Study Finds Gender Bias Among Students in Undergraduate Biology Classrooms

Signature_Stacked_Purple_Hex-300x147A new study led by researchers at the University of Washington, found that men enrolled in undergraduate courses in biology consistently rank their male peers as being more knowledgeable and competent in the coursework than their female classmates, even when the women performed better academically in the course.

Researchers asked 1,700 students in undergraduate biology courses to name the classmates they thought were the strongest in their mastery of the subject material. This was done on several occasions during the duration of the course. To adapt for gender differences in class participation, researchers compared men and women students who instructors said were outspoken in class. For this group a woman had to have a grade point average three quarters of a point higher than a man to be rated as equally competent by male classmates.

Sarah_Eddy2Sarah Eddy, who participated in the study while conducting postdoctoral research at the University of Washington, stated that “using the University of Washington’s standard grade scale, that’s like believing a male with a B and a female with an A have the same ability.” Dr. Eddy is now a research scientist at the University of Texas at Austin.

Researchers note that in 11 different class surveys they found no bias whatsoever or very little bias among women students who tended to rate male and female peers equally according to actual class performance. The study estimates that overall “gender bias among male students was 19 times stronger than among females.”

Dr. Eddy notes the implications of the study by stating that “to stay in STEM you have to believe you can do it, and one of the things that can convince you of that is your peers saying you can do it. Helping students find peers who believe in them is really important, especially for women, because they’re not likely to get that from males in their class.”

“Given that we typically think of biology as a STEM field without a gender gap, you could imagine that other fields like physics or mathematics or engineering, which numerically are very dominated by males, would have an even stronger effect than what we’re finding,” Eddy added.

The full article, “Males Under-Estimate Academic Performance of Their Female Peers in Undergraduate Biology Classrooms,” was published on PLOS One. It may be downloaded by clicking here.

Filed Under: Gender GapResearch/StudySTEM Fields


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