Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Effects of Gender on Student Response to Course-Based Research

Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Effects of Gender on Student Response to Course-Based Research

Article excerpt

Women attained parity in undergraduate life science degrees in 1987 (U.S. Department of Education, 2013), and female students currently earn 60% of the undergraduate degrees in biology (National Science Foundation [NSF] 2014). Despite this numerical advantage for female undergraduates, gender disparities in the biological sciences continue to exist. For example, Eddy, Brownwell, and Wenderoth (2014) found that women participate less in their biology lecture courses and underperform on exams when compared with male peers with similar GPAs. And a "leaky pipeline" for women in biology is persistent. The difference between the percentage of female college students and the percentage of female full professors is greater in biology than in computer science, math, physical sciences, or engineering (NSF, 2014). Claims that the leaky STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) pipeline for women no longer exists explicitly exclude biology (Miller & Wai, 2015).

The loss of women from biology is undoubtedly part of a bigger story. Eddy and Brownell (2016) proposed a model (derived from Wang & Degol, 2013) of what motivates college students to pursue STEM careers that specifically addresses the experiences of women. Their four-part model describes how sociocultural factors such as socialization and stereotypes influence psychological factors such as identity, self-efficacy, and belonging, which in turn affect performance and engagement and ultimately persistence in STEM. Of course their model is not unidirectional. Each of these categories can influence the other, but sociocultural factors are at the base of the model, and the authors suggest that targeting these ultimate mechanisms will be fundamental to increasing persistence of women in all STEM fields, including biology.

The sociocultural factors they describe include stereotypes about science and the conflict between these stereotypes and a student's personal goals (Diekman, Weisgram, & Belanger, 2015). One stereotype is that of the "lone scientist," scientists who work by themselves on esoteric topics that have little social relevance. For example, undergraduate students believe that people in STEM professions such as environmental science, computer science, or engineering are less likely to work collaboratively or benefit society than are people in other historically male-dominated careers such as law, architecture, dentistry, or medicine (Diekman, Brown, Johnston, & Clark, 2010; Diekman, Clark, Johnston, Brown, & Steinberg, 2011). The goals of working with or benefiting others have been categorized as communal, in contrast to more individually oriented achievement goals (Bakan, 1966). According to Diekman et al. (2015), students perceive STEM careers as "uniquely deficient" in providing opportunities to pursue communal goals. Additionally, across both sexes, there is a negative relationship between how much students prioritize working with or helping others and their interest in STEM careers, even when self-efficacy and prior experience are controlled for (Diekman et al., 2010). This is relevant to the discussion about gender disparities because although both males and females care about communal values, the data suggest that females care much more (Costa, Terracciano, & McCrae, 2001; Diekman et al., 2011; Eccles, 2006; Grunert & Bodner, 2011; Hill, Corbett, & St. Rose, 2010; Konrad, Ritchie, Lieb, & Corrigall, 2000; Lubinski & Benbow, 2006; Morgan, Isaac, & Sansone, 2001).

There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that research opportunities may be a way of engaging and retaining undergraduate students in science (reviewed in Auchincloss et al., 2014; Linn, Palmer, Baranger, Gerard, & Stone, 2015). In this article we go a step further and propose that authentic research experiences, in which undergraduate students are contributing data to a larger research effort, could help address these sociocultural factors, namely the irrelevant "lone scientist" stereotypes that may reduce women's interest and ultimately persistence in biology and STEM in general. …

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