Retention of female STEM students

Check out this really interesting article summarizing recent research at Ohio State on why women stay or leave graduate school.  One of the largest factors is the number of other women in the program.

A new study found that the fewer females who enter a doctoral program at the same time, the less likely any one of them will graduate within six years.

In the worst-case scenario – where there’s just one woman in a new class – she is 12 percentage points less likely to graduate within six years than her male classmates, the study found.

Astronomy’s undergrad major is pretty skewed, with only about 20-25% of students who are women.  And it’s even worse in Physics, where our majors take most of their classes.  Statistics don’t indicate that women leave the Astronomy major more often than men do, but that does not mean that the climate itself is not a barrier to success.

I’d love to hear your comments on the article or on the way gender imbalance manifests itself in the program.  If you prefer, you can write to me privately; any comments sent by email will remain confidential.


2 thoughts on “Retention of female STEM students

  1. I am actually quite surprised. how can the percentage of sexes in a class determine the female drop out rate, yet not seem to greatly effect the students over all GPA? It’s as if female students are receiving academic support but just losing motivation in what they are doing the less of them there are. In which case, I would agree with the article when it says “It may be hard to feel like you belong when you don’t see other women around you.” . That said, it would be hard in my eyes to actually remedy the situation without taking some heavy duty changes, such as dividing up classes so that the percentage of females in a class is above a certain threshold. What would be better in my eyes is to make it so that women are encouraged to peruse a STEM degree. with more women in the programs, it should help diversify the field and fix the problem.

  2. As a woman in Astro, I can agree with the article when they say it’s hard to feel like you belong when you don’t see other women around you. College is hard, and although us physics students are smart, we still all need a support system of friends that are jumping through the same hoops we are. I’ve had a hard time making friends in these first few weeks as undergrad. I can only imagine what it would be like as the ratio of women to men dwindles down as you go onto your Masters degree and even more so for your Doctorate.

    Another perspective is not between peers, but between students and professors. As a woman with mostly male professors, it could be slightly discouraging or harder to find someone to look up to, when you can’t relate to them on the most basic, personal level.

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