Study to Examine Subtle Signals That May Discourage Women in STEM

murphyMary C. Murphy, an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University in Bloomington, is conducting research on the subtle factors that may discourage women from entering STEM fields or staying in these disciplines once they have begun their studies.

Using a $2.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation, Dr. Murphy will use emerging research technology called EAR, or Electronically Activated Recorder, which records snippets of conversation as they happen. They will capture and analyze spoken interactions from 2,000 male and female students enrolled in undergraduate courses across the social and natural sciences at Indiana University, as well as the verbal communications of 40 faculty members.

Dr. Murphy will also lead six separate behavioral experiments, staging mock test-taking scenarios in Indiana University classrooms that manipulate both the explicit and subtle cues about gender and STEM encountered by the study’s volunteers. These messages may include cues in the testing room — a poster of Albert Einstein, for example, versus a female science pioneer such as Marie Curie — or the gender of the test moderator.

“There are many subtle cues in our environment suggesting whether they are ‘identity safe’ or ‘identity threatening’ with regard to gender identity,” said Dr. Murphy. “Anything from the number of men versus women in a room to segregated seating patterns, to friendship networks, to whether men or women are praised as the top performers on a team. When you belong to a group that is negatively stereotyped, it creates a sense of vigilance where you scan your environment to assess whether you are valued and respected, especially if it’s a space where you want to belong and care about how your performance is perceived.”

Dr. Murphy is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. She holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from Stanford University in California.

Filed Under: Research/StudySTEM Fields


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