Addressing the problem in STEM

Despite many efforts the number of female STEM graduates remain low. Germany, as well as other European countries, faces shortages in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) workforce. Further engagement from the female demographic can alleviate this problem. Two aspects that greatly contribute to this phenomenon are (1) the low number of females that enroll in STEM subjects, coupled with (2) a comparably high number of dropouts in STEM subjects at university. Our proposed project delves into these limiting factors by investigating both the female students’ occupational interests and the persistence of students in STEM. The intersection of these lanes of investigations may shed light of the education trajectory and barriers to success for female students in STEM.

Investigating Female Students’ Career Choices

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.

Project objectives

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) the development of interest congruence during studies, (c) the consideration of compromising aspects, (d) personal factors according to the social cognitive career theory that distinguish study outcomes, and (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 STEM-L 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 longitudinal trajectory along the course of study until entering the labor market.

Understanding Educational Outcomes with NEPS data

This project analyzes NEPS data (National Educational Panel Study), specifically 18,000 first-year students in Starting Cohort 5 (SC5), that still being actively followed since 2010. The current wave already includes students that finished their master’s degree and entered the labor market. Focusing on the persistence and outcomes of these students, this research contributes to scientific advancement by providing models to distinguish between career paths and the retention of students 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.

Projectduration: 01.04.2020 - 31.03.2023

Funding Agency: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft