Visions of long, lonely hours in the lab with little contact with others could discourage more students from taking Stem subjects, a study has found.
Researchers from the universities of North Florida, Maryland, Miami and California State surveyed students in the U.S., India and China to examine how they view science, technology, engineering and maths courses. Participants assessed their interest in various Stem careers and ranked what types of opportunities they offered, including working with and helping others. Responders also ranked how interested they were in the jobs.
In the U.S., students perceived fewer “communal” opportunities in Stem careers and also registered less interest in working in the sector. The researchers said many Americans have a stereotypical idea of lone scientists working long hours on their own.
In contrast, Asian participants in the surveys thought Stem fields gave more opportunities to work with, help and form bonds with others. This difference could partially explain a higher interest in Stem careers, said the researchers.
Universities should increase and highlight communal activities like teamwork and study groups in Stem classes, the team said. “By incorporating communal activities into Stem, we can help to change stereotypes… and attract many of those individuals with high Stem ability,” said Elizabeth Brown from the University of North Florida. Engaging more students through communal work is a “fairly inexpensive way” of increasing the workforce, she added.
Collaboration is an "essential attribute" for 21st century engineers, said Dr Rhys Morgan, director of education at the Royal Academy of Engineering. New teaching approaches emphasising the creative aspects of engineering and the role of engineers in solving global challenges "will attract a more diverse cohort," he added.
The research was published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.
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