Texas A&M University Study Finds No Gender Gap in Success in Physics Courses

A team of researchers in the department of physics and astronomy at Texas A&M University has produced a study that found that women performed just as well as men in physics courses. The researchers analyzed both the midterm exam scores and final grades of more than 10,000 Texas A&M students enrolled in four introductory physics courses across more than a decade. The team built a database reflecting the complete introductory physics educational spectrum: the calculus-based course sequence primarily taken by engineering and physics majors as well as the algebra-based course sequence typically taken by life sciences and premed majors. Their final analysis shows that exam performance and final letter grades are largely independent of student gender. They found no evidence that male students outperformed women students in these courses.

Furthermore, when researchers found differences on exams within a course, they observed no differences for final letter grades in that course. In algebra-based mechanics, they found that female students outperformed male students by a small but statistically significant margin.

Senior author of the study, Tatiana Erukhimova, a physicist and Presidential Professor for Teaching Excellence at Texas A&M University, said that “we believe that all students should have equal opportunities and chances for success in physics. The results of this work may help with fighting the gender stereotype threat that negatively impacts so many female students. By contributing to the body of knowledge about how gender relates to student performance, we hope that our work can be another step in dismantling the preconceived notion of a societal bias based on gender in physics.”

To see how their findings aligned with student perceptions, the research team also took a snapshot of the students’ feelings about course performance, inclusion, and contributions using a short anonymous questionnaire distributed to 1,600 students in fall 2019. “Responses indicated that female students had a lower perception of their performance than their male classmates,” Professor Erukhimova said. “The only class where female students perceived their performance as equal to their male classmates was algebra-based mechanics, in which females typically outperform males. Additionally, we found that although male and female students may feel differently regarding their performance and in-class contributions, they feel equally included in class.”

Dr. Erukhimova first came to Texas A&M in 2001 as a postdoctoral scholar. She holds a master’s degree in physics from Nizhny Novgorod State University in Russia and a Ph.D. from the Institute of Applied Physics of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The full study, “Gendered Performance Differences in Introductory Physics: A Study From a Large Land-grant University,” was published in the journal Physical Review Physics Education Research. It may be accessed here.


Filed Under: Research/StudySTEM Fields


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