Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Women in Math and Science

I recently read an article about a new study concerning the impact female professors have on achievement. The study showed that female cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy were more likely to succeed in introductory science courses of they were taught by female professors, while male cadets didn't exhibit a gender effect. The original paper has many interesting details about the data and its implications. Here are some quotes I found particularly interesting:
  • Compared to men with the same entering math ability, female students perform substantially less well in their introductory math and science courses.
  • The gender gap is mitigated considerably when female students have female professors.
  • Professor gender seems to be irrelevant in the humanities.
  • The eff ect of female professors on female students is largest among students with high math ability.
  • Professor gender has minimal ef fects on male students' outcomes.
This study made me think back to Lawrence Summers, who was President of Harvard University in 2005 when he made remarks about women in math and science. The most interesting part of his comments (and the reaction to them) was the discussion about the causes of the disparity in female representation in science and math careers. Many people took offense when he said that the cause might not be discrimination. Summers basically said that social causes (including discrimination) are overplayed, and innate ability plays a role. His comments set off quite a bit of controversy and ultimately led to his departure from Harvard.

I'd like to discuss the USAFA study with Summers. Maybe women are under-represented for the same reason they under-perform. Maybe we need more women professors, or maybe we need to show men how to teach more like women teach.

No comments: