60% of women opt out of STEM careers by the time they attend college

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60% of women opt out of STEM careers by the time they attend college

New research finds that many young women lose their initial interest in STEM careers as they grow older, David Nagel writes for Campus Technology.

For the study, Microsoft researchers surveyed more than 6,000 young women and girls on their views surrounding science, technology, engineering and math. The report indicates that women generally lose interest in STEM careers before they reach adulthood, with nearly 60% losing interest in the field by the time they enter college.

Microsoft researchers recommend four initiatives both individuals and institutions can take to improve young women’s perceptions of STEM and ultimately help them navigate a future career in the field.

1. Encourage women to try one STEM course  

Young women are significantly more likely to take courses in STEM if encouraged by an educator. An act as simple as recommending a STEM course to a young woman not only increases her likelihood of enrolling in it (by 26 percentage points), but also emboldens her to be an active participant in the course, researchers found.

2. Be a role model or mentor

Representation in STEM is vital; young women who have a female role model in the field are better able to envision themselves as scientists or engineers. Around 61% of respondents who know a woman who works in STEM say they “feel powerful while doing STEM,” compared with just 44% of respondents without a role model. A mentor or role model also provides greater transparency into the process of pursuing a career in STEM.

3. Take STEM outside of the classroom

Extracurricular activities and clubs reveal not only the many applications of STEM, but also the possible career opportunities in the field. As Nagel explains, these programs are effective because “they offer practical experience that brings STEM to life in compelling ways.” Respondents who participated in an extracurricular STEM activity were more than twice as likely to “feel powerful” while doing STEM and significantly more likely to take STEM classes and say they understand STEM career paths.

4. Promote the creativity and relevance of STEM

Young women tend to want jobs where they can have a positive impact and express their creativity. Women who work in STEM see their jobs this way, but young women often don’t. Helping young women see creativity and positive impact in STEM careers can help boost their interest in those fields.

One strategy that does this successfully, researchers found, is sharing examples of how real women in STEM used their creativity or helped other people. After presenting young women with real-world examples of the accomplishments of women in STEM, the respondents were up to twice as likely to agree that people in STEM careers get to express their creativity and have a positive impact (Nagel, Campus Technology, 3/13/18).

Read more about female students in STEM

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