Researchers at Arizona State University studied men and women in an undergraduate biology class and found that, on average, men thought much more highly of themselves than female students. The study, published April 4 in the journal Advances in Physiology Education, showed that out of a 250-person biology course, male students were 3.2 times more likely than female students to claim that they were smarter than the person they were working with, regardless of their partner’s gender. When comparing male and female students with the same average 3.3 GPA, the man was likely to claim to be smarter than 66 percent of the class, while the woman was likely to say she was smarter than 54 percent of the class.
How did this research start? When Katelyn Cooper, a doctoral student in ASU’s School of Life Sciences and lead author of the study, noticed something troubling when she was an academic adviser, ASU Now reports.
“I would ask students about how their classes were going and I noticed a trend,” said Cooper. “Over and over again, women would tell me that they were afraid that other students thought that they were ‘stupid.’ I never heard this from the men in those same biology classes, so I wanted to study it.”
Sara Brownell, senior author of the study and assistant professor in the school, theorized how such mindsets could affect the academic futures of female science students.“When students are working together, they are going to be comparing themselves more to each other,” she explained. “This study shows that women are disproportionately thinking that they are not as good as other students, so this a worrisome result of increased interactions among students.”
ASU’s findings probably don’t come as much of a shock to women in STEM fields, who have long been vocal about the sexism and harassment they face in such male-dominated industries. According to a January 2018 report by the Pew Research Center, an astonishing 50% of women in STEM fields report having experienced discrimination at work. Harvard Business Review noted that at least 63% of women feel that they have to show more evidence of their competence at work — with that number jumping to 77% among black women.
Remember the Nobel Prize winner who thought female lab students were a distraction because “You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry”? There’s a lot women in academia and STEM are up against.
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