Women and STEM

There’s been a lot of whining over the past few years about the fact that when they are given a free choice, fewer women choose to study for degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) disciplines. I’ve been inclined to allow women their free choice in the matter, but a recent thought has led me to wonder if we should push more young girls into the study of hard science (physics, chemistry, biology, etc.). After all, Margaret Thatcher was a chemist with a B.Sc. from Oxford.

“Perceived Effort”

Campus Reform has a report on a paper by four professors from Otterbein University suggesting that women may be averse to STEM fields because they feel they work harder than male students without earning higher grades. In STEM grading is based on getting the right answer rather than how much effort was expended. The professors seem to think this is a bad thing.

[T]he professors discovered that while women felt they put more effort into their classes than men, they received approximately equivalent grades, which “indicates that women’s higher perceived effort levels are not rewarded.”

“This, in turn, returns us to questions of grading practices,” the professors write. “Does a course grade primarily reward conceptual understanding and problem-solving ability, or does it primarily reward hard work, reflected in course attendance, submission of assignments on time, etc., or some mixture of the two?”

Speaking as an engineer with almost fifty years’ working experience, contentiousness and effort do play key roles in professional success. However, contentiously getting the wrong result can be disastrous. As one of the commenters to the Campus Reform post put it, would you want to be sitting in an airplane designed by an engineer with a perfect attendance record in school or one who got As because he or she solved test problems correctly? If you’d prefer the former, I have a bridge for you—

UPDATE—Mrs. Hoge and I met at an engineering meeting. She was the founding co-chairman of the Nashville Section of the Audio Engineering Society.