Large Majority of Undergraduate Women Physics Students Subjected to Sexual Harassment

A new study led by Lauren M. Aycock, an American Association for the Advancement of Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the U.S. Department of Energy, finds that women in undergraduate physics programs face a high level of sexual harassment. Dr. Aycock and her colleagues refer to the level of sexual harassment faced by women in physics as “insidious and significantly higher than is generally acknowledged.”

The researchers surveyed a large group of undergraduate women who attended a 2017 American Physical Society Conference. The results found that 73 percent of the women had experienced sexual harassment in the field. The study found that gender harassment is correlated with two harmful psychological patterns: a diminished sense of belonging and the imposter phenomenon (a persistent, unjustified feeling of being someone who is undeserving of their accomplishments). Dr. Aycock believes that this can have a major negative impact of women’s persistence in physics and other STEM fields.

“I wanted to quantify the scope of sexual harassment in physics to enable productive discussions that extend beyond personal anecdotes,” explains Dr. Aycock. “This study increases the visibility of the problem without relying on women who have experienced sexual harassment to tell their stories.”

Dr. Aycock is a graduate of the University of Illinois. She earned a Ph.D. in physics at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

The full study “Sexual Harassment Reported by Undergraduate Female Physicists” was published in Physical Review Physics Education Research, a journal of the American Physical Society. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/StudySexual Assault/HarassmentSTEM Fields


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