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Where are all the women

  1. Jan 3, 2007 #1
    Being a total noob, Im risking any future reputation i might have here by starting a topic as my first post. So I'm ready for yall.

    That being said, I just wanted to hear your thoughts as to what it is about engineering that turns women off to the profession. Its not the math, plenty of girls in my higher level math classes doing crazy things with numbers for their chemistry and bio coursework. But out of maybe 100 people in the engineering classes I'm enrolled in, I think 5 were female.

    Another "demographic" trend I noticed is that a large part of us are international. Out of the hundred or so students, id say a quarter were actually white Americans. The rest is dominated by eastern European and African students.
    Might also depend on location (I'm in Philly which is pretty diverse)
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 3, 2007 #2

    Math Is Hard

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    Welcome Mike. This thread should probably go under General Discussion.

    I actually run into a lot of female engineering students at UCLA. We have a chapter of the Society of Women Engineers organization here.
    http://www.seas.ucla.edu/swe/

    Ooh! I have to have one of their shirts.
    [​IMG]
    Cute!
     
  4. Jan 3, 2007 #3

    chroot

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    Stereotypes of engineers pervade our culture. Engineers are usually imagined to be pretty dorky, socially inept white males. Engineers are also usually imagined to have almost no human interaction in their daily work, and are imagined to spend virtually every hour of the day hunched over some machine. Women, who tend to value social interaction more heavily than men, generally don't want a job like that, so they shy away from engineering.

    In truth, engineering is as varied an occupation as business, and all kinds of different experiences are available under the umbrella of engineering. If you like sitting hunched over a machine for 18 hours a day, you can find such a job. If you prefer to spend most of your time talking to customers, travelling, and writing, you can find such a job, too.

    The bottom line is that the public just doesn't have a good handle on what exactly an engineer is, and that leads to bias. The public has a pretty good handle on what it means to be a doctor or a lawyer or even an astronomer. Most people appreciate the challenges of those jobs, and know the kind of personalities that excel at them. However, when I tell people I'm an engineer, most just smile and nod and ask no more questions. In reality, the phrase I'm an engineer is almost as hopelessly vague as Oh, I have a job, you know? -- yet few people seem to understand that.

    - Warren
     
  5. Jan 3, 2007 #4

    DaveC426913

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    Just heard this one:

    Q How do you know when an Engineer is an extrovert?
    A When he's talking to you, he stares at YOUR feet.
     
  6. Jan 3, 2007 #5

    Math Is Hard

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    :rofl: :rofl: :rofl:

    good one, Dave!
     
  7. Jan 3, 2007 #6

    berkeman

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    :rofl: :rofl: :rofl:

    But there you go again, Dave. Perpetuating the "Engineer" stereotype with your stories and jokes. You should have said,

    "A When she's talking to you, she stares at YOUR feet." :biggrin:
     
  8. Jan 3, 2007 #7

    chroot

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    Q: What do engineers use for birth control?
    A: Their personalities.

    (At least that one is unisex!)

    - Warren
     
  9. Jan 3, 2007 #8

    Math Is Hard

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    wow, chroot! Harshing on your own kind! :rofl:
     
  10. Jan 4, 2007 #9
    When I went for an interview for an engineering position at Raytheon hardly any of the engineers I met in the dept as well as the simulation and modelling dept fit the stereotype. There seemed to be quite a few female engineers, all were quite social and mosts extracurricular activities didn't include consistently going home and sitting in front of the computer for another 12 hours of online gaming.

    To paraphrase an car ad slogan: THese ain't your daddy's engineers :biggrin:
     
  11. Jan 6, 2007 #10
    I'm almost done mech eng in Ottawa.. there where never any girls in our year, but there is one below my year.. and she said she's doing it because where she works she's an electrical engineer, and they've started to need people on more of the mechanical side, so they're paying her to take the program
     
  12. Jan 6, 2007 #11
    Ive actually gotten the "for all the guys" response.. It took me a good while to admit the male version of that reason in my Intro to Dance class last semester. :)
     
  13. Jan 6, 2007 #12

    Gokul43201

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    Now that might explain the problem!

    "SWEet"? Is that the best word they could find to describe themselves? C'mon y'all - you're engineers, not confectioners! :rolleyes: The day that T-shirt reads "SWEat" is the day I start believing it's possible (that some day, women will learn to get lids off jars).

    <ducks to escape projectile launched by chocolate-cake-wielding-woman>
     
  14. Jan 6, 2007 #13

    Math Is Hard

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    quiet, you. It's not our fault your big clumsy paws are so well-suited for lid-removing tasks. They sure aren't much use when it comes to sewing buttons back onto shirts.
     
  15. Jan 6, 2007 #14

    Chris Hillman

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    Politically incorrect musings?

    I stress that I do not neccessarily believe this as stated, but some cognitive scientists who worry about average sex differences would argue that human females, on average, allegedly have poorer spatial visualization skills than human males, on average. If you believe this, and if you also believe that spatial visualization skills are important in many subjects in engineering, this might explain your observation. Have you visited your local architecture school? That would be another subject where I would expect that, if our cognitive scientist friends are correct, you might see females under-represented.

    Again, I stress that I don't neccessarily believe this as stated, but some cognitive scientists have suggested that, across species, males as a group tend to be more diverse that females as a group in various metrics, for fundamental reasons related to some subtleties in how natural selection operates. Indeed, they say, as group, men vary more in height, "general intelligence", whatever, than do women. In the sense of standard deviation. So that if they are right, even if the mean GRE score by males agrees very nearly with the mean score by females, if you look at students who scored very low on the GRE, and those who scored very high, in both cases you might see females under-represented.

    Just to be clear, I think it is rather obvious to anyone who has taught mathy subjects that cultural factors play an enormous role. I can recall sometimes suggesting to female students who aced calculus with no apparent difficulty that they consider double majoring in math. These students often were unwilling to consider this option seriously. I don't know whether that was because of parental or peer pressure not to go into an "unfeminine" subject, but I certainly thought I observed some peer pressure from their struggling male colleages to excell less.

    Speaking of means, can you explain how it can happen that on my quiz scores (when I was a calculus TA), more than half of the students could score above the section average? Or, sometimes, more than half could score below the section average?

    Hooray for Philly! Penn must have told DHS to where to put their distrust of foreign students.

    There are some rather obvious good reasons why so many students from overseas want to study in the U.S. (or in the UK or Canada or Australia):

    1. English is the international language of science and technology, and there's no better way to attain fluency than to live in an English-speaking country,

    2. The leading American universities are justly renowned as among the best in the world, as are the best universities in the UK, etc., and naturally any ambitious young scholar wants to be close to the action (where most of the Nobel Prizes seem to be won, if you like),

    3. After WII, at least until 9/11, the U.S. has traditionally been far more welcoming of foreign students than many other countries are. To some extent this involved strategic political descisions at a high level; to some extent, artful lobbying by canny university presidents just after Sputnik. Some of us fear that in an ill-considered over-reaction to 9/11, the U.S. might be throwing away the priceless advantage of making so many international friends by educating them here so well, often with the result that many influential persons in other countries have studied in the U.S. Such as, well, er, come to think of it this might not be the best example, just happend to the first I thought of: Isoroku Yamamoto http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isoroku_Yamamoto. Well, you say--- but consider this: Yamamoto argued very strongly against going to war with the U.S. on the grounds that Japan would certainly lose. Having been overruled (by leaders who had never traveled outside Japan), he did his duty, as he saw it. (I'm sure that if we put our minds to it, we could come up with a long list of persons who did great things for to further U.S. ties with their own countries, based in part on a positive experience studying in the U.S.)
     
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2007
  16. Jan 6, 2007 #15

    Math Is Hard

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    Just curious...
    Which cognitive scientists are you referring to? Are there particular studies that you have in mind?
     
  17. Jan 7, 2007 #16

    Math Is Hard

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    While I don't doubt that there are physiological brain differences between the sexes, we should consider that cognitive scientists also examine the effects of stereotype on visiospatial task performance:

    http://www.utexas.edu/opa/news/2006/09/communication20.html
    A neuroimaging study lends converging evidence:
    http://scan.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/nsl041v2
    Another study looked at the effectiveness of feedback training for boys and girls in mental rotation tasks. An interesting study, because both groups showed improvement, and if girls/women are deficient in certain visio-spatial skills then maybe we are on to a technique to help them improve. What was a bit more interesting is that differences in mental rotation ability were not observed in pre or post-tests.
    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2294/is_5-6_49/ai_107203504
    Is the gap between males and females closing? Or is it due to the young age of the subjects who were tested? The "math/science" difference for interest and aptitude usually appears around puberty. What I liked about the last study is that it suggests that if you are a person (male or female) with a deficit in this particular ability, then maybe there is something you can do about it.
     
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2007
  18. Jan 22, 2007 #17
    I suppose it is difficult to analyse the fundamental differences in skills between the genders without having them skewed by external factors such as stereotyping and cultural norm. I really cannot see how researchers can satisfactorily account for these influences unless they raise a control group of children from infancy in total isolation from the society.

    However, I am surprised that many of you (North Americans, I assume) are reporting such an under-representation of female students in engineering. I am (a girl) studying undergraduate engineering in Australia, and the ratio in my uni in my year overall is approximately 1 female to 7 males. I would say 5-10% of mechanical, electrical and mechatronic engineering students are female, and close to one third for chemical and environmental engineering.

    One thing annoying though, is the tendency for female engineers to drift into management and logistics rather than undertaking technical roles. I suppose that one can argue that the pay is (sometimes) better and hours more family-friendly, so perhaps it is a characteristic of the industry that discourages women from the more "hardcore" engineering jobs?
     
  19. Feb 20, 2007 #18
    I'm a student in ChemE in the middle of nowhere and I find that the ratio of females to males really isn't that bad. I'd say around 30-40% female.
     
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