Why fewer women in the realm of science and engineering?

  1. Actually, I wanted to ask "At what point a promising young female student would be discouraged from pursuing further enlightening in the path of science and engineering" but the title limits the characters inputted.

    When trying to apply for engineering schools or science academies, I suppose?

    On the other hand, medical schools' female students are substantially more numerous.

    Why is that? I don't believe sexism is that rampant in today's institutions for higher learnings.
  2. jcsd
  3. micromass

    micromass 20,053
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    I would guess that women are generally less interested in science and engineering. They seem to be more interested in humanities. Maybe this is because women are biologically programmed to be social and to take care of others. Or maybe it is because of the way society portrays science as being for men. I don't know.
  4. It is still socially acceptable for women to be less ambitious in their careers, hence nobody challenges them too much if they pick an impractical college degree.

    I have heard the argument that back in the day (50's-60's), colleges were for women a place mainly for meeting an ideal husband with a high earning potential. Don't know if that's true.
  5. Monique

    Monique 4,445
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I'd say a lack of role models.
  6. Astronuc

    Staff: Mentor

    I think this and the lack of encouragement from parents/teachers or the lack of suitable mentors are most significant reasons.

    I'm pretty sure I'm as biologically programmed to be social and care for others as any woman. My father was a very nuturing person, as were my grandfathers. Perhaps I just had excellent role models.
  7. HayleySarg

    HayleySarg 58
    Gold Member

    I was never really raised as a "this gender does this". For all my parents flaws, they did well in encouraging all forms of learning. My father took me to the zoo but didn't skip the reptiles. I had a telescope to look at the stars and lots of slides for my microscope.

    I also had role models. I had Janeway in a leadership position, Jadzia as a fun loving but very smart science officer, Samantha Carter in the military and science. I just figured it was normal.

    And I grew up watching two shows that did well to put women on equal terms in that regard with men. I watched quite a bit of Voyager and Stargate. I never learned that women play with dolls and boys play with cars.

    I guess I didn't realize that girls didn't do science until I got to college. I had to drop a physics course and the professor actually urgently emailed me regarding the matter:

    "I was sad to notice that you had withdrawn from PY 203. I would like to talk with you about this if you can spare some time to come in on a Monday or Wednesday before or after class. You were an excellent student: motivated, intelligent, collaborative. You had the highest grade in the class. I'm concerned that your withdrawal indicates a (probably major) flaw in how I teach.

    I promise not to probe into your motivations if you don't want to tell me. But I do want to let you know what my concerns are so that you can at least be aware of them as you move forward in physics/engineering.

    Let me know if you'd be willing to talk with me."

    Turns out he was worried he dropped because I was the only girl and felt the class wasn't being taught properly to me, or that he was being sexist. I actually had to drop for financial reasons of taking on more than 60hrs a week to pay my bills. Hah!

    I had never thought about it until then. Me? The only girl? Nah! No way! There's other girls *looks around* ...oh.

    I don't really notice gender unless I'm searching with a motive.

  8. Are role models for getting educational achievements really that important? Neither of my parents had a college degree. I never had a family member or role model even remotely involved in science. My decision to go into Physics was my own, and was actually done against the recommendation of some of my family members.
  9. Astronuc

    Staff: Mentor

    Role models may have an effect early on - e.g., during elementary and junior high school.

    I was inspired by mathematicians and scientists, and others. I excelled in math and science since the earliest years, and I received a lot of encouragement from my parents and teachers. But my academic programs were pretty much directed by myself.
  10. Anectdotally, I can tell you that the percentage of female students is relatively high in biomedical engineering.
  11. ZapperZ

    ZapperZ 30,731
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    I had been involved with Argonne's "Science Careers In Search of Women" program for 6 straight years. It was a whole-day program to introduce high school girls to various aspects of science and engineering careers, and they spend the whole day at the lab, visiting facilities and talking to various scientists and engineers, both men and women.

    One of the things we get to do is sit down with them in small groups during lunch. Usually, we get 5-6 students at the table, and there are 2 scientists/engineers at each table. We get to talk quite a bit, and the question I always ask to the girls during our conversation is how important is it for them to see a woman in a particular career, and whether that influences their decision in pursuing that career path. My personal experience in all those years getting responses from them is that only about 1/3 told me that it might affect their decision. The other 2/3 told me that it isn't relevant to them if there is a woman that is already in that career path.

    So that observation is certainly consistent with your sentiment, and what I've read so far. Certainly, girls in high school nowadays feel a lot more empowered to pursue any career they want to, and are less influenced by role models in a particular career path.

    Last edited: Jul 8, 2013
  12. HayleySarg

    HayleySarg 58
    Gold Member

    I think the role models don't have to be in science, nor do they have to be close to you. What it takes is someone that embodies your flaws and has somehow overcome them. I think those are the most powerful role-models of all.

    For example, I was a wuss when it came to injuries in gymnastics. After I saw Kerri Strugg vault on her injured leg, it completely changed the way I viewed myself. (In a lot more than gymnastics)

    Something like this changes lives. We see how strong people can be, and we are inspired.

    We won gold that year because of her efforts, even on extremely severely sprained ankle.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  13. Marie Curie was an amazing scientist. Much better role models than women who burn underwear.
  14. This is actually quite interesting. I took an intro evolutionary/ecology biology course and the professor was a middle age caucasian males. We were often shown pictures of notable ecologist and evolutionary biologists who were also (surprise, surprise) middle age caucasian males. At the end of the course he told us [the majority of class being Asian, and myself being self-defined as "brown (of indian descent)"] that even though we were exposed to many caucasian scientist in the field of Evolutionary and Ecological biology, he assured us that the field was welcoming to both males and females and more notably towards non-caucasians.

    I suppose this professor is more in line with the physics professor mentioned above who may feel a sense of responsibility to ensuring diversity in the field or to a smaller extent their department.

    I myself didn't even notice or register that his presentation of evolutionary and ecological biology may have been skewed towards a middle age male caucasian majority (which is probably no longer as true as it was at the time these pictures of the ecologists were taken)
  15. Monique

    Monique 4,445
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    My interest for science came from a high-school chemistry teacher, he was my role model.

    Consciously they may feel that way, but how about unconsciously? If there are no women in a profession, it does send a warning message (because why aren't they there?).

    Incidentally I do quote her on one of the first pages of my thesis. A role model for me however would be someone in real life that sets an example. The image of a professor is still an old guy with a long beard. I'm glad that's changing though.
  16. Well I wonder what would happen if you had a real figure as your role model:

    Grace Hopper

    Like other women, she also "squeezed" one out, but it's COBOL, first machine-independent language.
  17. Yea I mean Carl Sagan's father, if I remembered correctly, is a pizza shop worker?
  18. HayleySarg

    HayleySarg 58
    Gold Member

    I'm familiar with these women but I was about 4 when I decided I wanted to be an "astrophysicist" .

    If I had to pick the biggest influence on my scientific thought it'd be Feynman. *Shrugs*

    I see the point, but I don't think of science in any regards to gender.

  19. Monique

    Monique 4,445
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    With all respect, but isn't it a problem that the name that comes to mind is someone who made a significant discovery over a century ago? Or was that the point of your comment, to display the lack of role models?
  20. Oh Feynman, that girl that
    *wiki up Feynman*
    I mean that wonderful guy that works on those fancy quantum stuff, yea, I know that.
  21. HayleySarg

    HayleySarg 58
    Gold Member

    1 person likes this.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thead via email, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?