE Research Director
  • Main points
    Existing theoretical models and their limits
    Ways oral histories may be used to address those limits
    A case study to demonstrate the potential of oral history data to generate new theoretical models
  • Why women’s pathways into STEM faculty careers?
    To understand women’s attrition rates from the path to STEM faculty careers
    Women increasingly earn STEM doctorates but their representation among STEM faculty has not experienced a relative increase
  • What are the current theoretical models?
    Leaky Pipeline
    People drop out or “leak” at particular points from the career path pipeline to STEM faculty
    Chilly Climate
    Environment is so unpleasant that some people leave
  • What are the limits?
    Leaky pipeline assumptions:
    A passive actor
    One path to STEM faculty
    The path is unidirectional
    Chilly climate assumptions:
    Women perceive the climate negatively
    They leave because of a negative climate
  • How might oral history methods expound these limits?
    Give voice to participants
    Perceptions of climate will emerge naturally
    Career pathway patterns will emerge naturally
    Account for individual agency of actors
    Shed light on decision-making processes critical junctures
  • What are oral history methods?
    Semi-structured in-person interviews
    Broad, open-ended, guiding questions
    Begin with childhood experiences continuing chronologically through significant life events
    Participants to choose which experiences to share
  • What are the advantages of oral histories?
    Build good rapport
    Interactive process encourages participants to reveal information that surveys or other research methods cannot capture
    Uncover individual perceptions and decision-making processes
    Identify why one path was chosen over another
  • Demonstrating the theory-building potential of oral histories
    I will use a case study from a set of oral history data collected as part of a NSF-funded ADVANCE grant research project aimed at improving the career success of women STEM faculty
    Examine the relationship between gendered experiences and career decision-making in the context of a critical juncture
  • Sandy: An Exemplar Case Study
    Critical Juncture:
    Contemplating leaving graduate school for an industry job.
    Gendered Experience:
    Male mentors and an all male research team
    Individual Agency:
    Choosing to stay the course
  • Theory-building Potential
    From the case study: Explore the role of positive and negative mentors in the career paths of women in STEM doctoral graduate programs
    Explore the ways careers are “facilitated” or “obstructed”
    Oral history data as building blocks: an idea generator from the ground up
  • Acknowledgements
    Thank you to study participants!
    Thanks to those who helped with participant invitations.
    This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. HRD 0811194. (Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.)
    Questions?
  • Questions?