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What Affects Women's Decisions to Pursue Graduate Degrees in Mathematics?

I conducted a multiple case study of senior female mathematics majors from Southern Illinois University in order to understand how these women made decisions about continuing on in mathematics. I first conducted in-depth individual interviews with 13 women who answered questions regarding their educational histories (high school and college experiences), role models, and future plans. Those 7 respondents with relatively high grade point averages, and thus the background to enroll in graduate-level mathematics programs, were asked to continue in the study. With these 7 remaining women, I conducted two focus groups (3 were assigned to one group and 4 to the other group). Throughout these 2-3 hour group interviews, the participants were asked to focus directly on the questions, "What are the factors that directly or indirectly influenced your decision on whether or not to attend graduate school in mathematics?" and "What are the factors that could directly or indirectly influence other female math majors' decisions on whether or not to attend graduate school in mathematics?" I will present a summary of these factors along with their suggestions on what we can do to encourage more women to pursue graduate degrees in mathematics.

Kathleen L. Bonn
formerly of Southern Illinois University (Carbondale)
and the University of North Dakota;
currently at Michigan Technological University.

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