The personal impact of stereotype threat

As I mentioned in my introductions post I am hoping to become a faculty member in the future. I am aspiring to do this for a few reasons: 1- I love chicken intestines and that’s a little too weird outside of academia, 2- I am passionate about research and training students which is the hallmark of a faculty position but also because 3- I was told that I wouldn’t be able to get a faculty position. As my friends and family can attest I am quite stubborn so being told I can’t do something will motivate me quite extensively. Upon reflection one of the large reasons I decided to pursue a graduate degree was because a teacher of mine told me I wouldn’t be able to get one. I don’t know why they chose to say that to one of their students; but I have come to think that they said it because they probably didn’t see a female faculty member while attending university.

The lack of female representation in higher education has been seen as a problem for many years now- there are frequent articles about the issue of low female faculty numbers. Many universities have made strides in hiring female faculty members, over the last 10 years the number of female faculty in agriculture has increased from 12 to 23% (Cho, Chakraborty, and Rowland, 2017) but, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics 2016-2017 report only 33% of full professors are female which is below the national average (NCES, 2017). This issue has become more prominent in my life as I have progressed in obtaining degrees in animal science. At Michigan State University where I received my bachelors there were X number of faculty involved in research and teaching that was visible to undergraduate students. When I got my certificate in Poultry Science through the Midwest Poultry Consortium Center of Excellence scholarship program there were only two female faculty that taught in the program those numbers have shifted in more recent years but still remain less than half. In my master’s program at Auburn University there were only five female faculty members out of 14 total faculty positions in the poultry science department and only one of them was a full professor.

As a result of the lower number of female faculty members most of the mentors I’ve had have been men. There is nothing explicitly wrong with that except that in my case it is largely because I have not had the privilege of getting to work with many female faculty that could serve as a mentor to me. As a result I have worked to build peer networks with many of the female students I know in poultry science with the goal of providing support and sharing knowledge.

Another way this issue has impacted my life experience is the unspoken requirement that I excel at everything I do. I feel this pressure to be perfect because as soon as I screw up I feel that I will be dismissed as just another girl trying to do science. This sense creates an unnatural competitive environment that contaminates my experience working in the laboratory with my lab mates. I felt this most severely in my master’s position. When I started another female student was finishing her PhD- she was largely regarded as the most successful student to come out of that research program and had won many awards during her time there. The lab manager shared with me that I had been recommended to the research program as a younger version of that student and that another girl had just been asked to leave the program because she didn’t cut it. Knowing that made me feel an extreme sense of imposture syndrome and hypervigilant about everything that I did.(Insert citation for class paper) Looking back I see that this is a clear example of stereotype threat playing out. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to live up to the successful female in the lab and would be kicked out like the other girl before me. I started doubting my abilities and analyzing everything I did looking for differences that didn’t exist before.

Because of my negative experience I often think about what I would like to do differently when I (hopefully) have my own research program and am hiring students. I worry that I will pass on the same experience by inadvertently perpetuating the belief that any students I take on (especially female) will feel they have to be just like me. I worry about this for two reasons: mainly I don’t want any person to feel like I did during my master’s program but also stereotypes contribute to the continuation of the cycle of prejudice and discrimination that keeps society divided. (Check out this video by Khan academy that explains this much better than I could) So far my worrying has not been very productive and I have not come up with any solid suggestions for how to combat the stereotype threat I feel. I did appreciate that the article Dr. Grimes shared in the Week 5 module: Stereotype threat in work and schools: putting science into practice (Schamder and Hall, 2014). That article mentioned that those at risk of stereotype threat should understand the anxiety that they may feel as a result of stereotypes and to spend time reflecting on their values and purpose. I am a large proponent of self-reflection and encourage everyone to dedicate time to reflecting on their goals and experiences. I will definitely strive to pass this lesson on to any future students of mine.

References

               Cho, A., D. Chakraborty, and D. Rowland. 2017. Gender representation in faculty and leadership at land grant and research institutions. Agron. J. 109:14-22.

National Center for Education Statistics [NCES]. 2017. Characteristics of Postsecondary Faculty. Figure 2. Chapter: 4/Postsecondary Education Section: Postsecondary Environments and Characteristics: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/pdf/coe_csc.pdf

Schamder, T. and W.M. Hall. 2014. Stereotype threat in work and schools: putting science into practice. Policy insights from the behavioral and brain sciences. 1:30-37.

If anyone has any similar experiences or ideas on how to prevent this from happening to others please share it with me. Thank you for reading enjoy this sassy chick pic as a break from the seriousness.

-SE

Introductions

My name is Sara Cloft and I use she/her pronouns. At Virginia Tech I am a PhD student in the department of Animal and Poultry Sciences. I am also a Graduate Teaching Scholar in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences where I work with the introductory laboratory class in the APSC department. Additionally, I serve as the Associate Chair for the Graduate Honor System. After graduation (and probably a post-doc or two if I’m being realistic), I hope to work as a professor at a land grant university(and get tenure) and be able to continue following my intellectual curiosities and inspire the next generation of animal (& hopefully poultry) scientists.

I am very passionate about my research especially on days that I get to spend time cuddling cute chicks and poults. My research focuses on poultry intestinal development and maturation using in-ovo feeding techniques (see the image below). This research topic is prefect for me because I think poultry (chickens & turkeys primarily) are awesome and I absolutely love intestines! Yes, I fully understand that is a strange thing to love, but consider the following: they are absolutely essential to life through their role in digestion and metabolism but also intestines are the largest mucosal immune surface within the body responsible for maintaining a healthy microbiome and protecting us from harmful bacteria. Additionally, the alimentary canal (all parts of the body that food passes through) is responsible for the enjoyment that comes from food and is the site of many of the worst chronic illnesses. In chickens there are even more fascinating elements that will probably keep me interested for the rest of my life, but I digress.

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