STEMing the Tide: How Female Scientists and Peers Act as "Social Vaccines" to Promote Young Women's Success in STEM

How Female Scientists and Peers Act as

Nilanjana Dasgupta
Professor of Psychology, Director of Faculty Equity & Inclusion, College of Natural Sciences, UMass Amherst

Individuals' choice to pursue one academic or professional path over another may feel like a free choice but it is often constrained by subtle cues in achievement environments that signal who naturally belong there and who don’t. What factors release these constraints and enhance individuals’ freedom to pursue academic and professional paths despite stereotypes to the contrary?

In her talk, Dasgupta presents a decade-long program of research addressing this question in the context of young women’s confidence, persistence, and career aspirations in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in the face of societal stereotypes casting doubt on their ability. Her data identifies people and environments that function as “social vaccines” in high achievement STEM settings by inoculating women’s self-confidence and motivation against negative stereotypes (e.g., same-sex mentors, teams with a critical mass of women, media exposure). Based on these data she proposes some research-driven remedies and interventions that promise to enhance the recruitment and retention of diverse groups in STEM courses, majors, and professions.

Dasgupta is a Professor of Psychology and the Director of Faculty Equity and Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her research is on unconscious or implicit bias with emphasis on the plasticity of implicit bias—she studies the ways in which changes in social contexts correspondingly change implicit attitudes, beliefs, and behavior. Whereas past work had assumed that implicit bias is learned early in life and difficult to change, Dasgupta’s research has uncovered immense plasticity in people’s self-concept, attitudes, and behavior in response to small changes in local environments without individuals’ awareness. The research she does is translational—moving back-and-forth between controlled laboratory experiments and naturalistic field studies, both cross-sectional and longitudinal, so that knowledge from all sources enriches theory development.

This talk was proposed by Pablo Jenik, and is sponsored by the Faculty Center, The Andrew D. Mellon Foundation, Department of Psychology, Program in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Department of Sociology.

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