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A female Ph.D. student’s cautionary tale and the need for peer mentorship

18 Aug 2020, 19:00 UTC
A female Ph.D. student’s cautionary tale and the need for peer mentorship
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By Bárbara Cruvinel Santiago In 2018, I moved to NYC to attend my Physics Ph.D. program at Columbia. Life was far from perfect due to personal and family issues, political turmoil in my home country, being away from my loved ones, and a much less than ideal new housing situation. After working for a year, however, I was looking forward to going back to school. Given my track record, getting my B.S. in Physics at Yale under a full-ride need-based scholarship, and working for a year at MIT’s Nobel-prize-winning LIGO lab, I thought I was up for the challenge, but grad school turned out to be different from anything I had ever encountered. Columbia’s physics Ph.D. program is notoriously male-dominated. During our visiting days, all of the 9 speakers were white and male. At the time I was a first-year student, only 15 out of over 120 students were women, and a third of us were incoming students struggling to navigate that space. My most supportive mentors in undergrad and beyond had been women, so I was scared. From previous experience, I thought I knew the recipe for success: I should find an advisor doing interesting research, but who also ...

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