Our work appeared in the Washington Post! Here is a piece of the article:
…Within science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, the Census Bureau reports that women, blacks and Hispanics remain underrepresented. Discrimination helps explain the shortage, but Diekman has found that stereotypes about STEM might also play a role. Women in one of her studies were more likely to care about communal values than men were, and both men and women with higher communal goals such as working on a team and serving the community were less interested in STEM careers. Working with and helping others is also especially important to underrepresented minorities in STEM, according to research by Jessi Smith, a psychologist at Montana State University who studies diversity in science and engineering.
In reality, science offers many communal opportunities. “The basic nature of science is about collaboration, about working in a lab or working in a team,” Diekman said. And while a lot of research doesn’t have obvious immediate applications, in the long run it may lead to better medicines or safer cars or other things that fulfill someone’s desire for a career that benefits humanity. “The NIH and the NSF — unfortunately — aren’t going to spend our tax dollars just to pay people to think for the fun of thinking,” Smith said, referencing the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.
Fortunately, perceptions of STEM can be changed, at least in the short term. In studies published in 2011 and 2016, Diekman and colleagues found that when college students read about an entry-level scientist who spent much of the day collaborating with and helping others vs. working alone, they expressed greater interest in a science career. And in research published in 2015, Smith and colleagues described a biomedical research project to college students. When they added that the project was aimed at helping infants and wounded soldiers, students showed more interest in pursuing similar research themselves.
“The more that people see scientists as engaged people within the community, the more likely future students — both men and women from all kinds of backgrounds — will feel like science is for them,” Smith said. And the March for Science shows such engagement. “The march might do more than send a political message to the nation,” Smith said. “It might indeed chip away at this stereotypical image of a lone wolf going it alone in their lab at all hours of the night focused only on the next discovery, oblivious to what is happening around them.”…
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