females’ and male study progress in STEM subjects

30 März 2020

Prof. Dr. Bernhard Ertl, Professur für Erziehungswissenschaft, mit dem Schwerpunkt: Lernen und Lehren mit Medien, hat bei der Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft das Projekt „The impact of interest congruence on females’ and male study progress in STEM subjects“ erfolgreich eingeworben.

Laufzeit: 01.04.2020 bis 31.03.2023
Förderer: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft – DFG-Sachbeihilfe

Germany, as well as other European countries, faces shortages in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) workforce. Despite many efforts, the number of STEM graduates is still low. Two aspects that contribute to this phenomenon are the low numbers of females in STEM subjects as well as the comparably high number of students dropping out of STEM subjects at university. The project proposed delves into both aspects starting from a perspective of occupational interests.

According to Holland’s RIASEC model and empirical evidence, an individual’s occupational interests and their fit to an occupational environment (congruence) are important factors contributing to career choices and persistence. However, there are further aspects that may compromise an interest-based career choice, e.g. the sex-typing of an occupation, which may discourage females choosing a STEM subject, or the prestige that may encourage males with a diminished congruence to choose a STEM career anyway. Of note, prior learning experiences, especially mathematics at school are also seen as prerequisite for persisting in STEM studies. However, evidence is missing about the interdependency of these aspects, especially from a longitudinal perspective.

The project proposed applies a progressive approach for gaining more profound knowledge about persistence and outcomes of STEM students. It starts with (a) the predictive quality of interest congruence, (b) follows its development during study, (c) considers compromising aspects, and (d) personal factors according to the social cognitive career theory for being able to distinguish (e) latent profiles of successful and struggling STEM students. The project considers evidence about differences between the STEM fields and therefore particularly focuses on STEM fields with a low proportion of females (STEM-L). However, for revealing peculiarities of these fields it distinguishes them from other STEM, and non-STEM, areas. Thus, the project focuses on factors that are specific to students in STEM (in contrast to other subject areas) and furthermore identifies specific profiles of students in STEM and their trajectory longitudinally along the course of study until entering the labor market.

This project analyzes NEPS data (National Educational Panel Study) Starting Cohort 5 (SC5) that follows 18,000 first-year students from 2010 until now. The current wave 11 already includes students that finished their master’s degree and entered the labor market. Focusing on persistence and outcomes of these students, this research contributes to scientific advancement by providing distinguishing models for career path and retention in STEM. It further contributes to societal development by refining evidence for students’ career counselling. This also addresses sociopolitical impacts for more focused support measures to increase the proportion of females in STEM.

Bildquelle: iStockphoto/Natalie_