I just finished grading the exam I gave yesterday in cell biology. Every year, in one of my biology core classes, I slip in a common bonus question. This question is free points — all the students have to do is give me any answer, and I give them credit for it. The question is:
Name a woman scientist, in any discipline. What did she do?
Easy, right? And every year, the same person tops the list.
|UMM Chemistry Faculty||7||14.9%|
|UMM Biology Faculty||5||10.6%|
Other scientists included Jane Goodall, Martha Chase, Caroline Herschel, and my favorite, Mom — Chase, Herschel, and Franklin were all mentioned in my lectures. Marie Curie is not. One person neglected to give any answer (free points! You passed up free points!). Two people named Marie Curie, but had no idea what she had done.
The one interesting change I’ve noticed over the years is that despite her absurd lead, Marie Curie has been steadily dropping, and the students are increasingly aware that there are women teaching science in their other classes — and also, I’m happy to report, the ones who mentioned my fellow faculty are actually aware of what they do for research. Chemistry probably leads biology because these students have a full year of general chemistry before they take this course and are concurrently taking organic chemistry.
Next year, I plan to take the big step and ask how many can name a minority scientist — I’m kind of afraid that most of them will be totally stumped, because I really don’t pull out a big flag when I talk about these scientists, waving it and announcing “Hey! This person is a WOMAN! (or black, or Hispanic, or whatever)” during lecture. It’ll be interesting to see if the students are even aware that the other faculty person teaching half the sections of cell biology is native American…