Seventy-five percent of STEM graduate students do not consistently feel like they belong in graduate school
Most students feel negatively or neutral about whether their professors understand the hardships they face
Do I belong here? If you have ever asked this question, you are not alone. This basic need of acceptance reflects on our inherent desire and motivation to form and keep interpersonal relationships, wherever we are, or wherever we want to be.
Low sense of belonging or social exclusion often lead to anxiety, depression, and stress, ultimately influencing our behavior. From a student's perspective, seeing professors that look like us can help us feel like we belong in academia. So, to understand the gender and racial or ethnic underrepresentation at the professoriate level in STEM fields, researchers from the chemistry department at the University of California - Berkeley have investigated graduate students' senses of belonging.
They used a visual narrative survey to evaluate how much students related to 15 different situations. They used this technique instead of plain text to convey emotion through the facial expressions, postures, and social interactions of characters in the pictures. These scenarios were chosen to evaluate students' reactions and senses of belonging, as well as previously undefined factors such self-perceived intelligence, value, competence, productivity, and independence.
The researchers found that about 75 percent of students sometimes or rarely felt happy and accepted, like they belonged. Most respondents indicated that students had some form of support from their peers but felt negatively or neutral about whether faculty (meaning, professors) understand the hardships they face. Members of underrepresented racial or ethnic groups were less likely to feel a sense of belonging than members from the majority. Similarly, female-identifying respondents felt less like they belonged than male-identifying respondents
This study is important in that it addresses graduate students, whereas most similar studies have only focused on undergraduate students. To increase diversity in the STEM professoriate, academia clearly needs to change, and one sorely needed fix is to make all people feel like they belong in the ivory tower.