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Gendered Journeys: mixing methods, datatypes, and contexts to explore gender in STEM

By Emma Seddon 

Our timely Gendered Journeys project, supported by the UKRI Global Challenges Research Fund, will contribute to ongoing debates around gender inequality in STEM, where women are routinely underrepresented. Our international, interdisciplinary team will explore this area holistically and longitudinally, viewing the journey through higher education (HE) and onto skilled employment. It is at key transitionary points that women and other minorities in these STEM fields, particularly the so-called ‘hard’ sciences such as Engineering, Maths and Physics, often do not take the next step proceeding linearly in their studies or career pathways. This research seeks to understand why gendered inequalities persist worldwide and have in many (non-biomedical) areas even worsened.

The present mixed methods project has three main strands of study, each with a particular data strand, to provide a rich and textured picture of the experiences of our participants and the wider cohorts they belong within. Firstly, we have begun working with large-scale administrative Higher Education data within each country – for instance, 10+ years’ worth of HESA data accessed via UBDC. This vast, individual-level dataset offers us the context of STEM education in the UK from 2000 to 2015, and beyond. We have begun to observe trends and explore three key areas of interest: withdrawal from studies, academic attainment, and progression onto employment. We will be exploring how gender, class, socio-economic deprivation, ethnicity, and disability inter-sectionally impact upon attainment and progression outcomes for under-represented student groups in STEM. We will compare these findings with similar secondary datasets from India and Rwanda that will give us the ‘lay of the land’ in these different geographical and cultural contexts for gendered progression into HE STEM subjects and into skilled employment within these areas.

The following strand of study involves a large-scale online survey recruiting STEM undergraduate students in the UK, Rwanda, and India. This will begin to give us a more detailed understanding of the experiences of STEM students in these diverse cultural contexts. In addition to detailed demographics, we will employ standardised scales focusing on wellbeing, belonging, identity, peer networks, and satisfaction within the course and HE institution. We seek to explore how more nuanced indicators influence the journey of demographically under-represented learners throughout the journey of academic STEM. To explore the trajectory of our participants, we will follow up the survey one year later, to offer insight into the academic experiences of students in STEM and how they shift over one year of their studies.

For the third strand of the Gendered Journeys investigation, we move to more fine-grained data of qualitative methods, which will take the form of semi-structured interviews with two key groups in India and Rwanda: STEM students and STEM employees. Using a timeline of their route into STEM HE and/or employment, we will explore key points along their journey, role models and supporters who facilitated their journey, as well as barriers they encountered. This will be further explored in focus groups, where we will ask STEM students and academic staff to discuss some of our initial findings from the data. We will also conduct observations in HE institutions, taking notes of learning interactions in STEM classrooms, lecture halls and online meetings (e.g. Zoom). The interviews, focus groups, and observations will give us the chance to delve deeply into individual experiences and narratives, ‘fleshing out’ our quantitative analyses. This primary quantitative data from India and Rwanda will be complemented by secondary qualitative and mixed methods datasets from the UK via the UK Data Service to explore cross-cultural comparisons in their lived experiences.

The final strand will also be complemented by social media data, such as Twitter, where we will qualitatively and quantitatively analyse the growing social networks for women and minorities in STEM disciplines. By bringing these various methods and datatypes together, we will investigate and analyse the experiences of STEM students and graduates across three countries. It will be fascinating to explore the similarities and differences we can see play out on individual, cohort, and national levels. Follow the project on Twitter (@STEM_journeys) and Facebook to join our discussions.

Originally posted at: https://www.ubdc.ac.uk/news-media/2020/november/gendered-journeys/

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