STEM and gender at university: focusing on Irish undergraduate female students’ perceptions

Kelly, Regina, McGarr, Oliver, Lehane, Louise and Erduran, Sibel (2019) STEM and gender at university: focusing on Irish undergraduate female students’ perceptions. Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education, 11 (4). pp. 770-787. ISSN 2050-7003



The purpose of this paper is to identify whether or not females believe they associate with the culture of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by investigating the perceptions of female students currently enroled in STEM courses.

The paper presents data from a survey on female STEM students’ “Perspectives of women in STEM”, “Parents’ Science qualification”, “Supports in their STEM Course” and their “Science identify” through a social capital lens. Both qualitative and quantitative methods were used to analyse the data.

The main findings were that female STEM undergraduates believe social bias, balancing work and family life and lack of role models are the main cause of less women in STEM professions and leadership positions. There were statistically significant differences between how male and female students identified with certain traits, with less females claiming to be intelligent and know about latest discoveries than males.
Research limitations/implications

To eradicate stereotypical views of scientists, it is recommended that Irish higher-education institutions introduce initiatives to increase the socialisation of STEM females within female networks and develop female students’ self-awareness of their own capabilities. The expansion of STEM networks could act as a means to facilitate female students adopting positive science identities, increasing their science capital.

In Ireland, there is a paucity of literature relating to females’ experience of STEM in higher education. This paper provides evidence that despite their engagement with STEM, female undergraduate students subscribe to the stereotypical image of the scientist. This study highlights the need to change the culture experienced by female STEM undergraduates in Ireland so as to improve the experiences and trajectories of women in higher education.

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