Sunday, November 7, 2010

Did you Choose (or Were you Socialized) to NOT go into a Math Related Career?

I found the following article about women, math, and choice (from the Association for Psychological Science)very interesting.  I hope you will too. The most thought-provoking part for me is the factor of "choice." My husband's philosophy is that most adults have choices about all matters in life. Homeless people can choose to work or to sleep on the street. Alcoholics can choose to drink, or not to drink. Men and women can choose to be good or bad parents.

I don't agree. I think that many factors such as culture, genes and the socialization process can easily and often bias our "free will."There are times when we really can't make a choice. The choice is made by pre-ordained circumstances; being born into a family that was homeless, or alcoholic, or provided bad parenting biases you to be similar.  However, my view about choice doesn't sit down companionably with my other strong view that we need to be responsible and accountable for our choices, decisions, and behavior. How can one be responsible for a choice that isn't really a choice? Enough said. Even if you don't read the article, I'd like to hear what your thoughts are about choice and/or you and/or accountability in the general sense. And even specifically:

Do you choose to be a negative self-talker or did you learn to be?

Did you choose to be smart or was it in the genes?

Are you choosing to be emotionally expressive or does it just happen?

"The question of why women are so underrepresented in math-intensive fields is a controversial one. In 2005, Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard University, set off a storm of controversy when he suggested it could be due partly to innate differences in ability; others have suggested discrimination or socialization is more to blame. Two psychological scientists have reviewed all of the evidence and concluded that the main factor is women's choices-both freely made, such as that they'd rather study biology than math, and constrained, such as the fact that the difficult first years as a professor coincide with the time when many women are having children.

Psychological scientists Stephen Ceci and Wendy Williams of Cornell University set out to understand the differences between men and women in math-intensive fields such as physics, electrical engineering, computer science, economics, and chemistry. In the top 100 U.S. universities, only 9% to 16% of tenure-track positions in these kinds of fields are held by women.

But girls' grades in math from grade school through college are as good as or better than boys', and women and men earn comparable average scores on standardized math tests. However, twice as many men as women score in the top 1% on tests such as the SAT-M. Clearly, the picture is complex, Ceci and Williams decided. Their analysis and conclusions appear in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Williams and Ceci also reviewed research on sex discrimination and decided that it is no longer a major factor. In fact, one large-scale national study found that women are actually slightly more likely than men to be invited to interview for and to be offered tenure-track jobs in math-intensive STEM fields.

Instead, Williams and Ceci think the problem is that women actually choose not to go into math-heavy fields, or drop out once they have started. "When you look at surveys of adolescent boys and girls and you say to them, 'What do you want to be when you grow up,' you never see girls saying, 'I want to be a physicist or an engineer,'" Ceci says. That doesn't mean they're rejecting science, but they're more likely to want to be physicians or veterinarians.

And those preferences persist. Studies of college students find that women are more interested in organic and social fields, while men are more interested in systematizing things. And indeed, more than half of new medical doctors and biologists are women today-and in veterinary medicine, women are more than 75% of new graduates.

Also, women drop out of mathematics-heavy careers paths. Almost half of undergraduate math majors in the U.S. are women. A smaller percentage of women go into graduate school in math, and in 2006, women earned 29.6% of math PhDs. Women are also more likely to drop out after they start a job as a professor, often because they are unable to balance childcare with the huge workload required to get tenure. Young male professors are more likely than their female counterparts to have a stay-at-home spouse or partner who takes care of children.

"You don't see nearly as many men with doctorates in physics saying, 'I won't apply for a tenure-track position because my partner wants to practice environmental law in Wyoming and I'm going to follow her there and help take care of the kids,'" Williams says. Fair or not, women are more likely to prioritize family needs. "I don't think we should try to persuade a woman who's going to be a physician, veterinarian, or biologist to instead be a computer scientist."

On the other hand, women shouldn't have to drop out because the tenure schedule conflicts with their fertility schedule. "Universities can and should do a lot more for women and for those men engaged in comparably-intensive caretaking," says Williams. Coming up with alternative schedules for parents of young children who are seeking tenure, for example, or finding other ways to ease the burden on parents or young children, could help women stay in academic careers-and not only in math-intensive fields. "

Association for Psychological Science
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1 comment:

  1. Have been reading a lot of your blogs...and been meaning to comment
    again & again...but always seems like I'm on the run.
    But...this one hit a discussion Dave & I have had for years about
    choice...him feeling that if we ran the same moment in time over and
    over a million times, we'd still make the same choice...me feeling
    that "choice" was almost a sacred thing...and something that indeed
    was important from an accountability standpoint.
    I have to admit I'm moving to his position...at least until the part
    of our life when we become more self aware. Our early
    programming...teaches us to listen to our brains...but never
    acknowledges the emotions. The emotions are the elephant in the
    room...and usually overrun what the brain tries to say...and usually
    does this unconsciously. I find I act on "automatic" a lot of
    time...that it takes a lot of energy to turn off "automatic" and act
    consciously...and it doesn't happen at all if I'm super busy or
    I believe many of the actions we take in our early years...which we
    may feel guilty about later...were actions we were programmed to do.
    Our parents set us up for certain reactions...neediness...etc...and
    until we become fully aware, we're unable to change. Later...our
    choice can be to bring different experiences into our lives which
    result in different choices...kind of a merry-go-round.


Tell me what you think!