These women were easily admitted to Canadian universities because of their good academic records and knowledge of English. They had no problems in finding advisors; they experienced good working conditions; they had supportive and friendly relationships with their advisors and most of their professors, and good working relationships with peer groups. The majority of these women did not face financial difficulties, as they received graduate scholarships and teaching assistantships, and they never mentioned that they received less money than their colleagues. One woman even admitted she was earning more.
However, there were disadvantages. Some students discovered that degrees from South Asian universities were not considered the equivalent of North American degrees, except for the Ph.D., and had to start at a lower level in spite of their good academic records. The majority of them accepted this as a means of gaining new knowledge, though it meant they took longer to finish their studies. Although they all asserted that they were equally treated by their professors and were never discriminated against, a few had confrontations and faced unpleasant situations as immigrant women. They were "unaware" of racism.
The married women students experienced both advantages and disadvantages. Financially, they were more secure but family responsibility reduced their time for study and freedom to develop friendships and network with others in the academic milieu. Although those who were students and mothers in the same period experienced more barriers, none of them regret having children. These self-confident, intelligent and hard working women were able to overcome the difficulties they faced and earn their degrees.
Based on the experience of these women, I would like to recommend that 1) all the universities have a policy to provide part-time Ph.D. programs, particularly to women with young children; 2) universities need to re-think the admission criteria for foreign students to reduce the period of study; 3) university faculties need to be more understanding and helpful to immigrant women students who come from different educational systems and have family responsibilities; and 4) students with children should be given a supportive environment in which to carry out their studies. The implementation of these suggestions will enhance the advancement of women as well as Canadian society.
Further study is needed on women academics of minority ethnic groups to make them visible, to evaluate their contributions, and to assess whether or not they have faced similar advantages and disadvantages as graduate students and professionals.
Nilima Mandal Giri is a Research Associate at the Simone de Beauvoir Institute, Concordia University. She received her B.A. from Calcutta University, M.A. in Bengali Literature and Language from Jadavpur University, and M. Ed. in Educational Administration from Cornell University. Her research interests are the history of women's education, and professional immigrant women's situations, experiences and contribution to Canada.