Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Why Calculus III classes still suck...

I went to an all-male engineering college. In fact, to this day, I cannot understand how serious learning can go on with women of the opposite sex actually in the same room as testosterone-afflicted young men. Maybe it isn't.

Anyhoo, that was back in the Dark Ages of Engineering, and women of all genders are now welcome - nay, urged, begged, dragooned - to enlist in our pocket-protector profession.

But they aren't.
Now two new studies by economists and social scientists have reached a perhaps startling conclusion: An important part of the explanation for the gender gap, they are finding, are the preferences of women themselves. When it comes to certain math- and science-related jobs, substantial numbers of women - highly qualified for the work - stay out of those careers because they would simply rather do something else. [More]
Well, I never! After all we've done for them!

There is a flip side to this discovery. Those women who are drawn to science and technology remain a departure from the norm. While this can be a challenge, it can also be an advantage.

These things will work themselves out over generations, not months. The start we have made to open all careers to all people will doubtless prove wonderfully wise long after we have struggled to understand.


Anonymous said...

I'm a female mechanical engineering alum from your alma mater. I being one of those "out of the norm women" who are drawn to science and engineering am extremely glad that there aren't more same sex education programs. It was hard enough to get a physics class offered in my small rural high school, and I was the only girl in the class. Likewise, you can bet that I am extremely glad of the men who worked long and hard to get women admitted to Rose (And, I am happy to report that my peers and I still managed to get some serious learning done while plagued with the horrendous natural phenomena that is hormones).

I think that it is important for people looking into these issues to take a look at the influences on girls and young women to not go into engineering and science. I don't consider a gender gap in science and engineering to be a problem, but some of the factors that make women want to avoid the field are. I knew that I wanted to be an engineer, but most of my girl friends in high school wouldn't even have considered it, or thought to consider it. Girls who hear that they aren't supposed to be good at math or are put off by the competitive way that it is often introduced, for example, the clash between things that are girly and things that are analytical, and others which the non-tomboy women can probably come up with all serve as little demotivators. Even after I had my degree I wasn't going to want to go work someplace that people said was sexist, or that the recruiter gave off that kind of vibe.

Perhaps some understanding,

PS: "Women of the opposite sex".. rather a bit redundant don't you think?

Anonymous said...

Regarding your "Maybe it isn't" link: Leonard Sax is a vocal advocate of single-sex education, but the data he uses to back up his claims are very questionable. Mark Liberman at Language Log has examined and responded to Dr. Sax's claims a number of times over the past few years (here, for example; this post links to several more), and shown how Sax misinterprets and/or selectively includes scientific data to support his views. There may be a valid argument for separating boys and girls in school, but even if so, Sax isn't making it.

John Phipps said...

anon 1:

My sons and one daughter in law are engineers all had different educational experiences. I was just intrigued by this study, and offered some comments. Frequent readers will be more alert to my wandering between humor and observation.

I was at Rose when the first female professor was hired. Hokey smokes! The effect was phenomenal. I cannot help but wonder if you will experience similar emotions 40 years from looking back on your college years.

Regardless, I hope you got the point that even relative neanderthals like myself recognize we are moving in the right direction, even if we don't yet understand all the implications.

And as my idol Dave Barry has pointed out, not all literary humor devices (redundancy) work for all readers.

Thanks for reading and for your insights.


Thanks for the pointer. I am grossly unqualified to pass judgment on such research, but try to offer up the opportunity for folks like you to add to our pool of knowledge.