Comparison of STEM and Non-STEM Graduate Students with Disabilities using The Canadian Graduate and Professional Student Survey (2016)

Ottawa, October 23, 2018

As part of the “Landscape of Accessibility and Accommodation for Post-Secondary Students With Disabilities in Canada” national study, the National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS) has conducted a detailed analysis of the 2016  Canadian Graduate and Professional Student Survey  (CGPSS) to examine the experiences of 2,324 graduate students who identify as having a disability. We previously released reports in which we compared graduate students with and without disabilities as well as part-time and full-time graduate students with disabilities. We are pleased to now share the next report in this series where we compare graduate students with disabilities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) disciplines to those in non-STEM programs.

The reports that NEADS will be releasing from this work were completed by  Kathleen Clarke , a Research Associate at NEADS. She offered the following comment:

“Research concerning students with disabilities in STEM disciplines has examined a variety of topics including the prevalence of types of disabilities, teaching strategies, and accommodations. The graduate education environment differs from the undergraduate level and in turn warrants research on STEM students with disabilities in this specific context. This work not only addresses a gap in our understanding of this specific group of students but it does so within a Canadian context, a perspective that has been underexplored.”

Some of the findings from this work include:

  • Several demographic differences were found in terms of: age (students in Non-STEM were typically older); marital status (more students in Non-STEM were married); number of children (more students in Non-STEM had children)

  • Respondents rated institutional efforts to accommodate their disability similarly, with 67% of STEM students and 63% of non-STEM students responding with Excellent/Very Good/Good.

  • Students’ reasons for enrolling in their current program differed based on discipline. While 39% of non-STEM students responded their reason was to ‘equip them to start a career or advance an existing career in academia’, only 29% of STEM students responded in this way. Slightly more STEM students responded they were looking to advance a career outside of academia, or to satisfy their interests in the field, in comparison to non-STEM students.

  • For satisfaction with program, quality of interactions, and coursework, non-STEM respondents rated a few items more favourably than STEM students.

  • The greatest difference between the two samples was on ‘relationship of content to my research/professional goals’ where 76% of STEM students and 85% of students in non-STEM programs responded with Excellent/Very Good/Good.

  • STEM students meet with their advisor more frequently to discuss both ongoing research results as well as their dissertation writing.

  • While 69% of STEM students responded that they are expected to meet at least annually with their advisory committee, only 45% of non-STEM students responded in the same way.

  • One main difference was found in the financial support section: With off campus employment, 27% of non-STEM students and only 19% of STEM students indicated they used this type of support.

  • Overall, graduate students with disabilities in STEM programs have a greater amount of debt at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, in comparison to graduate students with disabilities in non-STEM programs.

  • The obstacle that was considered a ‘major obstacle’ by the highest number of respondents for both groups was ‘work/financial commitments’. While 35% of STEM students responded that it was a major obstacle, this was much higher for students in non-STEM programs, at 47% (a difference of 12%).

The full report with the detailed findings can be found at the bottom of this press release in Word and PDF formats.

NEADS would like to thank the  Canadian Association of Graduate Studies  (CAGS) for organizing this survey and for also granting us access to the data for our analyses. Additionally, we gratefully acknowledge grant funding support for this research from the Social Development Partnerships Program, Employment and Social Development Canada, the Ontario Human Capital Research and Innovation Fund, Government of Ontario and the Canadian Education and Research Institute for Counselling, Counselling Foundation of Canada.

For further information about this research contact our national office:

National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS) Rm. 514 Unicentre, Carleton University Ottawa, Ontario, K1S 5B6

Download and read the report here in Word and PDF formats: