CareerWISE II: Enhanced Resilience Training for STEM Women in an Interactive, Multimodal Web-Based Environment

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

The CareerWISE project documents key sources of discouragement and support for women in STEM doctoral programs and offers internet-delivered personal resilience training toward the goal of increasing women’s persistence in STEM fields despite challenging circumstances. The CareerWISE online psychological education program develops skills for addressing personal and interpersonal challenges in science and engineering environments and for strengthening personal assets and supports.

In CareerWISE II, the online content has been broadened to provide in depth training on the specific topics of communication and solution-focused problem solving in interpersonal domains. The CW environment has been expanded to include interactive simulations containing multiple critical-incident scenarios, and an evaluation of effectiveness will be performed.


The CareerWISE program is designed for women PhD students in science, engineering, technology, and math fields. It is a resource that is delivered online, so the setting in which research is conducted is the internet.

Research Design: 

During CareerWISE II, the first major activity was the development of the active listening simulation (ALS), which was developed to provide users the opportunity to learn and practice active listening skills. Participants engage with the ALS through a web browser, and the context for the ALS is a series of communications between an advisor and his doctoral student advisee who is struggling to make research progress and to obtain the assistance she needs from her advisor. The ALS is organized into consecutive content units called chapters. Each chapter both continues the “story” of the simulation (in the same way that chapters in a storybook do) and provides the opportunity to practice a particular sub-skill necessary for the broader skill of active listening. The active listening sub-skills included within the ALS are: listening for critical information, perception checking, open-ended questioning, and nonverbal communication.

Users interact with the ALS in a manner similar to what is often referred to as ‘choose your own adventure.’ At the start of each chapter, users are shown a video clip of a dialogue between the characters in the scene. At a key point in each video clip, it stops, and the user is presented with three potential courses of action (called Response Options) to be taken by the graduate student character. Following a selection of one of the Response Options, feedback indicating the “correctness” of the selection is delivered aurally by a pedagogical agent, and then a new video clip is shown in which the dialogue between the characters continues. This pattern (watch a video clip, choose a Response Option, receive feedback and then watch the outcome of that choice play out in a new video clip) continues until the user reaches the end of a chapter.

A 2x2x2 experimental study was conducted to examine the the pedagogical effects of the following three instructional support variables in the ALS: 1) elaborate vs. simple feedback 2) presence vs. absence of a static image to accompany the content delivered aurally by a human pedagogical agent, and 3) presence vs. absence of instructional hints. Knowledge about, Skill in applying, and Self-Efficacy with respect to active listening, along with reported Value of learning active listening and the Overall Usability of the simulation itself, comprised the five independent outcome measures in the study.

Based on findings from the the 2x2x2 study with the ALS, two additional simulations were developed to target the following interpersonal communication skills: expressing yourself and receiving and responding to feedback. Along with significant new written content related to the interpersonal communication skills training, the three simulations were embedded within the CareerWISE online resource, and a Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) was conducted with N = 300 doctoral student women in STEM recruited from a nationwide pool. Participants in the RCT were divided into two treatement groups, one that had access to the entire CareerWISE online resource, one that had access to everything but the interactive simulations, and a wait-list control group. The treatment in the RCT consisted of 2.5 hours of interaction with the online resource. Key outcome measures captured from participants include knowledge, self-efficacy in, and ability to apply key interpersonal communication skills. Comparisons based on outcome measures will be made both between the two treatment groups and between each of the treatment groups and the wait-list control group.


Findings from the 2x2x2 study with the Active Listening Simulation showed the combination of elaborate feedback paired with neither a pedagogical agent image nor hints resulted in the greatest knowledge of and skill in applying targeted active listening skills. Also, elaborate feedback was found to be generate better reported overall usability in the simulation than simple feedback.

Analysis of the RCT data is still underway.

Publications & Presentations: 

For the most up-to-date list of publications and presentations from the CareerWISE research program, please see .

Dawson, A.E., Bernstein, B.L.., & Bekki, J.M. (in press). Providing the psychosocial benefits of mentoring to women in STEM: CareerWISE as an online solution, forthcoming in [Special issue] New Directions in Higher Education.

Dawson, A.E., Bernstein, B.L., & Bekki, J.M. (November, 2014). Graduate Persistence and Psychosocial Mentoring for Women in STEM: An Online Approach for Addressing the Need. Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) Annual Conference, Washington, DC.

Primé, D., Bernstein, B.L., Wilkins, K.G., Bekki, J.M., & Dawson, A.E. (August, 2014). An Examination of the Impact of Barriers for At-Risk Doctoral Women in Science and Engineering. American Psychological Association (APA) Annual Meeting, Washington, DC.

Prime, D. R., Bernstein, B. L., Wilkins, K. G., & Bekki, J. M. (in press). Measuring the advising alliance for female graduate students in science and engineering: An emerging structure. Journal of Career Assessment.

D. Primé, B.L. Bernstein, K.G. Wilkins, & J.M. Bekki. (August, 2013). Measuring the Advising Relationship: An Emerging Structure for Female Graduate Students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, American Psychological Association (APA) Annual Meeting, Honolulu, HI.

Hildebrand, E., Bekki, J. M., Bernstein, B. L., & Harrison, C. J. (2013). Online learning environment design: A heuristic evaluation. Computers in Education, 4 (4), 27-37.

Prime, D., Bernstein, B. L, Way, A., Hita, L. C., Liddell, T. M., Sarma, A. R., Bekki, J. M., (2013). Development of an internet-delivered communication curriculum for graduate women in STEM. Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education, M543.

Wilkins, K. G., Bernstein, B.B, Bekki, J.M., & Prime, D. (2013). Measuring Interpersonal Communication Skills: Development of the STEM-Communication Skill Assessment Battery. American Psychological Association Conference. Honolulu, HI.

Dawson, A.E., Bernstein, B.L., Harrison, C.J., Bekki, J.M., Prime, D.R. (2013, August). Mentoring women in STEM: Documenting and filling the void. American Psychological Association, Honolulu, HI.

Wilkins, K. G., Bekki, J. M., Harrison, C. J., & Atkinson, R. K. (2012). Development of the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics – Active Listening Skills Assessment (STEM-ALSA). Proceedings of the ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education. DOI: 10.1109/FIE.2012.6462248

Other Products: 

The CareerWISE online resource helps women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs find ways to better manage the challenges in their immediate environments and expand personal skills for thriving in their future career environments. The CareerWISE resource is an individualized online program that pairs empirically based pedagogical content with an interactive simulated environment that provides users with practice opportunities. It is the first program of its kind to provide systematic training in interpersonal communication skills customized for female students in STEM. The program is built on an extensive foundation of theory and research on psychological processes, environmental context, and personal behaviors that contribute to women’s experiences in academic and career paths.

The CareerWISE Resource: Details

  • Customized for women pursuing PhDs in STEM fields.
  • Organized around four key areas of concern reported by women STEM doctoral students: relationships with advisors (Advisors), struggle to manage both academic and personal priorities (Balance), chilly climates in academic departments (Climate), and facing unexpected hurdles during the degree (Delays).
  • Teaches a four-step, solution-focused problem-solving model that is tailored to augment the technical problem solving frameworks already familiar to STEM students and build skills to handle personal and interpersonal problems.
  • Provides interpersonal communication skill training using a live actor-based simulated learning environment with both written and video content.
  • Includes modules on understanding yourself and the context of situations.
  • Contains hundreds of HerStory clips from videotaped interviews with women who have successfully navigated the hurdles of graduate school in a variety of STEM fields.