CRA-DMP Evaluation Report #1

The Mentors' Point of View: Issues Involved in Mentoring in the DMP

In this section, we will discuss various issues involved in being a mentor in the DMP. Many of these are themes that the mentors themselves initiated and discussed in our interviews; other themes arose more directly from our interview questions. Our discussion will focus on the mentors' views surrounding the significant components of the program.

I. The Goal and Structure of the DMP

In this section we will discuss the mentors' views of the overarching goal of the DMP and how the structure of the program achieves this goal.

I.A. DMP Goal: To encourage female undergraduates to consider graduate school and a research career in CS&E

In our interviews with the mentors, we discussed the purpose of the DMP. Virtually all mentors responded that the focus of the DMP was to introduce undergraduate females to research and a graduate school environment in CS&E with the intention of encouraging these students to consider going to graduate school.

I think the purpose of the program is to encourage undergraduates to go into grad school, and to possibly go into academia.
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I think the [purpose of the program] is for the students' sake. Hopefully to give them a positive experience in a research environment that they'll consider going on in their career.
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The obvious purpose of the program is to give undergraduate women an opportunity to interact with more senior women. In other words, [to] meet and interact with people who would be sort of role models, and also to have the opportunity to participate in a research project. With the idea that this will help them focus their professional goals and, in many cases, encourage some of them to go to graduate school. I think one of the intended [goals of the] program is to encourage more women to go to graduate school and into research careers.

Many mentors expressed that although they encouraged students to pursue graduate studies in CS&E, they did not pressure these students into going to graduate school. Rather, they attempted to provide an introduction to graduate school and research as well as reinforcing confidence about their capabilities of succeeding in graduate school in CS&E. With this information and encouragement, the mentors stated that the DMP students would be able to make a more informed choice about attending graduate school.

One of the functions of the program is, "Let's encourage people to go to graduate school." And I guess I was not real comfortable sort of pushing people hard or pressuring someone, "You should go to graduate school." What I am comfortable with is sort of saying, "You should seriously consider it. You are quite capable of doing it. This is what's involved. This is where you go from there if you choose that option, but it's basically your life and your choice."
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I try and encourage them towards graduate school, though I'm not sure that that's necessarily the goal of the program. I think the goal of the program should be to help them decide whether graduate school is what is what they want. So the answer may be "No." Which I think is also not a failure, but just means that they found out what they needed to know.

I.B. How the structure of the DMP achieved this goal

All of the mentors that we interviewed commented that the DMP provided an excellent opportunity to both encourage women to consider graduate school in CS&E and prepare them for a career in CS&E. These mentors stated that the structure of the DMP, which immersed students in a research environment and matched them with a female faculty member, was an extremely effective way to get students interested in pursuing graduate studies in CS&E. In this section we will discuss the mentors' views on how the immersion in a graduate academic environment and contact with a female faculty member influenced the students.

I.B.1. Immersing students in a graduate academic environment increased their understanding of graduate school and research

Virtually all of the mentors stated that a critical factor in the success of the DMP was that it immersed students in research and in a graduate school environment. These mentors expressed that the immersive nature of the DMP provided an excellent opportunity for students to be introduced to academic CS&E in a manner that could not be achieved through more traditional venues of acquiring information about the field. The mentors expressed that by "living the life" of a graduate student, these students would be able to understand the nature of academic life and make decisions about future career paths based on that understanding. In this section, we will discuss why the mentors' felt the immersive nature was important for all undergraduates, particularly female undergraduates.

I.B.1.a. Developing an understanding of graduate school

Almost all mentors stated that the immersive nature of the DMP would benefit undergraduates from both Ph.D.-granting universities and liberal arts colleges. These mentors commented that most undergraduates have little or no understanding of graduate school and therefore often make decisions about whether to pursue graduate studies based on vague notions. As a result, some students may decide not to attend graduate school because it is unfamiliar to them and others may choose to attend without a clear conception of what they want out of it.

Many mentors commented that by immersing students in an academic environment, they developed a more complete understanding of graduate school life. In the following quote, a mentor discussed the effect of the immersive nature of the program on her DMP student.

R: They gave an opportunity to a woman from a small college, and that was excellent because she wouldn't have gone to graduate school, I'm sure, if she hadn't gone into this program.

I: Oh really? Because of the confidence issues that she was dealing with?

R: The confidence issues, and I don't think she had any idea of what graduate school was. She wouldn't have entered into going to graduate school unless she knew exactly what she wanted to do and exactly where she wanted to be. This way she saw, "Well gee, I can do a lot of things, and there are a lot of places I can go."

Most mentors expressed that they liked that students had the opportunity to experience graduate school life in a new setting. By being at another university, students were able to get a different perspective of graduate school.

R: Basically that they should view it as an opportunity to do something different, to find out about what graduate school is about, and possibly have an opportunity to check out a graduate school that they might want to go to -- although that was not the case with either of the students here. ... I would say that it is a good opportunity and that students should take advantage of any of those kinds of opportunities that come their way and that they are better off if they are someplace other than their home college.

I: Why is that?

R: Because it's a different experience, it's a new environment, and it would give them more breadth of experience.

Many mentors stated that the DMP is particularly important for students from small, liberal arts colleges in order to give them an introduction to graduate school life.

I would recommend them highly to apply to such a program, that's one thing. Secondly is that if the student is coming from a four-year liberal arts college, they definitely should look for somebody where research is active, so they can have a feel of what graduate student life is, what research is about.

I.B.1.b. Learning about academic research

In our interviews, many mentors noted that a significant component of the DMP was that it introduced students to academic research in CS&E. Many felt that most undergraduates had little or no experience with research, and a program that focused specifically on research was an important part of influencing students to consider graduate studies in CS&E. These mentors expressed that when students are involved in a "hands-on" research project, they develop an understanding of the nature of research that they could not acquire in the traditional classroom setting or through discussions with advisors and thus can make more informed decisions about whether to attend graduate school.

What stands out about the program? I guess I think that the single best thing you can do for undergraduates, male or female, to get them interested in the field is to let them do research and to let them find out what that is like. And I think that undergraduates don't understand what research is like. And so a lot of really talented people decide not to get involved just because they don't know what it's like. So I think it's really a good thing to do for undergraduates to get them involved in research. Now some of these undergraduates may decide they don't like it anyway and that's okay. But I think a lot of undergraduates who get the opportunity, decide they do like it. And so I think that in general working with undergraduates in your research program is a good idea.
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I thought it would be good to not just for the gender portion of it but also just a chance to involve some undergraduates in research. Because I didn't have any idea what that was about when I started my Master's degree and part of the reason why I didn't go directly for a Ph.D. was that I wanted to have a chance to find out what it was about. So I think these kinds of programs that let undergrads get exposure to research can only help them in terms of making decisions about their careers and whether they want to get a Ph.D. or not or when they want to get a Ph.D.
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I also felt that this is a very positive way to try and help women by giving them an opportunity to see whether or not they are going to enjoy research and whether they're going to be good at it. And I like this kind of affirmative action as opposed to changing standards and things like that. I think it's much better for the students to give them an opportunity like this and for them to decide whether they are going to be able to succeed.

Most mentors emphasized that by doing research, students developed a sense of confidence about their abilities to succeed in a graduate research environment.

[My student] was quite diffident at the beginning and she had talked about graduate school somewhat vaguely. I think we were able to sort of reinforce that motivation. She knew she could do it, but it was just that she had never tried. And it seemed that such an experience really helped her to say, "Okay, I can do it also. It's not such a big deal. I can do it without help. I can do it without feeling scared or feeling sort of not sure about what to expect."

Virtually all mentors stated that involving students in research also better prepared them for graduate school. These mentors expressed that their student had an advantage over most incoming graduate students because she had experience with research and in some cases had chosen an area of specialization.

I think that she will be very successful in graduate school. She has experience writing papers, she has experience doing experiments. All these kind of things. And because she's working on these two different projects she wasn't quite sure which area she wanted to go into between the two. And so now she'll get to do a little bit of work in both. And then make a decision. And so when she gets into graduate school she'll probably be pretty far ahead of some of the other incoming graduate students who don't really know what they want to work in.

I.B.2. Matching students and mentors "plugged" students into a network of CS&E professionals

Most mentors that we interviewed commented that a positive outcome of the DMP was that it matched students and mentors from different universities. Given the low numbers of women in many areas of CS&E, many mentors viewed the matching as a good way to create connections between female CS&E professionals and to provide role models for undergraduates that they may not have access to at their own institution.

I think it's just a great opportunity to get people mixed up. The matching that's done of students from one set of locations to another set of locations is beneficial on both sides for getting new perspectives.
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I think having a broader network than just a single mentor is useful and I saw one of my responsibilities as trying to help someone get plugged into this.

Because being "plugged in" to a network gives students access to more information and opportunities, the mentors stated that it was important for these female undergraduates to be a part of a network of CS&E professionals. In this section we will discuss why the mentors felt it is important, particularly for women, to interact with other female CS&E professionals.

I.B.2.a. Creating professional connections

Because of the lack of females in CS&E, many mentors commented that female undergraduates generally did not have a network of other females in the discipline to interact with and learn from. The following mentor commented that the lack of role models for women in CS&E was a factor in her participation in the DMP.

I: Why did you get involved?

R: Well, I like working with students. I think that was part of it. I never really consciously thought about being a mentor purposefully. If I did any mentoring, it was just in the course of things I felt like I should do for students. I never thought really too much about my experiences as a female when I was in graduate school. There were like 1 or 2 of us in the full graduate program, and there were 60 guys. I started slowly thinking that it would have been nice to have other people to talk to. Experiences that I had to learn -- the right way or the wrong way to approach someone to ask for something, or where would I find out how to get this information. So I started thinking [that] I'm in a position where I can help students do this now.

Many mentors commented that female CS&E professionals do not have the same network in place that is available for men and saw the DMP as a way to increase the number of women in the network as well as making connections between female CS&E professionals.

I can remember way back that a lot of men went to IBM over the summer, and none of the women that I knew went, so I just think that there are already opportunities that exist for them, and there are already men out there who will mentor them without thinking of the word "mentor." They won't think of it as mentoring, they'll just think of it as, "Oh, we're bringing in an undergraduate that I knew from a friend of mine at another university." So there's already kind of an establishment there, that men will pick out the brightest men and will try to get them into the best summer programs or the best jobs or whatever. I'm not so sure that we women are as good at that as the men are, or that we even have a network. [My DMP student], when she was here, I did a lot of research for some opportunities. I actively helped her get a summer position somewhere, but it was difficult for me. I couldn't just call up Nancy Levinson on the phone. I mean, I've met the woman, but I don't know her. I couldn't say, "I have this really great woman here, do you have a position open in the summer?" I think that men already have that kind of network established that we don't have, so I think it's very important to give at least one more opportunity to undergraduate women.

This mentor continued by commenting why she applied to be in the DMP:

I: What stands out about the program for you when you just first think about it?

R: I think the opportunity that it affords to these women. I mean, even if they don't get anything out of it, at least they got to hopefully go somewhere different, meet another woman to set up a network with, maybe meet some other students.

Some mentors commented that their student was able to use the connection they developed in the DMP to participate in other programs and jobs.

R: Where as with a program like this you're giving people an opportunity to either catch up or get ahead or something like that which is going to allow them to be more successful in graduate school hopefully.

I: Did you see that happening with [your DMP students]?

R: Yeah, I think so. Certainly in [student A]'s case. [Student A] actually working with another faculty member here on another research project this fall. And has a temporary position and then she's applying to graduate school. And I don't think she probably would have gotten that second position had she not worked with me over the summer. Just because I could then give her a recommendation that she would be a good person, that she was productive and things like that.

I.B.2.b. The female mentor as role model and a guide

Virtually all mentors commented on the current situation in academia in which there are a lack of female CS&E faculty members. As a result, these mentors expressed that many of the DMP students may not have access to a female professor in the discipline. These mentors emphasized that this lack of role models may hinder women from considering a research career in CS&E and commented that the pairing of a female undergraduate and female mentor would give the student a role model and guide. They commented that a female role model provides motivation and encouragement for female undergraduates by demonstrating that women can have successful careers in which they contribute valuable results to the field.

I think [working with a female faculty member] makes them understand that they can do these things. That the stereotypes of women in science is having to give up their whole lives and do nothing but science or that it's too hard for women or that women can't be successful. I think they have a lot of these stereotypes and by actually interacting [with women] who have been successful professionally, it gets rid of those stereotypes.
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If you meet enough people then you can find somebody that you say "Well, I could imagine myself doing that." And then decide whether or not that's what you want to do. But I think it's important to see a lot of different types of personalities and you know, role models so you can get an idea whether you need to have a certain personality trait in order to succeed in the field.
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I: What stands out about the program for you?

R: I think the idea of mentoring a female student at this stage is just wonderful. I think that it should be encouraged. It's not an easy profession for a female, so it's more important for females to see that there are actually other female professionals who succeed. And going through it themselves and encouraging them at this stage, rather than too late. I think that's what really attracted me, and I think that's also the reason I would wholly support the continuation of the project.

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I think [female undergraduates in CS&E] don't think of themselves as contributors in the sense that we're using the technology. Again this is all colored by my experiences. It just seemed to me that there is this other aspect of a technical career. It is that you change some of these things written in the text book. I think that it is more important for women to realize that they can contribute to research because there are so few of us in the research track. I mean, when we go to technical conferences, it would be like 95% would be men and 5% would be women. The research component seems to be the place where women don't seem to exist in some fields. That is what we need to push to show them that this is another possibility.

Evaluator Point of View

While the goal of the DMP is to increase the number of women entering into graduate school and research careers in CS&E, the program may also function to increase students' success in graduate school. As a result of their experience in the DMP, students became more sophisticated about the field through: developing their networking skills, making connections with professionals in CS&E, realizing possible areas of specialization, and increasing confidence about their abilities.

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