[personal profile] twostatesystem
Via Slate comes this article, again about the gender gap in science.

In a study at the United States Air Force Academy, they studied the effect of professor gender on student achievement. USAFA is a great place to study this because it controls for many effects: the students are assigned to sections randomly, the syllabus is standard and set, and all students take the same exam at the end of the term.

The authors found that simply having a female professor essentially erased the gender gap, especially for high-performing students, as well as substantially increasing the probability that women would go on to advanced courses and science degrees.

This is not at all surprising to me. The role of mentor is an extraordinarily important one in the development of the proto-scientist. What I did find interesting is that certain male professors also erase the gender gap between male and female students. I would be extraordinarily interested in the qualities that those professors have. I have some suspicions about those already: calm in temper, casual, reasonably good social skills, fair, empathetic, and with a strong understanding and valuing of a well-rounded student. Or, pretty much, my undergraduate mentor.

My undergrad mentor managed to attract a disproportionate number of female students, both graduate and undergraduate students. Both of his grad students while I knew him were female, and 75% of his undergrads. I don't know how the cluster got started, but I do know how it perpetuated itself: he actually listened to and respected female students. They knew they had a voice in the group and other women saw that when they looked into joining the group. My group now perpetuates itself in the same way: there are a number of women, who are well respected, and that encourages other women to join. This was no small issue for me in joining a group—I felt sure that a group that was welcoming to women would be understanding of my transition. Furthermore, I believe that this cluster is good for those of us who are male students in the group. We're learning now how to become the seeds for when we are postdocs and professors.

The big question for me, then, is how to plant the seeds—my undergrad mentor, my graduate advisors—that nurture the clusters that draw women into physics. Can we plant them now? Can we retrain men to be those exceptional ones? Or do we just have to wait until the old ones die out?
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