Study Finds Women Undergrads in STEM Facing “Chilly” Campus Climate

by Pearl Stewart

Study Finds Women Undergrads in STEM Facing “Chilly” Campus Climate

by Pearl Stewart Research published this month found that as women students remain underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses, they are being subjected to an unwelcoming, “chilly” atmosphere in these male‐dominated fields. In an article titled “Identity, Campus Climate, and Burnout Among Undergraduate Women in STEM Fields,” Purdue University professor Dr. Eric Deemer and Ph.D.

Research published this month found that as women students remain underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses, they are being subjected to an unwelcoming, “chilly” atmosphere in these male‐dominated fields.

In an article titled “Identity, Campus Climate, and Burnout Among Undergraduate Women in STEM Fields,” Purdue University professor Dr. Eric Deemer and Ph.D. student Laura Jensen wrote that respondents often described an unpleasant campus climate “associated with increased emotional exhaustion and cynicism, although not decreased academic efficacy.”

“My goal behind conducting this study was to look at environmental factors that impact women’s retention in STEM,” Jensen wrote in an e-mail to Diverse. Deemer remarked that Jensen “did most of the work. It was really her study.”

Dr. Eric Deemer

Jensen said her goal in developing the study, published in The Career Development Quarterly, was to examine environmental factors affecting female students in STEM. “Often it feels easier to look at internal factors for why women are not pursuing or [are] leaving STEM fields,” she said, “but I think that ignores just how big of an impact our institutions have on students.”

The researchers surveyed 363 female undergraduate STEM students to examine the potential moderating effect of chilly climate on woman–scientist identity interference and academic burnout. Deemer, an associate professor of counseling psychology, told Diverse that the term “woman – scientist identity interference” refers to the extent to which identity as a woman and identity as a scientist are incongruent.

“We found that woman-science identity interference was correlated with emotional exhaustion and cynicism and negatively correlated with academic efficacy,” Deemer said. “In other words, it increased the bad stuff and decreased the good stuff.”

Some highlights of the study:

  • As women experienced incongruence between their identities as women and as scientists, they felt more emotionally drained, more skeptical of the importance of their work, and less competent as students.
  • Results highlight the importance of improving the campus climate for female scientists, as well as the need to assist female scientists in identity development.
  • Future studies can assess perceptions of STEM climate from the perspective of students of different racial identities “because perceptions of predominantly White women do not represent the experiences of all women.”

The authors noted other limitations of the study, including the impact on first-generation college students. “Similarly, data included all students who identified as “female” in one gender category. The experiences of trans women may differ from cisgender women, and students who identify as transgender may experience a more unwelcoming climate in STEM.”

The study stated that educators “can use the results to create academic environments that minimize gender bias and promote attitudes that encourage the entry of women into STEM fields.”

It also noted that results of the research can be used to assist counselors in helping STEM students challenge stereotypes and other challenges as they navigate hostile academic and work environments.

“Awareness is the first step to addressing the chilly climate for women students,” Jensen said. “We won’t be able to retain women until we make a more welcoming environment for them.”


The ASIP Committee for Career Development and Diversity operates the PathFinders program which is a mentoring opportunity for first-time attendees to the ASIP Annual Meeting at Experimental Biology. The purpose of the PathFinders program is to provide guidance to trainees related to navigation of a large multi-disciplinary meeting like Experimental Biology (especially for those attending the meeting without their institutional research advisor), and to build camaraderie between ASIP trainees and regular members. By leveraging the guidance and expertise of current ASIP members, this program enables trainees to be introduced to the Society on a more personal level, and to maximize their conference experience. Trainees are matched with an ASIP mentor (a junior or senior level ASIP member who is actively engaged with the organization), based on their research interests and/or availability. Trainees and meeting mentors are provided contact information so that communications can begin prior to the Annual Meeting. At the Annual Meeting, trainees and meeting mentors meet face-to-face, possibly just once or possibly more frequently, to discuss the meeting overall, and specific opportunities for the trainee to participate in career development and educational sessions. The meeting mentor will also introduce the trainee to other ASIP members, including ASIP leadership. This program has been very successful in the past and feedback from trainees indicates real value in participation through the establishment of lasting relationships with other members and a more productive meeting experience.

Satdarshan (Paul) Singh Monga, MD

Trailblazing Men

ASIP Highlights Session:
I Am An ASIP Member and This Is My Science

  • Experimental Biology 2019 – Orlando FL

Satdarshan (Paul) Singh Monga, MD

Professor of Pathology and Medicine
Endowed Chair for Experimental Pathology
Vice Chair and Chief of the Division of Experimental Pathology
Assistant Dean for the Medical Scientist Training Program, Director Pittsburgh Liver Research Center
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh PA

I am an MD by training and came to the United States in 1996. One of the major reasons of coming the US was the existence of infrastructure for basic research. In India, there was a major disconnect between the practice of medicine and basic research. After two postdoctoral fellowships, one in the laboratory of Dr. Lopa Mishra at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Washington DC and another at the University of Pittsburgh, in the lab of Dr. George Michalopoulos, I was recruited at the position of a non-tenure entry level, junior faculty in 2001 at the University of Pittsburgh, in the department of Pathology in 2001. I continued to expand on my postdoctoral research, which was generously allowed by Dr. Michalopoulos, with the modest startup package I was offered at the time. This enable me to build by own research program with a focus on the Wnt signaling pathway in liver pathobiology, marrying the training of both my postdocs – liver development and regeneration, and further expanding it to liver cancer as well. I was fortunate to obtaining an R01 as well as an American Cancer Society Research grant in 2 years and in 2003 was promoted to an Assistant professor on tenure stream. I gradually expanded my research program although continued my focus on Wnt signaling and at the same time started getting involved with teaching, directing a graduate class on stem cells. At the same time, I was making strides in service nationally through my association with the ASIP. I became a trainee member of the society in 1999, when I joined Dr. Michalopoulos’ lab in 1999 and have been a member since and have never missed an annual ASIP meeting at EB conferences. ASIP allowed me an intimate networking environment, helped build my confidence through participation on various committees and at the same time gave me a platform for national visibility and service. I would like to emphasize the concept of loyalty and consistency. I have been loyal to my institution, department, society and research topic, and likewise remained consistent in my research direction. I still work on the Wnt pathway in liver pathobiology, although models have changed, resolution and granularity of the research program has changed, and the focus is now on translation while still working on the fundamental mechanisms. I am truly excited for the program I have been able to build and are now able to really focus on how we can modulate pathways like the Wnt signaling to stimulate regeneration in acute or chronic liver diseases and in the setting of liver transplantation on one hand, and curb the signaling in a subset of liver tumors, as part of personalized therapy. Likewise, I have consistently taught graduate courses and still continue to direct a course on stem cells and run a T32 program in regenerative medicine. It has been a blessing to be associated with ASIP as it has been a key platform for me to be able to disseminate my research through presentations as part of the annual meeting as well as through its signature journal, the American Journal of Pathology. Leading by examples, I ensure that my trainees, both postdocs as well as graduate students, are members of ASIP and submit abstracts for the annual conference. Many of these trainees, through their commitment and passion, have served, or continue to serve on various committees like membership, publication and career development committees. ASIP is indeed a platform to gain national recognition and prove your leadership abilities, all key to your successful career trajectory.

Nora Springer, DVM

Trailblazing Women

ASIP Highlights Session:
I Am An ASIP Member and This Is My Science

  • Experimental Biology 2019 – Orlando FL

Nora Springer, DVM

Assistant Professor
Department of Diagnostic Medicine/Pathology
Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS

As a PhD-trained veterinary pathologist, my interests lie in the intersection of discovery, translational, and clinical research.  I study comparative oncology, meaning cancers that occur in both animals and people.  The old saying, “people resemble their pets” is quite true. One cancer that is quite similar in both dogs and people is lymphoma.  Lymphoma, a cancer of immune cells in the blood, is a “liquid tumor” that can affect every organ in the body. Precisely how lymphoma picks which organs to invade has stumped physicians and scientists for decades.

Due to the faster progression of lymphoma in our canine companions, I’m hoping to circumvent one of the major limitations of clinical research — the long time needed to collect meaningful results. Most dogs unfortunately succumb to lymphoma within 12 to 18 months, despite aggressive treatment.  Death from lymphoma is typically due to extensive invasion of organs, resulting in organ failure. However, this rapid course provides us with a unique opportunity to study the disease process at an accelerated pace, like time-lapse photography, versus the five to seven years necessary for a clinical study in people. 

I collect lymphoma cells from dogs prior to treatment. The cells are evaluated for patterns of cell surface markers that are suspected to be important in how lymphoma metastasizes to organs.  The markers are compared to lymphoma location in each dog and that dog’s response to chemotherapy.   My goal for studying cancer in pets is to develop novel biomarkers to inform patient treatment decisions and shorten the drug discovery timeframe to place new medications into the hands of physicians and veterinarians more quickly.

I joined ASIP in 2013 when I was making the transition from veterinary pathologist to PhD student studying breast cancer in people.  I wanted to find a community that spoke a common language, pathology, but where I could make connections in my new world of human cancer research.  What I found was an amazing group of warm and supportive individuals.  ASIP has been a wealth of career development opportunities and mentoring over the past 6 years. When I go to an ASIP meeting, I know I will be discussing science and my ideas with people who truly want to see me succeed, which is so refreshing in the competitive world of academic research.

Professional Development for PhD Students

By Academic Positions

Certain professional skills including communication, leadership, teamwork, and project management are valued by employers across a wide range of sectors. While many institutions offer professional development workshops specifically aimed at helping graduate students develop these skills, you can also learn them through the course of your degree. Here are some of the major skill groups and how to work on them.

Communication Skills

  • Present at conferences– Conferences are a great way to hone your presentation skills and practice answering questions on the spot. Poster presentations also help you practice your oral communication skills on a one-on-one level.
  • Join an outreach group– Most of the communications skills you develop in grad school are aimed at communicating with an academic audience, but working in scientific outreach gives you the opportunity to learn how to talk to a non-technical audience. Knowing how to explain complex concepts in a simple way is a valuable skill.
  • Present a seminar paper– If you are in a PhD program with coursework, you will likely have to present a paper in your seminars each semester. Unlike when you present at a conference, a seminar paper doesn’t usually have accompanying visuals so your writing must be very clear.
  • Take a writing course– Many universities offer writing courses specifically for graduate students which can benefit those whose program doesn’t have a strong writing component.
  • Write a research proposal or grant application– Not only will this be good practice for a future career in academia, it also teaches you to write in a very specific way. A research proposal or grant application is different from a paper. You have to include an overview of the topic and connect your research to broader problems in the discipline while keeping in mind that the reader is not always an expert in the topic.
  • Publish a paper- In some fields you are expected to have multiple publications by the end of your PhD while in others even one publication will help you stand out on the job market. In either case, the peer review and revision process will improve your writing immensely.
  • Teach- Don’t underestimate how much teaching will improve your oral and written communication skills. Engaging teachers are able to communicate information in new, creative ways. If there is no formal teaching component to your degree, ask if you can be a teaching assistant for your supervisor or another professor in the department.

Academic Skills

  • Write your own syllabus– It’s good practice to make your own syllabus for the courses or sections that you teach. Not only will it make your expectations clearer for your students, it will also help you on the job market. Sample syllabi are often required when applying for faculty positions.
  • Take a pedagogy class- Some departments have mandatory classes about teaching theory and strategies. If your institution doesn’t offer any courses or workshops, you can read about pedagogy or talk to professors in your department known for their stellar teaching.
  • Develop a teaching philosophy– As you learn more about teaching, start to develop your own teaching philosophy. Consider how you teach (strategies, techniques etc.) and why you teach this way. This will make you a more confident teacher and give you a leg up on job applications, which often require a teaching philosophy statement.
  • Grade- Grading is an often bemoaned part of teaching, but it is also a useful transferable skill. Developing a grading rubric helps you figure out what your standards for excellent work are and apply them.
  • Give feedback– Whether it’s written on a paper or discussed in person during office hours, learn to communicate feedback in a way that presents clear steps for improvement.
  • Find a mentor– Having a mentor of your own gives you an insight into the mentee perspective, not to mention a great role model for when you become a mentor yourself. Your mentor can also help you improve various academic skills such as teaching and academic writing.

Leadership and Management

  • Join a team– As much of academic work is done individually, make an effort to take part in a collaborative project that will give you experience with team dynamics. Better yet, incorporate group work and group projects into your teaching. Knowing how to manage group activities, establish expectations, resolve conflicts and assess performance are important managerial skills.
  • Departmental leadership– There are few opportunities to develop leadership skill in grad school, but one of the easiest ways is to join your department’s graduate student association. Another is to join a conference organizing committee.
  • Project management– The entire PhD process is an exercise in project management. You are learning how to develop a project, plan it out, and work through setbacks. If your research is collaborative there’s the added element of delegation and accountability.
  • Conflict resolution– No one really likes to deal with conflict, especially at work. Many graduate student professional development programs offer workshops on conflict resolution where you can learn diffusion techniques. If your university doesn’t offer workshops, you can learn about conflict resolution from your supervisor or mentor.
  • Become a mentor– Being a mentor helps you learn how to motivate and inspire someone, which are important leadership skills.


  • Ethics- If you teach or do experiments involving people or animals, you will have to undergo some type of ethics training.
  • Promote inclusion and diversity– A good teacher/supervisor understands that their students’ experiences and perspectives might be different from their own. Educate yourself about the issues that underrepresented groups in academia face and learn how you can help mitigate them. Seek our resources to promote diversity in your teaching
  • Get a mentor- A mentor can help you achieve your professional and personal goals. As someone in a more senior position, they can share valuable insider knowledge and insights with you about the profession. Your mentor can also facilitate important networking opportunities.
  • Network– Many PhD students make the mistake of thinking that networking is only necessary in the business world, but connections can be incredibly beneficial in the academic world as well. Your network could be future colleagues, supervisors, or collaborators. Conferences, guest lectures, and informational interviews are easy ways for PhD students to start networking.
  • Build your personal brand– Social media accounts help you increase your online presence and get your name out there. As a PhD student, you should set up professional accounts on, and LinkedIn. Twitter is also a very useful social media platform for academics.

Developing these skill will give you the tools to find meaningful work after graduation.

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