Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Class Demographics

This year, my undergraduate algorithms and data structures class is about 25% women. This is significantly more than average (enough that I noticed). Based on previous experience (and initial impressions from the first few lectures), these women will be very strong candidates for graduate school should they choose to apply when they graduate (one or two years from now). (I could simply be suffering mental bias from the various studies I've read, but my recollection from prior years is that when there's a larger cohort of women in the class, they generally perform better overall. I leave others to postulate on causes and effects, or to argue whether my data point is unrepresentative.)

7 comments:

Jeff Erickson said...

My experience is consistent with yours. Last semester, about 15% of the students in my freshman-level discrete math class were women; five of the top ten students were women, including the top student (by a significant margin).

Anonymous said...

There is strong evidence that women, even when they perform at the same levels as men, have less confidence in their abilities and individual accomplishments than men. I'm sure that having a critical mass of females in the class helps to mitigate this effect, since it can provide an additional source of positive reinforcement and a safe environment in which to express uncertainty about their knowledge/understanding.

Please make sure to encourage these women to get involved in research opportunities in your department -- we need more of them to go on to grad school!

Anonymous said...

Michael and Jeff -- Perhaps this is just a consequence of the fact that women are a minority group in these classes and are working harder to prove themselves (to others as well as to themselves). I cannot think of a good reason why a class that is composed of 85% males and 15% females would have 50% of its top ten students be from the 15% gender.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous #2: Because as anonymous #1 pointed out, the other 70% of women that should have been in the class decided that they were clearly not good enough at math/cs and decided to do other things.

If a member of any minority group does well in a class, does it have to be because they're conscious of their minority status and are working extra hard to prove themselves? Can't it be because they like the subject and did all the homework? (Cf all sorts of studies showing that girls get better grades all the way through school than boys do.)

Anonymous said...

@anon 3.41pm,

All sorts of studies show that women do better than men all through school? What exactly does this mean?

I have no reason to believe that men are superior to women or vice versa, so when the data shows that a smaller portion of women is doing better than a larger portion of men, a more concrete explanation is needed.

The point about selection (that only the best female students actually signed up for the class) is plausible. We should then expect that as more women get into Michael's and Jeff's classes, that the average performance of women would drop, right?

Anonymous said...

http://www.xkcd.com/385/

Anonymous said...

Oded Goldreich writes about his experience as a minority male in a mostly female academic environment and how it caused him to underperform.