Study Finds Gender Bias in Evaluations of Graduate Teaching Assistants

Emily Khazan, a graduate student in interdisciplinary ecology at the University of Florida, conducted a study in a large asynchronous online class last fall. Half of the students were told they had a male teaching assistant and were shown a photograph of a male graduate student who supposedly was acting as their TA. The other half were told they had a woman teaching assistant and were shown a picture of Khazan. In reality, Khazan was the teaching assistant for the whole class, using text-based interactions in an online learning platform, where no one could see her or hear her voice.

At the end of the semester, the students evaluated the performance of the teaching assistant. The evaluations showed that the male TA scored higher on course evaluations, while the female TA got five times as many negative reviews. Remember, the TA was the same person for all. Just the gender identification was different.

“Girls are told throughout their education that they’re not as good at science and math as boys. You have this pool of people who made it through all of that and are still being told by their students that they’re not as good. It can have a compounding effect,” Khazan said.

Another troubling finding: Female students were more likely to give negative evaluations when their TA was female. All of the female students assigned to the fake male profile gave positive evaluations.

“We don’t really have a good explanation for that,” said co-author of the study Laura Greenhaw, an assistant professor of agricultural leadership with the  Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida. “We really need to dig into intragender bias.”

The full article, “Examining Gender Bias in Student Evaluations of Teaching for Graduate Teaching Assistants,” was published in the NACTA (North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture) Journal. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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  1. G. Crothers says:

    Intriguing study. Hope this study can be repeated with a range of classes and TAs.
    One question: If I understand the study design correctly, the TA knew whether they were grading or responding to a student in the role as the “male” TA or the “female” TA. Can you design this study where the TA does not know which role they are taking? male TA or female TA? Otherwise how do you control for implicit bias in the TA. To take it further, the TA also should be blind to whether they are responding to a male student or a female student.

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