School of Education


Doctor of Philosophy


Rebecca Bowman


STEM, female, post modern feminism, challenges, determination, education, efficacy, feminist, gender(ed)


Educational Leadership | Higher Education


The purpose of this hermeneutic phenomenological research study was to describe the challenges female higher education students (FHESs) experience in their science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) degree program. The central research question guiding the study was: How do female higher education STEM research participants describe their lived experiences while in their degree programs? Sub-Question one was, How do female higher education students describe the influence their personal history had on their choice to pursue a higher education STEM degree? Sub-question two was: How do female higher education students in STEM program describe their reality versus their expectation going into the field? Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy served as the lens to describe the participants’ experiences overcoming and successfully completing their STEM degree, despite facing challenges in their programs. A supporting theory for the study was post-modern feminist theory, to frame the experiences of being a female student in a male-dominated field of study like STEM. The study was conducted with 10 female research participants who had graduated with a STEM degree in the past 25 years. Data collection methods included initial questionnaires for identifying the prospective research participants, followed by individual interviews, a focus group, and a reflective writing prompt. Data analysis was conducted via van Manen’s hermeneutical method of phenomenological reflection, clarification, and explicit description of the meaning of the lived experiences of the female STEM degree holders. This study concluded that female STEM degree students continue to be challenged by a silent gender bias, the demands and requirements of their programs and the balance between home, family and school. This study also found that female STEM students were able to successfully complete their degree programs despite challenges.