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Happiness in Graduate School

Although happiness I difficult to quantify, we compared self reported happiness data from women respondents of our survey to other factors in their graduate careers.


Happiness levels graph
Figure H-1. Are you happy in grad school?

As you can see in Figure H-1, only 48% of respondents said yes, they were happy. While not a lot said that they were unhappy, there is still quite a few students with mixed feelings.

Happy and Leaving

One of the questions we asked was "Have you ever thought about leaving grad school?"

Graph showing percentage of respondents who thought about leaving graduate school
Figure H-2. Have you ever thought about leaving grad school?

61% of our respondents have at one time considered leaving graduate school. When asked if they considered leaving grad school responded "kinda" or "yes". 44.16% of that is a strong yes.

This was, unsurprisingly, strongly negatively correlated with "Are you happy?" Those who are happy are less likely to think about leaving. If your goal is to retain women in you graduate program, some effort should be made to consider the factors that contribute to their happiness.

Balance is important. A lot of the women mentioned that they didn't have enough support for their right to have outside activities and these outside interests were central to their feeling in control of their lives and making progress. Many mentioned outside relationships were central to their staying in grad school.

This quote exemplifies the feelings of many women graduate students:

"I have seriously considered quitting many times, but I am not a quitter. I feel that my advisor would prefer someone who can put all efforts into school, but I simply cannot without making myself sick. I've been there and won't do it again! If it weren't for my stubbornness and support from my friends, I would have quit. In the end, I think I'll be very glad that I didn't. I'm even considering my PhD!"

Reasons respondents stayed in graduate school graph
Figure H-3. Why did you stay in graduate school?

Stubbornness was a major factor for why students stayed, with 46% of respondents saying that they stayed because of it.

Happy and Advisor Support

Another important factor for women was feeling supported by their advisor, and support in their research topic. Support and happiness were correlated (p = .450 s= 0.01). 63% of the students who felt unsupported were unhappy and the rest felt mixed. None were happy. Of the 88 students who did feel supported, only 2% were unhappy and 57% said happy, with the rest mixed.

Those who felt unsupported were unsurprisingly also more likely to feel uncomfortable in advisor meetings for non-research related reasons and more likely to have thought about leaving.

We also compared the happiness of students with the difficulty they had with the undergrad/ grad-student transition.(p = -.415, s=0.05). The harder the transition, the less happy the students are and the more likely they are to leave (p = .356, s = 0.01) This appears to be a crucial time to support graduate students.

A lot of these problems are especially important to women but solving them could benefit all graduate students. Many of the women felt that they did not want to be treated as a minority and could succeed on their own merits. We can improve the environment for everyone by improving it for women.