Feb 2, 2007

2007 week 06: Women in the Maths


A personal post, as even in this day, I never received much encouragement in my pursuits in my daily life most likely because they were considered more appropriate interests for "men". Even the university environment in which I studied was not exactly supportive. Case in point: I had one young male professor in my Sophomore year (1995, Hiram College) complain that he "didn't know what I was doing in his class." Compared to Linear Algebra-an easy A for me-I was having trouble in his Discrete maths class, but I was maintaining a B. I wish I could say that was my only experience like that.

However, as this knowledge and awareness can benefit the future generations and their research, I felt this was relevant article to post for fellow researchers and current students.

Any loss of potential talent in the scientific fields is a loss to us all.

New research may provide insight as to why, despite progress over the last few decades, women remain underrepresented in math-heavy majors and professions.

In an article published in the January issue of Psychological Science, psychologists Amy Kiefer of the University of California, San Francisco and Denise Sekaquaptewa of the University of Michigan point to an interaction between women's own underlying "implicit" stereotypes and their gender identification as a source for their underperformance and lowered perseverance in mathematical fields.

Studying undergraduates enrolled in an introductory calculus course, the researchers discovered that women who possessed strong implicit gender stereotypes, (for example, automatically associating "male" more than "female" with math ability and math professions) and were likely to identify themselves as feminine performed worse relative to their female counterparts who did not possess such stereotypes and who were less likely to identify with traditionally female characteristics. The same underperforming females were also the least inclined to pursue a math-based career. The findings were demonstrated independently of prior course performance and performance on the math portion of the SAT. Strikingly, a majority of the women participating in the study explicitly expressed disagreement with the idea that men have superior math ability.

This research helps to shed light on why women are less likely to complete a major in mathematics in college, pursue math-intensive careers such as computer science or engineering, and are more than twice as likely as men to drop out of these fields once they begin. One explanation is that to maintain a strong identification with math-related fields, women may come to distance themselves from stereotypically female characteristics, which as the authors suggest, could create personal and professional conflicts for those women who do not wish to abandon their feminine identity.

When coupled with strong implicit stereotypes about females' math competence, those women who do maintain strong identification with being female may be particularly vulnerable to leaving math and science fields, regardless of their mathematical prowess. Thus it appears that even when consciously disavowing stereotypes, female math students are still susceptible to negative perceptions of their ability.

Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by Association for Psychological Science. (emphasis added)

Online Resources for Women in Maths & Scientific Fields
Association for Women in Mathematics: http://awm-math.org/
MentorNet: http://mentornet.net/
*looking for more links to add.

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