What is STEM, and what is it for me? The role of career advice in girls’ decisions to opt in or out of STEM.

Year: 2019

Author: Van, Driel, Jan, Millar, Victoria, Hobbs, Linda, Tytler, Russell, Crebbin, Sue, Speldewinde, Christopher

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Girls continue to be underrepresented in many school STEM subjects, a trend that continues into higher education leading to ongoing gender disparity in STEM careers. Many girls lose interest and motivation to pursue STEM from an early stage of education and this is particularly the case for students in rural or remote schools, students from lower SES backgrounds and indigenous students.

Recent studies provide clear statistical evidence of significant gains having been achieved in female's early academic success in STEM fields, however there continues to be a disconnect between girls’ science achievement and their desire to pursue STEM careers.

Stereotypes of what a career in STEM might entail and who scientists, engineers and other STEM professionals are and what they do, create significant disincentives for girls to become interested in and pursue study and careers in STEM fields. There is evidence that boys are more likely than girls to be encouraged by teachers, parents and career advisors, to go on with STEM related subjects. Current models of career guidance exacerbate the problem by ignoring gender, and thus discrimination is, often implicitly, inherent in much career advice. It is important that parents, carers, teachers and career advisors have equal expectations of girls’ and boys’ ability in STEM and work together to broaden aspirations and skills, and to assist girls to create positive identities and self-concepts related to STEM subjects.

This paper reviews what happens in schools related to career advice specific to STEM. Questions are: Which schools (metro, rural and regional) have specific programs, which year levels are they targeting and are these programs effective? What is the evidence about the impact of career advice relative to influence of peers and parents? The investigation aims to identify exemplars of best practice, across different year levels, in Australia and overseas (e.g., programs by the National Coalition for Girls’ Schools in the US, and the ASPIRES project in the UK) through a targeted search on internet and in the literature. The study also includes interviews with stakeholders who have key roles in successful or promising initiatives around career advice and career awareness to identify what it takes to empower girls with the agency to choose what connects to them while also opening up what a STEM career can look like, rather than just providing typical portrayals of STEM.