Tenure-track, alt-ac, or post-ac : understanding career choice for women doctoral students in the social sciences
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Women have made tremendous gains in degree attainment at all academic levels, including doctoral degrees. However, as women become the new majorities of their fields, an increase in their proportional representation in their career advancement and economic outcomes has not followed. The “educational pipeline,” a metaphor for the series of successful transitions between educational stages, degrees, and the workforce, has been used to understand how women “leak out” or advance through academia. Although the pipeline concept is useful in understanding the model of women’s progression, it does not capture the reality of how women advance in academia today. The purpose of this study was to understand women doctoral students’ perceptions and meaning-making of their career choices, in the context of two majority-women fields at a Predominantly White Institution. Utilizing social cognitive career theory (Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994), this study explored: 1) What, if any, barriers do women perceive regarding their career choice and how do they make meaning of these barriers? 2) What, if any, supports women perceive regarding their career choice, and how do they make meaning of these supports? 3) What, if any, opportunities women perceive regarding their career choice, and how do they make meaning of these opportunities? 4) How do women make meaning of gender, race, class, and other intersectional aspects of identity regarding their career choice? This study applied a critical qualitative approach with a quasi-phenomenological instrumental case study design. Drawing from 22 semi-structured interviews with women doctoral students in the social sciences, in addition to other data sources, three key findings emerged: women perceived their faculty advisors as gatekeepers to their academic success and thus, career choices; women made meaning from intersectional aspects of their identities, which informed their doctoral student experiences and perceptions of career trajectories; and lastly, women made meaning from constrictive workplace structures, both inside and outside of academia, which influenced their career choices. Ultimately, the goal of this study was to understand how women may be better supported by university faculty, staff, and institutional structures, as they make meaning of their career choices.