Friday, March 4, 2011

Can you accomplish more with a female instructor?

I don't get what the bit about Obama and Desperate Housewives at the start of this article from Slate entitled "Pscyh-out sexism" is trying to say, but the research summarized later sounds interesting. Here's a quote about the first study:

The psychologists asked female students studying biology, chemistry, and engineering to take a very tough math test. All the students were greeted by a senior math major who wore a T-shirt displaying Einstein's E=mc2 equation. For some volunteers, the math major was male. For others, the math major was female. This tiny tweak made a difference: Women attempted more questions on the tough math test when they were greeted by a female math major rather than a male math major. On psychological tests that measured their unconscious attitudes toward math, the female students showed a stronger self-identification with math when the math major who had greeted them was female. When they were greeted by the male math major, women had significantly higher negative attitudes toward math.

In the next study, they found that university-level women asked fewer questions in class and in office hours after a term with a male prof than they did after a term with a female one. And in the final study, they found that women had more confidence with a female teacher... even if tests showed that they were outperforming their male colleagues.

The latter two studies could be for reasons other than the gender of the teacher: previous studies have shown that although fewer women reach the level of prof, those who do tend to be exceptional so it might be their innate talents and not as much their gender that allows them to reach their students better. But still, it's an interesting selection of research, and really speaks to why it's so valuable for the women of WISE to teach others!

So next time you wonder if it's worth coming out to an outreach event, remember that your smiling face may be just what another young woman needs to get her to try that little bit harder!