Online resource offers resilience training for academic women in STEM fields

Arizona State University researchers are rolling out a pioneering resource that offers online personal resilience training for women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

The CareerWISE resource provides a fresh approach to retaining women in STEM. The focus is to strengthen women’s skills to manage whatever personal and interpersonal challenges arise along the way to completing STEM graduate degrees and entering careers. The new site will be launched at a Nov. 4, 2010, press conference at the National Science Foundation in Washington D.C.

The site is based on an extensive foundation of theory and research on psychological processes, environmental context, and personal behaviors that contribute to women’s experiences in career paths. The website is an outgrowth of the CareerWISE program, a $3.2-million interdisciplinary research endeavor funded by the National Science Foundation and housed at Arizona State University’s School of Letters and Sciences. Led by Bianca L. Bernstein with co-investigators Robert Atkinson, Jennifer M. Bekki, and Nancy Felipe Russo, CareerWISE seeks to address the loss of committed women from science and engineering doctoral programs.

The rate at which women finish the doctoral degree programs they began in STEM disciplines is 7 percent to 10 percent lower than their male counterparts, according to the Council of Graduate Schools, which identifies gender as the strongest predictor of doctoral degree completion in STEM fields.

“Fostering in our students and communities the capacity to solve problems and tackle grand challenges, whether technical or social, lies at the heart of what we do at this university,” said ASU President Michael Crow. “The CareerWISE project is ambitious, in both its research and instructional aims, and represents use-inspired research we prize—creating new knowledge and bringing it to bear on a public good. I am delighted that with the generous support of the National Science Foundation, our researchers are bringing CareerWISE to the public, and advancing the success of women who plan to enter science and engineering fields.”

The CareerWISEwebsite (http://careerwise.asu.edu) will provide online coachingand psychological education to graduate students in STEM fields that can be, at times, unfriendly and isolating for women.

“Research over five decades has shown that many women face extra challenges while preparing for careers in science and engineering. Completing a doctoral program can be a particularly stressful process. It takes more than acing core classes, passing exams, and producing original research to excel in graduate school,” said Bernstein, a Counseling Psychology professor. “We developed the CareerWISE Web site to help women master the art and science of dodging academic bullets and building a stockpile of personal resilience skills.”

The NSF hailed CareerWISE’s exhaustive research and groundbreaking approach for its problem-solving framework.

“CareerWISE has been under development for more than three years,” said Myles Boylan, NSF program director. “It has been tested using randomized field trials, and has been found to be effective in the preliminary sense of strengthening confidence and coping skills and providing support for women who were experiencing discouraging events in doctoral programs.”

A key National Science Foundation goal is to broaden participation of women in science and engineering as they advance through the career pipeline. The unique focus of CareerWISE is to help accomplished women stay motivated to persist. The first phase of the project was supported by a $1 million National Science Foundation grant that was awarded in 2006. Through CareerWISE, researchers developed and tested a resource-rich website that will provide an interactive, multimodal learning environment for improving personal, interpersonal and problem-solving skills among STEM women.

Key features of the site include:

· Created specifically for women pursuing PhDs in STEM fields

· Multi-media web-based training that includes both written and video content. Examples presented in real-life contexts taken from individual interviews, focus groups and the literatures.

· Content tested and improved through a series of content evaluations and reviews

· Hundreds of HerStory clips from videotaped interviews with women who have successfully navigated the hurdles of graduate school in a variety of STEM fields

· Effectiveness confirmed through randomized clinical trials with a national sample.

CareerWISE II will include broadening of content to provide in-depth training on the specific topic of communication. The CareerWISE II environment will also be expanded to include interactive simulations containing multiple critical-incident scenarios.

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