I set out this week to find what causes girls to leave STEM. The study that I read outlined a survey of over 9,000 ten and eleven year old pupils with the goal of discovering what causes girls who identify with science to feel this way and have science as a goal in their future. Reading about what causes these girls to stay in STEM has given me insight into both what makes girls see themselves as scientists as well as what makes them think that science is not for them.
The researchers in this study found that there are two distinct types of girls who identify with science: “feminine scientists” and “bluestocking scientists.” The girls that they interviewed and classified as feminine scientists were girls who were more social and embraced sides of themselves that society views as feminine. These interview subjects “described their interest in science as coexisting with interests in fashion, popular music, and sport” (Archer et al. 2011). Both the girls and their parents in this category pride themselves in not being contained to only science by also having social skills and interests regarding other sides of their personalities. While these girls would not be categorized as geeky or nerdy, the bluestocking scientists would be. The bluestocking girls are girls who definitely would not label themselves as girly. In interviews these girls would say that they like studying and doing academic activities with their friends. Despite the fact that these girls seem to identify strongly with the academic side of their personalities, they also have other interests and hobbies outside of science. Though the feminine and the bluestocking scientists are both equally passionate about science and seeing themselves as scientists in the future, the bluestocking more nerdy girls are less popular and social than the others in school.
It seems that girls more so than boys have to worry about having other sides to their personality than just their focus on science. The parents of the girls who were more classically feminine were glad that their daughters were not boxing themselves into the label of an academic science student. The parents of the bluestocking girls recognized that their girls are high acvhievers in school and were proud of that, but also worried about aspects of their future in regards to the type of job they’d get, marital prospects, and level of sociability. The study found that an equal number of boys and girls were absolutely not interested in science, but a significantly greater number of boys than girls were extremely excited about science. It seems that girls have much more of a pressure from society to excel in social interactions in addition to excelling in science than boys do, so maybe this pressure is part of what discourages girls from STEM.
Another finding from this study was that most girls who are excited about science are from lower to upper middle class families whereas the boys were from all socioeconomic classes. This has important implications for my Girls in STEM club. Girls from underserved communities are less likely to envision themselves as scientists, meaning there will be a need for my club in less financially supported elementary schools.
In addition to coming from a middle class family, all the girls who identified with science saw themselves as smart girls and science as something that smart people do. Children who have a preconception of themselves as not good at science or not super academic can be easily discouraged from continuing with STEM. Knowing this, it will be very important to show girls in my club that they can do science and be successful at it.
This paper recommends encouraging students to have structured debates about gender gaps in science instead of only relying on having female role models in science. This will be a good thing to consider as I am deciding what types of activities I want to do with my club.
Archer, Louise, Jennifer DeWitt, Jonathan Osborne, Justin Dillon, Beatrice Willis, and Billy Wong. 2012. “‘Balancing Acts’: Elementary School Girls’ Negotiations of Femininity, Achievement, and Science.” Science Education 96 (6): 967–89. http://dx.doi.org.proxy048.nclive.org/10.1002/sce.21031.