Research Library

Search over three decades of research on mindsets, including Mindset Scholars Network briefs and working papers, and other publications from Network studies and initiatives.


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Women’s underrepresentation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields is a prominent concern in our society and many others. Closer inspection of this phenomenon reveals a more nuanced picture, however, with women achieving parity with men at the Ph.D. level in certain STEM fields, while also being underrepresented in some non-STEM fields. In two studies, we demonstrate that the academic fields believed by laypeople to require brilliance are also the fields with lower female representation.

The perception of certain academic disciplines requiring a special type of brilliance (vs. motivation and sustained effort) may help explain the underrepresentation of women in those fields. The authors suggest that faculty and graduate students convey their own attitudes to undergraduate students, who internalize these beliefs before making career decisions. Given the stereotype that fewer women than men possess this type of "brilliance", female undergraduates may feel discouraged from pursuing advanced degrees in fields perceived to be particularly dependent on this type of brilliance. Since they are not subject to the same stereotype, male students may not experience this same concern.