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Physics Students Reveal Bias for Male Lecturers

Male and female actors gave physics lectures to college students. All students thought the males were more knowledgeable. And whereas female students gave a a slight nod to women teachers, male students thought male teachers were vastly better. Cynthia Graber reports

Why aren’t there more women physicists, and in senior positions? One factor may be unconscious biases that could keep women physicists from advancing—and may even prevent women from going into physics in the first place.

Amy Bug, a physicist at Swarthmore College, examined the bias question.* Her research team trained four actors—two men, two women—to give a 10-minute physics lecture. Real physics classes watched the lecturers. Then the 126 students were surveyed.

When it came to questions of physics ability—whether the lecturer had a good grasp of the material, and knew how to use the equipment—male lecturers got higher ratings by both male and female students.

But when asked how well the lecturer relates to the students, each gender preferred their own. And while female students gave a slight preference to female lecturers, male students overwhelmingly rated the male lecturers as being superior. The research appears in the journal Physics World. []

Bug says the results may be evidence of inherent biases that could hold women back—along with economic inequalities, such as lower wages and smaller start-up grants. Which reduce career acceleration and thus the amount of force available to crack the glass ceiling.

—Cynthia Graber

*Correction (8/3/10): This sentence has been edited to correct an error conveyed by this podcast. Swarthmore College was originally identified as Swarthmore University.

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

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