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Oct 14, 2016 01:38 AM EDT

Calculus is NOT the Reason Why Women Shy Away from STEM


A study has shown that women who quit STEM majors to pursue another one has higher scores than the men who stayed and pursued STEM degrees. But why do women shy away from STEM-related majors if their grades are high enough to earn a degree?

The study also revealed that women in STEM-related programs usually quit after taking calculus. However, there are deeper, underlying reasons why this happens. Fear of failure, lack of confidence, and the pervading culture how STEM is viewed all contribute to this.

Most women fear failure especially when they see their grades are failing. One student suddenly decided to change majors when she got a 3.0 GPA in calculus. She panicked thinking she was failing but fortunately the Society of Women Engineers where she belonged to in college told her that such score is excellent compared to men. That sealed the deal and she continued with her STEM degree.

Another study revealed that such disappointment comes because a lot of students, both male and female go to college overestimating their mathematic skills only to find out later that they are not as good as they think.

Another reason why women quit or never entered the field after graduating is because there is a prevalent belief about the "marriage penalty" where they won't be able to get married by 30 if they (the women) pursue a STEM or business-related career.

Dr. Jess Ellis, an assistant professor of mathematics in the College of Natural Sciences at Colorado State and a co-author of the CSU study, said that this generation has been raised to believe that boys and girls have different roles to fill resulting in women growing up doubting talents and abilities "of theirs that do not align with the cultural messages we were raised with."

However, Ellis also pointed out that it is natural if some students change their minds later and shift to another major. She likened it to a leaking pipeline but instead of striving hard to patch it up, it should be directed in the most equitable way whether it be by gender, status, or ethnicity.

"We need to understand the experiences of students who stay and of those who leave, with a special attention to the experiences of students coming from underrepresented populations. We need to also attend to how to encourage more students coming from traditionally underrepresented populations to enter the STEM pipeline," Ellis said.

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