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Should Science Students Study Gender?

Credit: G. Grullón

The idea that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) students need to acquire additional skills—communication, project management, budgeting, and so on—in order to succeed in STEM careers today is widely accepted. But, according to Carol Colatrella, associate dean for graduate studies at the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, STEM students’ higher education should also include a field she believes will contribute substantially to effective careers: gender studies.

In the first place, “[i]nfusing the concerns of gender studies in STEM fields can boost placement rates for women in high-salary science and technology jobs and lead to improved work-life balance across fields,” she writes in an article in Academe, “Why STEM Students Need Gender Studies.”

But beyond that, gender studies courses sensitize both male and female students to subtleties of behavior and social organization that make a big difference in personal and professional interactions and career outcomes. “Although relatively few students at Georgia Tech minor or major in gender studies, hundreds of students enroll in gender studies courses because they value learning about how organizational environments incorporate or exclude individuals on the basis of gender, how stereotypes function in elite and popular cultural forms, and how and why the political clout of women and men has varied at different times in history and in different cultures,” she writes.

The recent, highly publicized finding that elite male scientists are less likely to employ women in their labs than are female or less-elite male scientists seems a perfect example of the kind of issue Colatrella thinks STEM students need to understand. Perhaps some science faculty could benefit from those courses, too.