SCOPE OF THIS THREAD (not that I have any control over it; it has a life of its own): This thread is about co-ed LACs and research universities containing liberal arts programs, as opposed to engineering, business, and other pre-professional programs. I only care about the ‘S’ and the ‘M’ in STEM. Also, if you believe it shouldn’t matter whether there are more women in math and science, or that we shouldn’t make an effort to increase their representation, that is a non-starter for THIS discussion. Please be respectful and take that debate to a separate thread.
FACT: >50% of people in the United States were identified as women in the last census.
FACT: In academic departments and in related careers, women are underrepresented in mathematics and science. Overall, this is improving, but we need to look beneath the surface:
- Women are better represented in health-related fields, so biological sciences have healthy (couldn’t resist) representation.
- Chemistry is not good, but it is better than its physical science siblings.
- When we turn to physics, mathematics, and applied sciences, the numbers are pathetic.
To state the obvious, some schools are doing better than others.
ASSUMPTION: There is a percentage of women who start out with higher aptitude for math and science than the average man majoring in these fields, but these women shy away from these fields anyway in college and beyond.
In an unrelated discussion thread, one or two parents commented that colleges don’t really care whether a female applicant wants to be a STEM major or not, that women in STEM no longer matter in admissions, especially if the applicant is Asian American, since the latter is disproportionately represented in STEM. I have a problem with these statements.
Let’s look at the case of small LACs. They claim to be as committed to natural sciences as other fields - they love to say that undergrads will have great research opportunities and more attention from faculty than at research universities. The majority or 50% of students at LACs are women, with no exceptions that I’m aware of (if you don’t count the military academies), and the overwhelming majority of applicants are women. Yet, the overwhelming majority of students majoring in the physical sciences at LACs I have spot-checked are men. The percentage of tenured faculty in these departments who have two X chromosomes is also atrocious. I don’t have a comprehensive data analysis to back up my claims; not writing a dissertation here.
This is a chicken-and-egg problem. We can’t force a woman to pursue a field she’s not interested in. On the other hand, a woman with an open mind, aptitude, and opportunity can be encouraged to move in a particular direction, if mentors believe she would thrive there. Moreover, some women are more likely to try out fields where there are female role models already. It’s natural. To do otherwise can be intimidating to many, and not everyone wants to be the pioneer. I wonder if we’re doing enough.
I don’t expect people to produce hard data, but I would like to hear people’s opinions and relevant experience. I’m trying to separate fact from fiction.
- Do you think LACs and research universities are doing enough to attract women students to math and physical sciences?
- If yes, what are some ways in which they are doing this? Examples please.
- Are the women being admitted to LACs overwhelmingly candidates with academic backgrounds reflecting low interest in math and science? (courses taken in school and grades; standardized test scores in math, physics, chemistry, vs. other subjects/sections)
- If yes to #3, why? In the "holistic" admissions process, why wouldn't these colleges want to identify and boost admissions for women who are stronger in math and science? They make it a point to look at race, athlete status, and legacy status.
- If no to #3, are we seeing a phenomenon in which women who performed well in math and science in high school lose interest in college, resulting in the selection of majors observed at these colleges? For example, "Mary Jane" kicks butt in Calculus and Physics in high school. She goes to Ivory Tower College and majors in Psychology. Psychology is a wonderful field; however MJ is smarter and more knowledgeable than the average guy who chooses to major in physics. Only 14% of Physics majors at Ivory Tower are women.The physics world could use a brain like MJ's. She might have the potential to make a world-changing discovery! So what happened? Do all women like MJ find physics boring? Is it because academia hasn't done a good job showing women like MJ how physics can help make the world a better, albeit differently than clinical psychology and medicine? Too much focus on the geeky stuff, thus losing the bigger picture? Not warm and fuzzy enough? Or is it because only ONE female professor in the physics department, of the few who are full faculty, has tenure?
- What IS the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow? Assume it is African.