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Science, discussed.

The STEM pipeline as a an analogy and why it is problematic

DiversityInSTEM-LeakyPipelineSo, for the last few weeks I have been thinking on the concept of the STEM pipeline as a descriptor of science career and why I think this is problematic. However I am still building my argument and gathering evidence to support my thoughts. As I talked in my last post, I thought it would be cool to show to you readers the argument I have so far so you can poke holes at it and force me to improve it. I know that is a little unorthodox but I think it can be an interesting exercise on how these platforms help connect academics with different backgrounds and knowledge together. So without more introduction I present you here my rough argument on “The STEM pipeline as a an analogy and why it is problematic”

Despite research for over 25 years has tried to understand gender disparities in the STEM fields, we are left with more questions than answers where this gap is due to multiple explanations, some of them contested. Due to this systematic diminishment across time of the percentage of women electing to pursue STEM careers, researchers and policy makers often use the analogy of a pipeline, where everybody starts with a STEM career direction where people hit “leak points” along the way by opting out of pursing a career in science or engineering fields. As under-represented groups, like women and african americans, leak out at disproportionately higher rate than white and Asian males, gender equity researchers have focused on the source behind these “leak points” and how they can be avoided.

The pipeline metaphor has informed national policy for over two decades, however, this frame of understanding STEM career trajectories can do little to inform policy in a meaningful way to diversify or increase the size of the STEM workforce. An empirical study by Cannady et al. shows that the the pipeline metaphor fails to describe the experience for nearly half of those who go on to become scientists or engineers  and that it fails to grasp on the significant differences of career trajectory wishing science subfields. But in order to understand where this analogy fails we need first to understand the assumptions behind it and the theory of action behind policies shaped by it.

For example, this analogy implies that as long as one doesn’t “leak out” along the way one would end up succeeding as a professional in science without regards to the price these minorities have to pay in order to get there. Furthermore, within this perspective it is often thought that people “leak out” due to gaps in “opportunities to learn”, that is that we need to provide better access to under-represented minorities to these learning opportunities. However, this analogy implies that as long as one doesn’t leak out one is going to be a successful scientist without addressing the sacrifices or terrible experiences minorities have to go trough in order to be successful in a science career.

Another problem I have is that “leaking out” sounds to me like if something was happening almost by chance, that is one happened to be the drop of water that leaked, when in reality people face all kinds of barriers that keep them away from science and thinking about this as “leaks” makes one think on plugging holes rather on making institutional change to bring down walls.

Finally, this makes me think of having a unique way of becoming a scientist when in reality I think that each of us had a different journey and different difficulties and successes, as well as different experiences that made us interested in science.


Hi everyone I am back ! According to wordpress my last post was 3 months ago !!! That is way to long without writing, this new semester has been really crazy for me and it has taking me a while to be able to breathe and put my thoughts in order. But when I sat down to write this new blogpost I realized something. As many of you know I am a Ph.D. student in Learning Sciences and Educational Policy (I should probably write about that someday) and as a Ph.D. in social sciences I am expected to write A LOT. My final assignments tend to be about 20 pages long as well as the academic papers we write. Turns out ever since I stopped writing for the blog I have had a really hard time writing for work purposes. And that sort of makes sense. Writing for this blog forced me to write and think about how to write a little bit everyday and that kept my writing muscles fit. By not doing that I sort of broke with the writing habit and now I am having trouble even writing these sentences. So let’s fix that !

1. Community Writing Log 

First of all I am creating a Writing log and sharing it with all of you, click here to see it. One of the tabs has my name and sharing it with all you wonderful readers I am making myself accountable to you. So can click on that link every day and see if I am writing at least 10 minutes everyday. Also all of you can leave me notes to keep me motivated. Finally, I left a tab named “template” so if you are up to this challenge you can duplicate that tab in the same spreadsheet and start a writing log. Just as you will be able to read mine I will be able to read yours. So in joining this challenge you are accepting to become accountable to anyone reading the log. I am hoping this way all of us feel more motivated towards writing the same way one feels motivated to do exercise when one has an exercise buddy.

2. Preview on the next blog post

Back in August I was a guest at the Collapsed Wavefunction podcast and I want to elaborate more on the topic of this podcast (You will need to listen to it to know what topic this is about). So I am promising to writing another post by November 30th the latest in my new goal to publish at least one blogpost a month. By sharing the topic beforehand I am not only making myself more accountable but also will force me to improve my arguments in this topic.

Let me know in the comments what you think about the community writing log challenge and about the analogy of the STEM pipeline !

-Paulette

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2 comments on “The STEM pipeline as a an analogy and why it is problematic

  1. Ayesha Islam
    23/11/2015

    What about STEM tree? Just because you haven’t ended up an academic scientist doesn’t mean you have no value, have leaked out and been wasted. Perhaps an industry career or alt-Ac career is just progressing down a different branch that contributes to STEM as a whole?
    -Ayesha Islam

  2. Pingback: Beyond the STEM pipeline | biomolbioandco

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This entry was posted on 22/10/2015 by in Off topic, personal, Science and tagged .

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