Recap: Dan Grunspan, UW Anthropology, on Gender Bias amongst Undergraduates in STEM Courses


Hi folks! Happy Memorial Day. Here’s my take on Dan Grunspan’s talk, titled “Old Boys’ Club Starts Early: Males Under-Estimate Academic Performance of Their Female Peers in Undergraduate Biology Classrooms.” After I give my two cents, I’ll provide some cool links! Some notes: Dan’s research differentiated between people using the words “male” and “female.” In order to stay true to his analysis, I will do the same (even though gender is a spectrum and male and female are technically references to “biological sex,” whatever that is).

Why Biology Classrooms?

  • At the undergraduate level, biology is dominated by women. In fact, 59% of biology students are women…
  • But only 52% of graduate biology students are women. This number drops to 49% of postdocs and 43% of practicing biology researchers.
  • This is something called a leaky pipeline. Somewhere, women are being discouraged from studying biology.

How do we know when we’re good at something?

  • Two ways:
    • Self-efficacy: advocating for ourselves and knowing our own strengths and weaknesses
    • External feedback: i.e. people tell us when we’re good and bad at things
  • (Fun note: my neighbor and I both said that things we’re good at we know because of external feedback and things we’re bad at we know through self-efficacy. Weird, huh?)

The study itself

  • Dan went into three biology classrooms and at every midterm had each student nominate a student that they thought would know the material well.
  • In all three classes, top three students were male
  • In all three classes, the trend was for increasing confidence in male talent
  • This study originally was meant to focus on study patterns, not gender bias, but the gender bias seemed to simply fall out of the data.
  • Females nominated males and females equitably, but males enforced a 0.75 GPA gap between males and females (e.g. they’d nominate males with a 3.0 at the same rate as females with a 3.75).

Leaky Pipeline? More like Selective Filter.

We’re always super hopeful that sexism (and implicit bias and all the other -isms and -phobias) in STEM is on its way out because of this “older generation” that’s on its way out. But surprise, surprise! Today’s first-year undergrads have the same biases, so much so that females are discouraged from a field in which they were the majority.

What can we do????

  • Random call (even lawyers are doing it so it can’t be that hard)
  • Learn our own biases and how to respond to them
  • Learn about how to be an ally to underrepresented populations


Cool Links

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