September 25th, 2013
We found that there were clear stereotypes of computer science students as people who, for example, “stay up late coding and drinking energy drinks” and have “no social life” (Cheryan, Plaut, Handron, & Hudson, 2013). In several behavioral experiments (Cheryan, Plaut, Davies, & Steele, 2009), we found that women who enter a computer science environment with objects stereotypically associated with the field (e.g., Star Trek posters, video games) are less likely to consider pursuing computer science than women who enter a computer science environment with non-stereotypical objects (e.g., art posters, water bottles). These results held even when the proportion of women in the environment was equal across the two types of environments.
The researchers suggest “broadening the image of computer science” by changing environmental factors among other things. Replacing the Star Trek poster with a Monet poster, I guess. I’m a little shocked that “video games” are a turn off for would be computer science majors of any type, however, in the same way telescopes should not be a turn off to would be astronomy majors.
I’m torn here, because I want to have welcoming environments, but I also want to hang up things I like in my student lab and other spaces, and Star Trek and science fiction in general are part of that and may in fact help select similarly-minded people to engage with me (e.g., “Hey, I like that poster!”). I also think there may be another solution, too, involving bringing about more general social acceptance of Star Trek and things geeky.
And maybe I’m over reacting a bit, since they didn’t investigate astronomy students, many of whom I know, male and female, were inspired in part to go into science by Star Trek. I was.
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