My 8:00 am math class is not the highlight of my day.
I am not going to lie and say I live for dragging myself out of bed and trekking in the freezing cold to discuss derivatives and vectors for fifty invigorating minutes four days a week. But it’s required for my major, so I somehow stumble to class in my pajamas, regrettably waking up before the sun glows on the horizon.
Most days, I am still too tired to do anything but stare blankly at the board. The most extensive math I push myself to do is “minute math,” counting down the time until I will be free to return to my bed. However, a few days ago I came to math more mentally prepared than usual. In my alert, observant state, I noticed an interesting phenomenon: my math class has a surprisingly small number of female students.
While I have spent a lot of time looking at the statistics for women in STEM fields, and have been impressed by the strides women have been making, I was still discouraged by the small number of other women in my class. Working towards a degree in the sciences is no easy feat, and attempting to make my own way in a male-dominated field is even harder. In difficult classes such as math, I just want another girl to commiserate with.
According to the article “Low math confidence discourages female students from pursuing STEM disciplines” featured in Science Magazine, “female college students are 1.5 times as likely as their male counterparts to leave science, technology, engineering and mathematics after taking the first course in a calculus series.” This conclusion was drawn from the results of a study that followed 2266 students at 129 universities across the country. Responses to survey questions led researchers to conclude that “a lack of confidence in mathematical ability, not mathematical capability itself, is a major factor in dissuading female students from pursuing STEM.
The researchers said that this result stemmed from the fact that women came into the course with lower confidence levels than male students. This sad fact does not come as a surprise, as another study determined that the confidence gap between women and men reaches its maximum when students are in the 10th grade. Of the girls graduating high school with low confidence in their math abilities, only 4.7% of them opted to major in a STEM field in college.
As Dr. Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College said in the article “What is contributing to the lack of STEM self-confidence in girls?”, to encourage more women in STEM we need to remove the stigma that “Women are just not good at math.”
The article continued, “Women can fight against the STEM statistics by not discounting their abilities, speaking up and finding an outlet that can cultivate their confidence.”
Well, I guess I can start doing my part by paying attention in my math class tomorrow.