Women’s involvement in the science, technology, engineering and mathematical subjects is higher than ever, as a greater proportion of women have received master’s degrees in those fields than before.
There was a 5.4 percent increase in master’s degrees awarded to female students in biological and agricultural sciences and an 11.1 percent increase in the number of master’s degrees awarded to female students in health science, according to the Council of Graduate Studies.
This marks a trend in higher education, where women are excelling in fields that were traditionally dominated by men.
Melora Sundt, associate dean for academic programs, said the increase in involvement of women in these fields is expected to change some long-standing biases. She said having more women in these fields of study can help them serve as role models, and become the rule rather than the exception in these fields.
She said, however, that though more women are entering the STEM fields in a greater number, they have not had an impact in all of them.
“You’ll find different proportions by type of major. Physics probably hasn’t reached parity yet,” Sundt said. “So, while the overall proportion may have shifted, it could be due to gains in particular areas, while others have remained the same or even decreased.”
Alex White, an undeclared sophomore who plans to attend medical school, said she often feels the presence of the biases against women in her math and science classes.
“[Men] look at me like I am not competent and like I don’t know what I am doing,” White said. “It’s unfair but you cannot let people’s biases deter you from achieving your goals. You have to hold your own and not let that discourage you.”
Sonia Hua, a junior majoring in gerontology on the pre-health track, said she was aware of the historical lack of women in the health sciences field, but they never prevented her from pursuing her goals. Instead, she said they made her more determined.
“This bias hasn’t directly affected me in any way, I mean, no one approached me and told me I couldn’t be a doctor because I’m a female,” Hua said. “It shows both men and women that females can accomplish whatever they set out to achieve and that gender is not a factor. This is good news for me because there are positive statistics to support my decision to enter this field.”
Michelle Leclair, a junior majoring in chemical engineering with an emphasis in petroleum engineering, said the bias against women has always existed but, as more women enter the science fields, that gender bias has disappeared.
“There is a certain drive in myself and other engineers to compete with the men or out-compete in order to stand equally and earn that respect,” Leclair said. “A lot of times, especially in the student program, there is more of a sense of community, whereas, in the past, we have been more competitive. But I feel that has changed with the newer generation. The more women that we have interested in science, the stronger candidates we have and no longer will there be that admission generosity for women. That can help eliminate the gender bias.”
Dana Levin, a senior majoring in the biological sciences, said she disagrees. Levin said she has never felt the effect of the bias in her studies and the majority of the people in her area of study are women.
“As more women enter the scientific field, we have to open our eyes and see that the gender bias still persists, even though more women are graduating with science degrees than men,” Levin said. “We need to see that women are indeed interested in science, but somehow this is getting lost after these women graduate. I am very happy that we have become more accepting of women in the scientific field, but there is still a long way to go before there is no longer a gender bias.”