Gender Differences in Vocation and Barriers to Growth Among College Faculty

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Gender Differences in Vocation and Barriers to Growth Among College Faculty

  • Cindy Miller-Perrin
  • Don Thompson
  • Pepperdine University
  • Conversations Toward Wholeness
  • Pt. Loma Nazarene University
  • April 11, 2008

Purposes of the Study

  • Examine faculty concepts and experiences of vocation
  • Determine barriers to growth in discerning and living out one’s vocation among faculty
  • Determine gender differences among faculty in these areas

Research Method Overview

  • 75-item survey assessing definitions, personal experiences, barriers, and sacrifices associated with living out one’s vocation
  • Vocational autobiography essay assignment tied to seminar designed to integrate faith, learning, and vocation

Sample Characteristics

  • Surveys
  • 144 faculty – 75 respondents
  • Age range: 23-64, mean 47.7
  • 28% female
  • Vocational Autobiography
  • 120 faculty – 83 respondents
  • Age range: 29-69, mean 40.4
  • 43% female

Survey Content

  • Vocation definition
  • Job/career/profession, Life purpose, Formal ministry,
  • God’s will, Personal life
  • Vocation discernment
  • Personal interests/skills, Influence of others, Significant life experiences
  • Vocation barriers
  • Demographic, Personal, Interpersonal, Sociocultural

Survey – Vocation Definition & Scope

Survey - Vocational Discernment Sources

Survey – Demographic Barriers

Survey – Personal Barriers

Survey – Interpersonal Barriers

Survey – Sociocultural Barriers

Survey – Gender Differences

Faculty Essay Design

  • Write a self-reflective essay focusing on your vocational journey up to this point in your life, drawing from:
  • A description of the major “turning points” along your vocational journey
  • Discussion of particular moments of crisis or confusion as well as moments of joy and clarity along your journey
  • Attention to particular individuals who have contributed either positively or negatively to your vocational development
  • Discussion of experiences that have either affirmed your sense of calling or that have shaken your sense of calling
  • Discussion of any distractions, tensions, or barriers along the way that you believe have hindered your pursuit of your vocational calling

Essay Results – Turning Points

  • 74% reported a turning point
  • Change of location (15%)
  • Health issues (5%)
  • Job opportunities (30%)
  • Marriage (20%)
  • Personal loss or failure (55%)
  • Spiritual awakening (14%)
  • Starting a family (36%)
  • Watershed experiences (67%)
  • World events (9%)

Essay Turning Point: Watershed Events

  • All of my science courses seemed like work; all the literature courses seemed like play. On Thanksgiving holiday, I had to work through some heavy-duty equilibrium problems for my quantitative analysis chemistry course, and I was to read Thornton Wilder’s Our Town for my American literature course. The power of the play overwhelmed me. I didn’t know it then, but I was feeling the difference between what Thomas De Quincey called the literature of knowledge and the literature of power. And I began to think, 'Something is wrong here. Why am I competent in but so unmoved by my major, and why do plays and stories and novels and poems move me so?’
  • I took the CBEST test, passed, and became eligible to be a substitute teacher. On my first day as a substitute, I was assigned to cover seventh grade math. The moment I walked into the classroom I knew I was going to be a teacher. I felt as though some missing piece of my self had fallen into place. I guess it was more like some false piece of my self had fallen away. Everything seemed different. Life seemed to have meaning. The world seemed to need what I had to offer, and I had found my way.


  • Who was your most influential mentor during your college years and what kind of an impact did they have on you?

Essay Results - Mentors

  • 50% discussed a mentor
  • Close friends (42%)
  • Family members (56%)
  • Teachers (60%)
  • Thought provoking writing (12%)

Essay Mentor: Professor

  • In college, I came to know an incredible professor, who, by the time I met him, had already been teaching more than twenty years. When he came to my college in the late 1960s, he was the theatre department. As I worked with him in classes, on stage, and as a work-study student, I came to understand more clearly the meaning of vocation. He exuded passion for his field, and he gave of himself unselfishly. When he wasn’t directing a play, he was pulling costumes for someone else’s production, running the box office, or designing sets. And when he wasn’t doing any of those things, he was telling me how his life in academic theatre had given him the opportunity to take his family all over the world, the skills to work on dramatic productions at his church, and the drive to produce and direct children’s theatre productions in Davidson at Christmas and during the summers. In short, he provided me a vocational model.
  • In graduate school I found a female mentor, something I hadn’t had before within higher education. She was a relatively young professor and I was her first doctoral student. I was encouraged by her because of her availability, professionalism, and effectiveness, both as teacher and scholar. She is a Catholic and is in a stable marital relationship, something that was not very common among the other professors in that department. In sum, I respected her both personally and professionally. After I graduated, she forwarded a couple publishing opportunities my way and continues to reflect pride in my accomplishments. I must say though, that she had some reservations about my accepting a position at a Christian/teaching college. She was initially concerned about my ability to be productive as a scholar within this context. She has been very pleased with my productivity here and I am happy about that.

Essay Results - Barriers

  • 43% reported a barrier
  • Cultural biases of race (6%)
  • Cultural biases of gender roles (35%)
  • Financial concerns (25%)
  • Lack of faith (22%)
  • Personal conflict (27%)
  • Pride (14%)

Essay Barriers - Gender

  • During this time I discovered my passion for youth ministry – but my sex within the church kept me from this pursuit. While it may be best that I didn’t end up a youth minister, realizing that I was limited because of my sex was deeply disconcerting and left me a bit confused as to where God was leading me. In fact, I recall thinking that God only called men to positions of ministry and so I resigned myself to that reality. It was a tremendous time of growth and realization and challenge – but also confusion as I was given messages that I should get my MRS degree while there (I married off 13 roommates), racism is socially acceptable, and my role as a woman is to be a good wife.
  • While I was in graduate school, my daughter was born. I continued to work on my dissertation while trying to be home with her as much as possible. Two and a half years later, I finished my degree and became pregnant with our son. When people asked me what I was going to do once I finished my doctoral work, I often replied,“Stay at home with my children and cross-stitch.” That was what godly women of my generation were expected to do. It is lonely, for example, in my church where I am one of a very few young working mothers. Certainly I am one of an ever fewer number of young moms there who has CHOSEN to work. So, I seek to balance my professional service with my service to my family and my neighbor. It is a balance that is taking all of the emotional energy I can muster.

Essay Results – Gender Differences

  • Within the male group, 70% of the essays mentioned a turning point, 57% identified a mentoring example, and 30% discussed barriers to vocational activity.
  • For the female group, 78% mentioned a turning point experience, 39% included a discussion of their mentor, and 61% wrote about some kind of barrier.
  • Men place greater emphasis than women on the role of their mentor, whereas women perceive barriers significantly more often than men in their vocational journey.
  • Female faculty members tend to have greater difficulty with the process of living out their vocation, whereas male faculty members are more often struggling with identifying which vocational goal to pursue at the outset.

Research Results

  • Faculty report broad conceptions of vocation that include many life areas
  • Faculty report perceiving barriers to their vocational development, particularly personal and sociocultural barriers
  • Female faculty report greater perceptions of demographic, interpersonal, and sociocultural barriers than male faculty
  • Both turning points and mentors emerged as critical in contributing to the development of faculty members’ sense of vocation

How to Contact Us

  • Cindy Miller-Perrin
  • Don Thompson

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