Sunday, June 28, 2009

Positive Feedback Loop

Does the gender of professors influence students’ performance in courses they teach and in choice of science as a career, thereby influencing the future participation of women in science?

A new study examines one reason why there are not more women in science: the influence of female professors. The authors found that female college students are 37 percent less likely to obtain a bachelor’s degree in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and comprise only 25 percent of the STEM workforce compared to their male counterparts. Gender of professors had little effect on male students, but a “powerful” effect on female students’ performance in math and science classes and likelihood of graduating with a degree in a STEM field.

Most striking is the finding that the gender gap in course grades and proportion of majors in STEM fields disappears when math and science classes are taught by women. Similar assessments of other fields (humanities) showed little impact of professor gender on student outcomes.

The authors conclude that “these results are indicative of important environmental influences at work.” See the article in the Chronicle of Higher Education for more information and a link to the study.

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