Motivating girls to do science...

Anne Carpenter anne at expert.cc.purdue.edu
Tue Mar 26 22:02:02 EST 1996


One of the major things I have had to overcome as a college woman 
choosing biology as a career is the lack of self-confidence 
about my academic ability (particularly in science).  A book I 
read that had a huge impact on me and helped me to understand some of my 
fears was "Smart girls, gifted women."  I think it was written by Dr. 
Barbara Kerr.  She was in a pilot program many years ago that 
gave bright young students, boys and girls, special classes.  In short, 
she became a psychologist, and upon seeing most of her classmates years 
later at a reunion, she found as expected that many students had gone on 
to outstanding careers in business,medicine, law, science, etc. 

 What was 
remarkable however is that most of these successful students were the men 
in the class, and that most of the women found themselves in unfulfilling 
careers.  The author does not place the blame on unfair hiring practices 
or anything like that - rather, she conducts a survey of these women and 
finds that many of the women had low self-confidence in their academic 
ability.  Many of them even commented that they always kind of wondered 
if maybe they had been put in the class by mistake.  The women were often 
very scared of failure...they didn't go to graduate school because they 
were worried they couldn't cut it.  They accepted jobs as secretaries 
because they knew they could do that sort of a job.  They didn't want to 
disappoint people so they "underacheived" and only tried things they knew 
they could succeed at.  

I wonder where this kind of low self-confidence comes from...I have 
really noticed it in my own life.  In my personal experience, I wonder if 
women are more likely to be embarassed and shy about their academic 
success whereas men are more likely to be proud, or even arrogant.  What 
causes this difference?  I have heard it said in intro Psychology courses 
that women are more likely to attribute success in academics 
(particularly science) to luck, and that men are more likely to attribute 
success to their high ability.  Where do we women get these unhealthy 
attitudes?

Someone quoted earlier a study that showed that the majority of men see 
themselves as above average while the most women do not think as highly 
of themselves.  Doesn't it makes sense that this kind of thinking would 
affect women when they are deciding what major to choose?  The sciences 
are traditionally seen as more difficult than humanities...and at many 
schools this is true.  It seems likely that more women than men are 
intimidated by the difficulty of a science curriculum.

So, to get to the point   of this rather long post, I think one of the main 
problems in getting girls of any age motivated and interested in science 
is that girls are more intimidated by science.  How can this problem be 
solved?  One way that others have mentioned is to make science beautiful 
and interesting and relevant.  If girls are shown more about what science 
is really like, they are less likely to be scared of it.  Another 
solution would be to encourage girls from a young age about their 
academic ability.  If they have more confidence in themselves 
academically, they are more likely to choose a field of study 
traditionally seen as difficult.  The question is, How do you increase 
girls' self-confidence?  

I've found this thread extremely interesting...keep posting!

Anne Carpenter
Sophomore, Purdue University




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