When I begin to contemplate the university student experience, a plethora of overwhelming experiences bombard my mind. Whether it be the stress, the parking, the transport, the work-life balance or what have you. However, one that stuck out in my mind as an experience which affects us all, even if we don’t realise, is the student experience in regard to gender. Thus, I have decided to explore this theme through my BCM212 research project.
I am a feminist. There I said it, cue the judgment. This however, is a key reason as to why I was drawn to the gender based experience of university. More specifically the gender experience in terms of degrees and areas of study. My goal for this research project is to answer the question, Why certain degrees are still gender dominated? And just what the stigma surrounding these gender-dominated degrees are? During this critical time in society, where equality is strived for and at the forefront of many social arguments, that fact that this question is so timely and relevant, baffles me.
I do a degree which places itself in the arts and humanities faculty, and throughout my time studying this degree at the University of Wollongong, I have noticed most of my tutorials and lectures to be quite female dominated. To be honest, I never really thought twice about it until asked to ponder this assignment, which sparked my curiosity. Moreover, as I wander the narrow and student-filled walkways around the University of Wollongong campus, I can’t help and observe the overwhelming amount of male students walking towards the science and engineering buildings at one end of the campus. And the female students travelling towards the arts and nursing buildings at the complete other end of campus. This divide is not only visible, but promoted.
So, I ask you, when you think of your typical engineering student what comes to mind? And the same if I ask you to think of a nursing student. If you didn’t associate either of these students with a particular gender, then congrats I like how your mind works. But chances are, the stereotype of each was amplified in your mind.
Education opportunities for women have not always been easily accessed, thus, a gender gap in study was almost inevitable. However, The Education Psychology Review published a report into the gender gap in Science, technology, engineering and mathematics, to discuss the current knowledge implications for practice, policy and future directions. The review states that despite the gender gap in science and math dominated courses narrowing in recent decades, females continue to be critically underrepresented in areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Wang & L. Degol 2017, pp.119-140). A 2012 women in engineering report shows that women account fort about 14 per cent of acceptances into the degree (Cervini, 2015). Therefore, the stigma surrounding these STEM courses still exists, stigmas that it is a man’s degree. The education psychology review also states, career pathways encompass the ability to pursue a career as well as the motivation to employ that ability (Wang & L. Degol 2017, pp.119-140). What are the implications of this if women are underrepresented, unacknowledged and excluded in the area of study which interests them.
Not only are education opportunities for women now easily accessed, but in fact women dominate University admission rates, with the Sydney morning herald reporting 55 percent of University students in Australia are women (Cervini, 2015). However, for the women who do break their way into the male dominated STEM areas of study, higher levels of discrimination and stereotyping were reported than those women in female dominated areas of study (Steele, B. James & Barnett, 2002, pp. 46-50). This was stated by the psychology of women quarterly, who published a study examining the perceptions of undergraduate women in male-dominated academic areas.
The secondary research discussed assists my area of research, and proves it is an area worth further research and study, especially in terms of women in male dominated degrees. I do also hope to uncover some of the reasons and issues surrounding males in female-dominated degrees through qualitative research methods. While there are many students at university struggling with the gendered experience, I aim to limit my research to those women in STEM based courses. Also, to males in arts based courses, and those enrolled in BCM212 specifically, in hopes it will specify my research and create a more timely and achievable goal. This also allows me to have a means of gathering the research in the appropriate time frame, as well as the use of social media and the BCM212 forum of students.
E Cervini, 2015 ‘Learning in a Man’s World: Examining the Perceptions of Undergraduate Women in Male-Dominated Academic Areas’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 26 October, viewed 18 March <https://www.smh.com.au/education/womens-dominant-numbers-at-uni-are-still-concentrated-in-nursing-teaching-20151026-gkikbe.html>
J Steele, J B. James, R Barnett, 2002 ‘Women’s dominant numbers at uni are still concentrated in nursing, teaching’, Vol. 16, no. 1, pp. 46-50
M Wang, J L.Degol, 2016, ‘Gender Gap in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM): Current Knowledge, Implications for Practice, Policy, and Future Direction’, Vol. 29. no.1, pp. 119-140