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New Web Site Offers Career ‘Resilience’ Advice for Female Academics

Women in science and technology doctoral-degree programs are more likely to drop out than are their male counterparts: Unfavorable workplace climates and discrimination are leading reasons. Arizona State University, in partnership with the National Science Foundation, is the latest university to attempt to combat this problem with a novel approach, featured on its new CareerWISE Web site.

Bianca L. Bernstein, the project’s principal investigator, says the site offers women examples of resilience: ways to rebound from the discouragement of situations in which they feel they are belittled and treated as outsiders. She says this is a different approach from other Internet-based materials for women academics. “There have been a lot of resources out there, but we felt a lot of them are not helpful because they either provide a lot of statistics and reports or tell a lot of war stories,” Ms. Bernstein says. “We instead want to teach women how to counter discouragement and give them the confidence to deal with any situation that comes up.”

One of the tools Ms. Bernstein says can offer a big help is the “HerStories” section, which now has approximately 180 video interviews with women who have continued academic careers in the face of adversity.

“They can see how women handled situations that may be similar to what they’re facing with success and learn from those approaches,” she says.

For example, the home page features a video of Jean M. Andino, an associate professor at Arizona State’s school of engineering. In the three-minute clip, Ms. Andino says she felt pressured to participate in a university committee because of her gender and race, but she didn’t have the time to devote to it. She says by emphasizing both the importance of her other obligations and her dedication to her employer, she was able to decline the opportunity and maintain the respect of her colleagues.

The site also details several different ways that women often respond to conflict-ridden situations, Women can identify their own patterns and then see alternative responses that may lead to productive outcomes.

Ms. Bernstein says she is hoping that the interpersonal approach will help women learn how to handle everyday situations and that using the Internet as a resource will make them more likely to seek help.

“Sometimes, women in these situations feel very vulnerable and don’t know what to do,” she says. “Going online gives them the ability to get advice and help in the privacy of their own home.”

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