Research to Practice Summaries

This clearinghouse of research related summaries aims to help practitioners quickly and easily translate research into practice.  Check back often for more updates!  Follow us on Twitter (@stemefg) to get notifications of new posts!


Eagly and Carli's, Through the Labyrinth: The Truth about How Women Become Leaders and the related Harvard Business Review article note that "study after study has affirmed that people associate women and men with different traits and link men with more of the traits that connote leadership."  Their report suggests ways to combat such assumptions.  These recommendations include the following:  urging managers to encourage men to take parental and part-time leave; welcoming women back to the office after a leave of absence by tapping them as new resources for business opportunities; setting up family-friendly HR policies that allow everyone to have more time to qualify for promotions and to stay in their jobs during the demanding years of raising children.


Wilson, et. al, published their study, "Links between Cocurricular Activities and Academic Engagement in Engineering Education" in the Journal of Engineering Education (vol. 103, no. 4, pp.625-651).  Academic co-curricular activities interacted positively with, whereas non-academic co-curricular activites interacted negatively with, relationships between self-efficacy and academic engagement.  Keep those academic co-curricular activities coming, no matter what the age of the student!


Chang, Sharkness, Hurtado, and Newman recently published their study, "What Matters in College for Retaining Aspiring Scientists and Engineers from Underrepresented Racial Groups" in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching (vol. 51, no. 5, pp. 555-580, 2014).  While their work reported does not disaggragate on gender, their recommendations for underrepresented racial minorities are useful for improving colleagiate STEM opportunities.  Institutions can provide URM students with more extracurricular opportunities to engage meaningfully in their chosen major.  Second, faculty and departments should closely monitor URM students who aspire to professional programs such as MD, DDS, DVM, and DO.  This study finds that these students are more likely not to complete these programs than other students, and we must work to convert them to other STEM-related degree fields.  Third, institutions need to evaluate how their culture contributes to STEM degree completion.  Ironically, highly-selective universities tend to have less inclusive "cultures of science" than less selective universities. 


Using multivariate matching methods on national data drawn from the Persistence Research in Science and Engineering Project, Hazari, Potvin, Lock, Lung, Sonnert, and Salder found that discussions about women's underrepresentation have a significant positive effect on physical science career interest.  This study, "Factors that affect the physical science career interest of female students: Testing five common hypotheses" appeared in Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research (vol. 9, 020115, 2013).  Interestingly, the other four factors - single-sex classes, female teachers, female scientist guest speakers, and discussing the work of female scientists - did not have statistically significant effects.  The authors hypothesize that engaging in discussions around underrepresentation affords more opportunities for female students' self-realization about physics, rather than listening to a presentation by a female scientist.


"Cascading Influences: Long-Term Impacts  of Informal STEM Experiences for Girls," by Dale McCreedy and Lynn D. Dierking,  summarizes National Science Foundation-funded research that investigated  whether girls-only, informal STEM experiences have long-term influences on  young women's lives. The authors documented young women's perceptions of their  program experiences and the ways in which that influenced their future choices  in education, careers and ways of thinking about what science is and who participates in it. The report presents key findings of the study, barriers to success that  were identified and recommendations for informal STEM educators.


Brawner, Camacho, Lord, Long, and Ohland (Journal of Engineering Education, April 2012, Vol. 101(2), pp. 288-318) present their research on women in industrial engineering and its implication for other STEM majors.  Women comprise a much larger than normal percentage of industrial engineer majors compared to engineering majors.  They found that although the IE major sometimes has the reputation of being an easier major, it is not and the students in the major are equal in competency to other engineering majors.   These female IE majors reference the warmth of IE faculty, sociability within the departments, and good job prospects.  These women also perceive the acquisition of social capital within their major.  These results have obvious implications for other STEM fields and majors: create a warm and positive attitude in your department.  Promote your breadth, flexibility, and inclusiveness of diverse ideas and people in your field.


Sonnert and Sadler (School Science and Mathematics, March 2013, Vol. 113(3), pp. 135-143) investigated the role that gender played in students' participation, choice of scientific field, and award of prizes in the 2009 Massachusetts State Science and Engineering Fair.  They found that girls and boys were equally like to receive an award.  Females made up 62% of all participants, though they were more likely to enter projects in biology or earth, space, or environmental sciences.  Males were more heavily represented in engineering.  For girls, the gender of an inspiring teacher did not impact their likelihood of winning an award.

McCulloch, Keene, and Kenney (School Science and Mathematics, April 2013, Vol. 113(4), pp. 201-210) show that when faced with a disagreement between a graphing calculator produced solution and a solution created by hand, that over half of the students choose the graphing calculator situation.  This finding was attributed to students' lack of confidence in the mathematical abilities and/or their overconfidence in the 'infallibility of the graphing calculator'.  These finds are consistent with earlier findings indicating the students' view of the graphing calculator as the 'master'.  Teachers must be aware of this issue of mathematical authority and deal with it proactively in their classrooms.


Drexler, P. (Wall Street Journal, March 2-3, 2013) shows that 80% of bullying by female bosses is directed at other women through the "Queen Bee Syndrome", a term coined in the 1970s, that refers to women who achieved success in male-dominated environments were at times likely to oppose the rise of other women.  Drexler writes, "Until top leadership positions are as routinely available to women as they are to men, freezing out the competitions will remain a viable survival strategy."  This research points to the need for further educating girls and young women about this syndrome and how and why to combat it.


Min, et. al, (Journal of Engineering Education, April 2011, Vol. 100, pp.349-373) show that females have a higher risk of leaving engineering in semesters 3 through 5 than males, while the risk is similar in other semesters.  This result implies that university programs and K-12 alumna programs should be sure to support women in these years in particular, not just during the first year.


Fantz, et. al, (Journal of Engineering Education, July 2011, Vol. 100, pp.604-623) found that students who participated in a technology education classes and pre-engineering classes had a significantly higher level of self-efficacy.  Higher self efficacy leads to better performance and persistence in engineering.  Gender effects were not analyzed in this study.  Could this result be motivation to offer more semester- and year-long courses in technology and engineering at the K-12 level?


Zeldin and Pajares (American Educational Research Journal, Spring 2000, Vol. 37, pp. 215-246) found that females develop their self-efficacy in mathematics, science, and technology from verbal persuasions and vicarious experiences.  How do we use this finding to support our females?  Help girls to have vicarious experiences in your classroom!