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A Phenomenological Study of Factors Influencing the Gender Gap in Physics and other STEM-Related Fields

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Engineering Physics & Physics Division Technical Session 3

Tagged Division

Engineering Physics & Physics

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.83.1 - 24.83.17

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Paper Authors


Teresa L. Larkin American University

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Teresa L. Larkin is an Associate Professor of Physics Education and Faculty Liaison to the Pre-engineering Program at American University. She received her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction with emphasis in Physics and Science Education from Kansas State University. Dr. Larkin is involved with Physics Education Research (PER) and has published widely on topics related to the assessment of student learning in introductory physics and engineering courses. Noteworthy is her work with student writing as a learning and assessment tool in her introductory physics courses for non-majors. She has been an active member of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) and the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) for over 25 years. Dr. Larkin served on the Board of Directors for ASEE from 1997-1999 as Chair of Professional Interest Council (PIC) III and as Vice President of PICs. Dr. Larkin has received numerous national and international awards including the ASEE Distinguished Educator and Service Award from the Physics and Engineering Physics Division in 1998. Dr. Larkin received the Outstanding Teaching in the General Education Award from AU in 2000. In 2000 – 2001 she served as a National Science Foundation ASEE Visiting Scholar. Dr. Larkin is the author of a book chapter published in 2010 entitled “Women’s Leadership in Engineering” in K. O’Connor (Ed.) Gender and Women’s Leadership: A Reference Handbook (Vol. 2, pp. 689 – 699). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications. In 2013 her paper entitled “Breaking with Tradition: Using the Conference Paper as a Case for Alternative Assessment in Physics” received an award for best paper in a special session entitled Talking about Teaching (TaT’13), at the 42nd International Conference on Engineering Pedagogy (IGIP) held in Kazan, Russia. Dr. Larkin can be reached at:

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Victoria "Tori" Vogel American University

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Tori Vogel is a May 2014 graduate of American University. She attained her degree in Sociology with a minor in Applied Physics. In her studies she has worked to explore the various intersections between sociology and physics. In particular, she has conducted research on cochlear implants and their impact on the deaf community. In addition, she is actively pursuing a gender study of the sociological implications of factors leading to a career choice in STEM. On campus, Tori has held leadership roles within student groups. These roles include serving for two years as Vice President of Students Fighting Homelessness and Hunger and serving as President of the Downtown Touring Fellowship. While attending American University she worked for nearly every office of Student Affairs, was part of the university's Honors program, Alpha Kappa Delta the International Sociology Honor's Society, and is a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. Off campus she is part of a synchronized figure skating team. Tori aspires to pursue a career in social justice through social entrepreneurship. Tori Vogel can be reached at or

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A Phenomenological Study of Factors Influencing the Gender Gap in Physics and other STEM-Related Fields Current reports on the gender gap in STEM suggest factors influencing careerchoice between the sexes are not inevitable. Recent decades have documented a clearchange in the gender makeup of some STEM disciplines. However, in many areas, thegap has persisted with little or no change in the number of women choosing to pursue acareer in a STEM-related field such as Physics. According to recent AIP reports1, 2,women comprise 21% of undergraduate, 21% of graduate, and 19% of doctoral degreesin Physics. Many factors have been studied by scholars as contributing to the dearth ofwomen in Physics and STEM3-8. Factors including the lack of role models,discouragement from the media, sex difference in cognitive skill, and unpleasantexperiences related to gender-bias in the classroom have all been suggested as potentialreasons why women tend not to pursue a career in Physics or other STEM field.Suggestions from some scholars also indicate that women often tend to seek out careersin which they feel they can make a difference. Unfortunately, the size of the gap in manyareas has reached a plateau that hasn’t appeared to shift significantly over time. This phenomenological study will look at how individual perceptions of STEM(with an emphasis on Physics) as a career option may influence academic andprofessional pursuits. To that end, formal interviews with practicing professionals andcollege students from a range of disciplines will be used as a primary data collection tool.This paper will provide a synthesis of the empirical data collected through these formalinterviews. Factors that emerge from this synthesis as having a significant influence onone’s perception of STEM as a career choice will be further examined and discussed. Byfocusing on individual perceptions, this study aims to contribute to the existing empiricaldatabase of factors that influence career choice and perpetuate the gender gap in STEM-related fields such as Physics. The themes that emerge may stimulate further research onthis topic and provide suggestions for best practices that may contribute to closing thegap. References1., Accessed, Accessed Rosser, S. V. (Ed.). (1995). Teaching the majority: Breaking the gender barrier in science, mathematics, and engineering. New York: Teacher’s College Press.4. National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. (2007). Beyond bias and barriers: Fulfilling the potential of women in academic science and engineering. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.5. Rosser, S. V. (Ed.). (1995). Teaching the majority: Breaking the gender barrier in science, mathematics, and engineering. New York: Teacher’s College Press.6. Seymour, E. & Hewitt, N. M. (2000). Talking about leaving: Why undergraduates leave the sciences. Oxford: Westview Press.7. Tobias, S. (1990). They’re not dumb, they’re different: Stalking the second tier. Tucson: Research Corporation.8. Ceci, S. J. & Williams, W. M. (Eds.). (2007). Why aren’t more women in science? Top researchers debate the evidence. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2014 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015