Making Sense of the Atmospheric Science Gender Gap: Do Female and Male Graduate Students Have Different Career Motives, Goals, and Challenges?

There is a persisting gap in the participation of women in atmospheric science (ATS), particularly at the higher levels of ATS education and occupations. This gap raises questions about ATS women’s career motives, plans, and challenges relative to men’s. To explore these questions, in-depth interviews were conducted with 10 female and male ATS graduate students. Both women and men described their ATS choice as the result of random events—though both also mentioned memories of childhood severe weather experiences, as well as interest and confidence in math and science, as critical milestones in their path to ATS. Both women and men also commented on the impact of hands-on, ATS-related research, including field experiences as well as the positive influence of models and mentors on their ATS educational choice and persistence. However, for women, experiences with mentors included instances of neglectful and undermining behavior. Women and men also differed with regard to career goals, with women emphasizing service and social impact, and men emphasizing employability. Finally, women and men anticipated different career obstacles, with women focusing on family, and men focusing on financial responsibilities. The findings of this study suggest that ATS women and men may have similar early motives for ATS career choice but different experiences once they enter ATS. ATS women and men may also differ in terms of career goals and perceived obstacles. Many themes surrounding ATS women’s experiences in this study are similar to themes that have emerged in studies of women in other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. At the same time, this study also generated information and questions specific to the ATS experience, affirming the importance of examining STEM women’s issues by discipline.

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