USC Gender Studies survey

Surveys of Alumni and Current Certificate Students (April 1, 2009)

The Gender Studies Studies Graduate Certificate is available to Graduate Students in programs across the University. A recent survey of our graduate students and alumni revealed that the Gender Studies Program's interdisciplinary courses broaden and deepen graduate research in gender, and holding the Certificate in Gender Studies is a valuable asset to our alums' job placement both within and outside of the academy.


In 1985, the USC Program for the Study of Women and Men in Society (SWMS) approved a Graduate Certificate, which went into effect in the Spring of 1986. Since 1989 (when the USC Graduate School's records begin), 134 students have completed the Graduate Certificate in Gender Studies. Today, 57 current graduate students are enrolled in the Certificate Program, stretching across at least thirteen USC departments (most of them in the College).

With the goal of assessing the impact and importance of the Certificate Program, in March, 2009 the Gender Studies Program conducted two surveys - one of Certificate alumni, and one of current Certificate students. The survey explores three general areas of interest: (1) the role of the Certificate in recruitment of graduate students; (2) the extent to which a connection with the Gender Studies Program enhances the quality of the intellectual experience while in graduate school; (3) and how holding the Certificate effects the placement of students in academic careers.

The surveys were sent out on e-mail via the "Survey Monkey" program, and were followed up a week later with an e-mail urging those who had not yet responded to do so. The Alumni survey was sent to 48 Students who completed their terminal graduate degrees along with the Certificate between 1999 and 2008. (Unfortunately, we do not have contact data on our pre-1999 Certificate students.) 42 of the 48 alums we sent the survey to responded, an 88% response rate. The second survey was sent to 57 current Certificate students, 37 of whom responded (a 65% response rate).

Respondents to both surveys evidenced the wide range of academic departments and disciplines that our former and current students work within. As Table 1 indicates, Sociology and English are longstanding centers for USC gender studies, while many other students are dispersed across the campus. American Studies and Ethnicity appears to be a newer growth area for gender studies. This stands to reason, given the interdisciplinary nature of ASE, and the fact that there is a gender track within the ASE Ph.D. program.


Recruitment of Graduate Students

The surveys show strong evidence that the Gender Studies Certificate Program is an important factor in recruiting graduate students to USC. Many departments with strong gender foci --especially English and Sociology-- strategically use the Certificate Program in their recruitment efforts. 


Many who did know about the Certificate Program said that it was a factor in convincing them to come to USC for their graduate work.


Comments from past and current students illustrated this finding:

  • "My focus of research was gender, and the Gender Studies Certificate was part of the reason I decided to attend USC (plus all the great professors to work with.)" (Sociology Alum)
  • "Yes, I was told about the certificate program when I applied to the English PhD program." (English Alum)

Today's savvy prospective students explore departmental websites, and several of our current students said they'd decided to come to USC after seeing the GS Certificate Program linked to their departmental web site.

  • "I saw it on the Dept. website; the certificate was one of the reasons I decided to apply to USC and attend." (Current English student)

The Certificate Enhances the Quality of the Scholarly Experience

The Survey provided solid evidence that graduate students feel that being connected to Gender Studies and to the Center for Feminist Research (CFR) enhanced their research and their overall scholarly experience at USC, as can be seen in Table 4. Though most who were surveyed said that support for gender research in their home departments was strong, a few reported "thin" support and resources in their departments. For such students, the Certificate Program is like a scholarly lifeboat:

  • "The Gender Studies seminars kept me sane during my first few years in grad. school. They have also given me in my own field of research a sharpness of critique and insight which many of my colleagues (and professors) lack. Getting the Gender Studies certificate is as important to me as getting my Ph.D." (Current Classics student)


In their comments, alums and students frequently highlighted the value of GSP/CFR as a locus for interdisciplinary scholarly research, discussions, and teaching: 

  • "Although the USC School of Religion was very supportive of my interest in gender studies (and that of several of my peers), many of the courses I took were part of the gender program curriculum and not out of the School of Religion. Those classes were wonderfully stimulating and challenging, especially as they included students from a wide array of disciplines. The gender program made my graduate experience truly worthwhile." (Religion Alum)
  • "Though I was in the Sociology Dept., which is very supportive and focused on gender studies, I found the interdisciplinarity of USC's Gender Studies Grad. Cert. Program to be an important benefit and enhancement to my graduate experience. It also enabled me to graduate with 3 areas of expertise, instead of just the 2 areas we could choose within the Sociology program." (Sociology Alum)
  • "One of the most important ways to bridge the sciences with social sciences is gender studies certificate--very important for making interdisciplinary work move forward in the academy and in ngos." (Sociology alum working in public policy-related health sciences)
  • "It's all the interdisciplinary work that I've done in my academic career that has been the most rewarding and intellectually productive." (Current English Student)

In addition to touting the Program's interdisciplinarity, several former and current students sited various forms of support they had received from the Program or from CFR during their time as graduate students, including teaching assistantships (mostly in SWMS 210g), paper awards, and CFR travel grants to support graduate research and conference presentations. 

Completing the Certificate Enhances Placement in Academic Careers

Nearly all (98%) of the alums said that they listed the Graduate Certificate on their CV when they sought academic positions. 78% of those surveyed are currently working in academic faculty positions. Of those alums who are in faculty positions, 41% say that they believe that having the Certificate facilitated their getting an interview (52% said they did not know if it had any impact), while 31% of the alums said that their holding the Certificate helped them get a job (57% said they did not know). Alums who responded to the survey were employed in academic positions at CSU East Bay, CSU Northridge, CSU Fullerton, California Lutheran, Hendrix College, Purdue University, Columbia School of Medicine, U.C. San Francisco, Central Washington University, UCLA, Biola University, and Victoria University in New Zealand, University of Texas-Austin, and USC.

The experience of our alums, and the plans of our current students reflect the growing reality that many universities seek scholars who can teach across academic disciplines, and/or in interdisciplinary programs. Among our Certificate alums, 51% of those in faculty positions teach courses in women's or gender studies programs. As one alum stated,

  • "Earning tangible proof that I had studied and produced work in gender and sexuality was both useful on the job market and important to me as a scholar. The GS certificate focused my concentration on gender and sexuality and enabled me to present myself as a specialist in these fields, which had substantive benefits in terms of getting academic job interviews and eventually, I believe, a job offer." (Current English student)
  • Of our current students, 89% say that they intend to seek academic faculty positions, and all say that they will list the GS Certificate on their CV when they go on the job market. Among those who are seeking faculty positions, 76% say that they see a joint appointment or courtesy appointment in a women's or gender studies program as "very desirable," while 21% see it as "somewhat desirable."


For more than two decades, the USC Gender Studies Program's Graduate Certificate has been valuable resource within the College and the University. However, the Certificate's contributions to the larger campus community have largely stayed below the radar, due to the fact that Gender Studies does not have its own freestanding graduate degree-granting program, and has thus not benefited from the University's periodic administrative evaluations of graduate programs. With this survey, we hope to bring the GS Graduate Certificate's contributions in to the light of day.
The survey has shown that the Certificate makes important contributions, not only to individual students, but also to various departments' graduate programs. These contributions undoubtedly enhance the national academic reputation and rankings of departments' graduate programs. First, the Certificate is used by departments to enhance their ability to recruit top graduate students to come to USC to study gender. Second, gender students find that the Certificate program broadens and deepens their scholarly experience, and enhances their research --by connecting them with an interdisciplinary field of courses, colloquia and scholars; by offering awards and research travel funds that tangibly support graduate research; and by offering opportunities to teach in an interdisciplinary field. Third, students who hold the Certificate along with a graduate degree from their departments find that it often is a factor in getting academic job interviews and job offers. As academia moves toward greater interdisciplinarity in future years, including increased emphasis on joint faculty appointments and teaching across disciplines, we expect that the value of the Certificate for our students on the job market will only continue to rise.

Survey prepared by Michael Messner, Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies, with the assistance of Laura Fugikawa, Gender Studies Program Graduate Student, and Jeanne Weiss, Gender Studies Office Manager.

  • Gender Studies Program
  • University of Southern California
  • Mark Taper Hall of Humanities, 422
  • 3501 Trousdale Parkway
  • Los Angeles, California
  • 90089-4352 USA