Using a Feminist Interdisciplinary Lens to Research Gender and Canadian Engineering Education: Processes, Challenges, and Potentials

Monday, 16 July 2018: 19:00
Oral Presentation
Ann DENIS, sociologie, Université d'Ottawa, Ottawa, ON, Canada
Ruby HEAP, University of Ottawa, Canada
Despite their increasing participation in Canadian higher education since the 1970s, women remain underrepresented among undergraduate students in engineering. To explore why this is, our interdisciplinary research team has undertaken a complex mixed methods study of selected faculties of engineering in which women, though still a minority, constitute an atypically large percentage of the undergraduate student population. The study included questionnaires and interviews, completed by women and men engineering students, professors and administrators within engineering, along with direct observation and the collection of documentary material. This paper reports on the various processes and challenges we encountered, linked to the development and use of multiple methodologies within an interdisciplinary research team, including the mutual education of team members about theory, research techniques, engineering cultures and practices, and the building of a consensus over the rationale for our eventual research design. To date, little Canadian research on gender and engineering education has been conducted with the basic goal of bridging perspectives across social sciences, education and engineering, while this was identified from the start as a key objective of our team of feminist professors and graduate students. We conclude by discussing how the resulting research experience confirms our conviction that such interdisciplinary research offers great potential for generating new knowledge that can help improve the situation of women in engineering education.