Where the Smart Girls Are

I am the father of two girls.  I am also the graduate of a college that only educated men when I attended it.  Having seen first-hand the issues associated with a campus on which high levels of testosterone were missing the moderating influence of women, I was not especially in favor of the idea when each of my daughters announced that she wanted to attend a single-sex school for middle and high schools.

Now, eight years after the older daughter began attending that female-only school, I am a convert to the concept.  I’ve seen all the statistics and studies: girls and boys are equal in their interest in math and science in elementary school, then the girls begin to fall away in middle school and that trend accelerates until very few women graduate high school still interested in taking math and science courses.

The school I’ve been around for the past nine years believes that the primary culprit is that boys tend to be louder, demanding more attention of their teachers.  They receive more attention, which positively reinforces their tendencies.  Girls feel social pressure to be more demure, with a similar reinforcement towards being quieter and quieter.  By the time they reach high school, the girls have largely been pushed out of the spotlight in hard sciences and math.

But in this single-sex school, the girls do not get pushed to the sidelines.  They get the teacher attention – even get the positive reinforcement for grabbing the spotlight.  So by the time they graduate high school, many of these young women have completed Calculus AP, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and one or two additional AP-level science classes.  Every year, the school sends several graduates on to elite science & engineering institutions like MIT and Cal Tech.

A few years ago, my older daughter had a summer job working for one of the math teachers at the school.  He had a plan to add statistical analysis to every subject in which he could reasonably do so.  My daughter worked with him to create the teaching materials, which my younger daughter has now been using as a student.  The school is now creating graduates that will be equipped to understand sophisticated statistical analysis and to question the shoddy statistics that so often appear in the news media.

So I was particularly happy to see an article in the Washington Post last week about the hot new field for women.  Apparently, Data Science is the one field of science and technology in which women earn more than 40% of degrees.  It is a field in demand,  and the demand will only grow as “big data” drives more and more business initiatives.

University Statistics departments typically have a high number of female professors, generally welcoming to female students and ready to mentor them.  With status, a welcoming culture and high salaries after graduation, it is a field to which many smart women are flocking.

Will my own daughters head towards Data Science?  It’s hard to say right now.  One is leaning toward NeuroScience.  The other toward Medical Engineering.  In each, facility with statistics is not just good to have, it is essential.

Here is the article from the Post:  Women Flocking to Statistics; the New Hot High-Tech Field of Data Science


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