Dasgupta to Receive NSF Career Award
The National Science Foundation (NSF) will be awarding a CAREER grant to Nilanjana (Buju) Dasgupta, assistant professor of psychology, to test a theoretical model that seeks to identify the conditions under which educational environments enhance versus constrain female students’ intellectual capital in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (or STEM). She will receive $400,500 in direct funds over five years for this project entitled “STEMing the Tide: Changing Educational Environments to Enhance Girls’ and Young Women’s Participation in Science and Mathematics.”
In the past thirty years, a national debate has been brewing about the scarcity of women in STEM and its grave implications for the American workforce in the 21st century. Starting in middle school and continuing through college, girls and women often perform less well than boys and men on standardized tests in science and mathematics. Even when they perform equally well, girls and women often feel less confident than their male peers about their ability in these disciplines and are less likely to pursue STEM majors and professions in the future. The reasons for sex disparity in STEM are hotly debated. Some researchers suggest that there are innate sex differences in cognitive abilities while others point to sociocultural explanations such as gender-related stereotypes of STEM in schools, colleges, and in testing situations. Evidence from several sources suggests that the unequal distribution of females and males in STEM is driven by the dynamic interplay between societal stereotypes and students’ own attitudes instead of stable biological forces. A critical source of societal stereotypes is likely to be the educational environment in which STEM is learned.
Three research questions emerge from Dasgupta’s proposed theoretical model. First, does the gender composition of STEM-related educational environments (e.g., the low proportion of female peers, teachers and experts) create STEM stereotypes such that these disciplines become increasingly associated with maleness instead of remaining gender neutral? Second, do individual differences in acquisition of such stereotypes predict female students’ attitudes toward STEM, psychological identification with STEM, performance and academic choices? Third, can changes in the gender composition of academic environments attenuate STEM stereotypes and enhance women’s liking for, identification with, and participation in STEM?
Predictions based on the proposed model will be tested in a series of cross-sectional and longitudinal studies that will assess students’ conscious (explicit) and unconscious (implicit) beliefs, attitudes, and identity, building on past research has shown that academic preferences are sometimes implicitly shaped by societal stereotypes even though students may reject such stereotypes explicitly. Dasgupta has developed several relationships with local schools and the Five College consortium to facilitate the research, disseminate the findings to K-12 schools colleges and universities, and initiate new collaborations with colleagues at other institutions of higher education to support underrepresented students in STEM.
March 2, 2006
Read more about Nilanjana (Buju) Dasgupta's work.