UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering University of California San Diego
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UCSD Research: Girls’ Attitudes About Achievement Can Influence Drop-Out Rates

More than 120 people attended the Sophomore Recognition Banquet to encourage female students to continue their endeavors along a rewarding career path.

Bioengineering Professor Sangeeta Bhatia is determined to learn why college women are dropping out of science and engineering majors in disproportionate numbers. She and collaborators psychology professor Gail Heyman and human development major Bryn Martyna recently conducted a survey among 238 UCSD students. Their findings show that many female engineering majors believe aptitude in engineering is an innate skill, while men feel that it is learned. The study will be published in the upcoming Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering. “

Many women in engineering have been told all their lives how good they are in math and science so they tend to believe their aptitude is something they are born with. When they encounter difficulty, it can be devastating because their very identity is brought into question,” says Bhatia.

The study also reveals that female students feel they are held to higher scrutiny, while male students think women receive more breaks. This gender tension feeds into women’s sensitivity to perceived failure and ability to succeed in a team-oriented environment.

The researchers conclude that providing female students with positive role models at critical junctures in their college career may help retain women in engineering. Among other initiatives, Bhatia has encouraged the UCSD Chapter of the Society of Women Engineers to start a recognition banquet for sophomores during which successful female engineers describe their careers and how they were able to overcome obstacles. This year, Sally Ride, the first female astronaut, founder of Imaginary Lines, Inc., and UCSD physicist, spoke at the event.