In my department, male PhD candidates outnumber female PhD candidates by
roughly 3 to 1. In the last 12 months 4 female PhD candidates have
decided to drop out with a MS degree rather than to continue for the PhD,
no male candidates have made that choice.
All 4 of the females who dropped out did so at least in part because they
felt that they were discriminated against in subtle ways. They felt that
their ideas were not taken quite a seriously as ideas coming from their
male classmates. None of them felt sexually harrassed, threatened, or
overtly discriminated against.
I also talked to 8 male PhD candidates, and found that all of us had at
one time also felt like quitting with a MS degree. It seems to be just a
result of the stress of working toward a PhD and the stress of seeing how
hard the new faculty and postdocs have to work to get funding. Of those
of us who discussed quitting with an MS with our advisors or other
faculty, all of the males were encouraged to continue the PhD route. All
4 of the females were encouraged to take the MS and go.
In talking with the male and female students, it seemed to me that we all
started with the same feelings of stress. We all thought that getting a
PhD in biology is just not worth the high stress/pay ratio. The male
students each felt that they were the only one who was considering
quitting. The females also thought that they were the only one.
I think that if I felt that I was being victimized, I too would have taken
the MS and left. But because I am a white male, I did not even think of
how I might be discriminated against. The females, on the other hand
started looking for differences in how they were treated vs. how the males
were treated. You often find what you are looking for.