Gender and Graduate Studies

Andrew's Message

Hi everyone,

I trust you had a memorable holiday season and are ready for the coming year. A new year brings with it new possibilities, and I expect 2017 will be the same, bringing times of joy, concern, success, amazement and progress. I wish you success this year pursuing your education goals and advancing your career-planning goals.

The Western Teaching Support Centre is starting the year with a series of new workshops called “Navigating the Challenges of Graduate School for Women”. 

You can learn more about this series, which began in January and will continue on February 9, March 16, and culminating with a full day conference on April 20. 

When reading about these workshops, I began to think more about why universities keep track of student gender. Why is the question of gender included on admissions forms and scholarship forms etc.?

Well, in the early 1960’s only about 4 per cent of the general public even had a university undergraduate degree, there’s no surprise that the large majority of the students were male.

Zoom ahead to present times where two-thirds of Canadians between 20 and 34 years of age have a post-secondary degree and females comprise the majority of university undergraduate students.

This is amazing progress and social development in just two generations. However, this did not happen on its own. As much as things have improved, the roots of these changes and increased opportunities for advanced education for all are not as deep as we would like, especially when one considers the global environment as a whole. Though progress has been made, we also know the ratio of female to male students decline at the postdoctoral and faculty level.

We need to determine why this is happening.

Several recent surveys such as the Canadian Graduate and Professional Student Survey and the 2016 Canadian National Postdoctoral Survey have provided a few answers. The results have shown that 75 per cent of post-docs report feeling overwhelmed and stressed, with only 38 per cent of female post-docs reporting feeling satisfied with their career options. Something very important is not working well here, and we must find out what it is and address it effectively.

We need to sustain our efforts to be fully welcoming and inclusive of societal diversity and ensure a safe, comfortable and enabling environment for all learners.

I believe we will only find the appropriate solutions by engaging in an honest and open dialogue that blends everyone’s thoughts and perspectives together.

I applaud our Teaching Resource Centre for offering these new workshops. They remind us that there is still work to do to ensure a safe, comfortable, productive and enabling environment exists for all learners. We must never take societal advancement for granted, and welcoming change can build the world we all desire to live in.

Let’s make 2017 a great year. Talk to you next month.

Andrew J. Watson, PhD
Associate Dean, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies