Life as an Extreme Sport

Science Isn’t Social?

Well, maybe it’s not called the social sciences for a reason…

Girls steer away from careers in math, science and engineering because they view science as a solitary rather than a social occupation, according to a University of Michigan psychologist. “Raising girls who are confident in their ability to succeed in science and math is our first job,” said Jacquelynne Eccles, a senior research professor at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR) and the U-M Institute for Research on Women and Gender. “But in order to increase the number of women in science, we also need to make young women more interested in these fields, and that means making them aware that science is a social endeavor that involves working with and helping people.”

Young women were more likely than young men to place a high value on occupations that permitted flexibility and did not require them to be away from their family. The women also valued working with people. Even though young women had higher college GPAs than young men, young men were more likely to have a higher opinion of their abilities in math and science, and in their general intellectual abilities. They were also more likely to value jobs that required them to supervise other people.

“In addition to improving the confidence of girls, we need to show them that scientists work in teams, solving problems collaboratively. And that as a result of their work, scientists are in a unique position to help other people. We as a culture do a very bad job of telling our children what scientists do. Young people have an image of scientists as eccentric old men with wild hair, smoking cigars, deep in thought, alone. Basically, they think of Einstein. We need to change that image and give our children a much richer, nuanced view of who scientists are, what scientists do and how they work.”

This interests me. I’m not certain I fully agree with Dr. Eccles, but there is probably validity in how society as a whole views scientists – as wild haired Einstein’s thoughtfully staring off into space. (Then again, that describes Phillip to a tee, so…) But I’ve never heard a single girl say she didn’t want to become a scientist because she would be trapped in a laboratory all day, while I’ve heard many girls say that science is too hard, or (on the flip side) boring.

When the president of Harvard is proselytizing the notion that women aren’t biologically adept at the hard sciences, we have a greater problem than girls viewing science as a solitary endeavor. For better or worse, our society still places a lesser value on the ability of girls, and until we address that, no amount of socialisation will fix the gender inequalities we find in the so called harder scientific fields.