So far no published research has been conducted at the University of Saskatchewan exploring the conditions and attitudes of undergraduate students in regards to pursing studies in these disciplines. We surveyed (via an Internet questionnaire) male and female undergraduate students in disciplines where females are currently underrepresented (i.e., science, math, and engineering) to examine attitudes toward science and engineering. Specifically, this study explored: (a) undergraduate students' attitudes toward science and math during high school education, and high school influences in pursing an undergraduate degree in science, math or engineering; (b) whether the students have declared a major in science, math, or engineering; (c) students' perceptions of the academic environment, faculty and students of their declared major; and (d) students' intentions regarding pursing a graduate education in their declared major.
A total of 222 students completed the survey. Specifically, there were 154 women (69.4% of the total sample) and 68 men (30.6% of the total sample). First year students comprised 31.5%, second year students - 27.5%, third year students - 20.7%, fourth year students- 17.6%, students with more than four years at the University - 2.7%.
The findings from this research indicate that women's intentions to pursue graduate school are more influenced by access to human resources, and a positive, encouraging department, whereas men focus more on accessing appropriate information when deciding whether or not to continue their education in their desired field of study. Although these findings are preliminary, they can inform directions for efforts to increase the likelihood of students continuing their science, math or engineering education in graduate studies.
Specifically, initiatives that focus more on fostering encouraging and accessible departmental environments have a greater potential of increasing women's enrolment in science, math and engineering programs. Since female students ranked high school science/math promotion events and speakers relatively low, these are areas that could be targeted by the university as a means of communicating to female high school students that the science, math and engineering departments at the university are welcoming and accessible environments for women. Further, this can be carried forth to departmental promotion and guest speaker events held at the university. By explicitly demonstrating to girls and women that these departments are environmentally 'female friendly,' there is a greater likelihood of increasing the presence of women in science, math and engineering professions.
For men, more educative initiatives that inform them about available and appropriate graduate programs have greater potential to increase men's enrolment in science, math and engineering graduate programs. This may involve the science, math and engineering departments hosting events that allow male undergraduate students easy access to faculty and graduate students to discuss what is involved in pursuing graduate studies and a profession in one of these fields.
It is important to note that only approximately half of the variance was accounted for in female and male students' reported intentions to pursue graduate studies. Although statistically impressive, future research needs to be conducted to support these findings and add to them.
Results from this research will be
used to inform Dr. Julita Vassileva, the Cameco NSERC Prairie Chair on Women
in Science and Engineering, in identifying possible initiatives and future avenues
for research to increase enrolment of women in these disciplines. More details
about the study can be obrained from Dr. Vassileva at Prairie_WISE@cs.usask.ca.