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Biology sophomore Katherine Tran on challenges for women in STEM

Friday, June 2, 2017 - 10:15

Biology sophomore Katherine Tran was featured in a Crosscut article on the challenges women face when pursuing education and careers in science.
Here are a few excerpts:

The UW says it has increased the number of female faculty in 19 STEM departments across all the UW campuses by 93 percent since 2001, which the 15-year-old ADVANCE Center for Institutional Change sees as evidence of progress from its efforts to support women in STEM departments both in the College of Engineering and in Arts and Sciences. In engineering, for instance, 22.2 percent of tenured faculty are women compared to 15.6 percent nationally.

UW is hardly alone in trying to make these kinds of changes: Seattle University, for instance, boasts of a 45 percent female roster for its full-time faculty in engineering. Among the top 50 engineering schools in the country, however, the UW says it has the highest percentage of female faculty in a college of engineering. The UW also has seen an increase of 75 percent in the tenured or tenure-track women faculty in the College of Arts & Sciences’ science division from 2001 to 2015.

Why high school girls are less likely than boys to sign up for a class relating to a STEM field is a subject that has engaged Dr. Sapna Cheryan, a psychology professor at the University of Washington. She specifically investigates the role of student stereotypes, and how to change those stereotypes by altering environments, including through media and role models.

“There is a masculine culture of these fields, which are student assumptions that in order to be in the field, you have to be like a computer geek or someone who is intensely focused in tech and computers and not so much with people,” Cheryan said. “There are also negative stereotypes in women’s ability to perform, like girls aren’t as good as boys. And because there aren’t as many women, it can be hard for women to have role models who they can have a sense of similarity to and connection with.”

Female students in college still face issues of gender discrimination in their pursuit of STEM careers, however.

UW Sophomore Katherine Tran is a biology major who has always been interested in the building blocks of life. “I have often received comments that biology is not a real science and that engineering is what keeps the world running,” Tran said. The belittling comparison to the more male-dominated field of engineering “often makes me feel really awful. ”

When she attends interviews for STEM internships, it seems to her that the males get more initial acknowledgement. And, she says, when she asks questions in an educational environment, men frequently respond with condescending “mansplaining.”

“People in general should stop stereotyping fields of study and put their efforts in learning about each field instead,” she said, agreeing with Cheryan’s research on student stereotypes.


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