…and, if so, which professors?
It has often been asserted that (male) professors in engineering, math, computer science, etc are causing a shortage of women in STEM by projecting the attitude that women are unwelcome in their fields. I’ve always thought this seemed rather unlikely as a common thing–though no doubt it happens in some cases–if the assertion is meant to apply to the events of the last 20 years or so.
Comes now Barbara Oakley, herself a professor of engineering:
Professors have profound influence over students’ career choices. I’m sometimes flabbergasted at the level of bias and antagonism toward STEM from professors outside scientific fields. I’ve heard it all: STEM is only for those who enjoy “rote” work. Engineering is not creative. There’s only one right answer. You’ll live your life in a cubicle. It’s dehumanizing. You’ll never talk to anyone. And, of course, it’s sexist. All this from professors whose only substantive experience with STEM is a forced march through a single statistics course in college, if that.
My colleagues in the humanities unthinkingly malign STEM in front of me. Their bias has become so deeply ingrained that they don’t think twice. My students tell me it’s worse when I’m not around.
She also argues that the differing patterns of math vs verbal skills in men and women tends to make women more susceptible to the anti-STEM shots taken by the professors of which she is speaking:
Many studies, including a critical review by Elizabeth Spelke in American Psychologist, have shown that on average men and women have the same abilities in math and science. But as Mr. Reges notes, women tend to do better than men verbally—a consequence of early developmental advantages…Consider a student who gets an A in every subject. Let’s call her Nadine. She’s the type of student who could excel in whatever she chooses. Her engineering professors might be telling her that an electrical engineering degree is a great career choice that will open doors and pay well. But her non-STEM professors may be telling her something completely different: “You won’t use your fantastic writing skills. And besides, you’ll just sit in a cubicle crunching numbers.” Nadine can begin to feel she’s untrue to her full set of talents if she picks engineering. So Nadine jumps the STEM ship.
Only anecdotal evidence is presented; still, given the level of bitterness that seems to pervade today’s academia, the STEM-slamming behavior that Oakley describes doesn’t seem all that unlikely.