Are Female STEM Majors Academic Risk Takers?

Are Female STEM Majors Academic Risk Takers?

Tara L. R. Beziat (Auburn University – Montgomery, USA), Kristin M. McCombs (Wheeling Jesuit University, USA), Brooke A. Burks (Auburn University – Montgomery, USA) and Jennifer Byrom (Auburn University – Montgomery, USA)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 9
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0174-9.ch008
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Abstract

The existing literature does not focus on risk-taking differences within females and how these differences may influence academic choices in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. The current project examined differences in academic risk-taking between STEM and non-STEM female students. A total of 272 undergraduates from 3 universities in the United States participated in a total of 2 studies. Results from the first and second studies indicated differences between STEM and non-STEM females in academic risk-taking. Future studies should explore these academic risk-taking differences between STEM and non-STEM female students.
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Background

Before examining the relationship between academic risk-taking and female STEM majors, we need to define both risk-taking and academic risk-taking. Slovic (1964) defines risk-taking as a chance of loss. Building on Slovic’s definition, Furby and Beyth-Marom (1990) define risk taking as the “action (or inaction) that entails a chance of loss” (p.3). Additionally, Slovic notes that risk is multidimensional in that a variety of factors influence how individuals assess risk. Risk must be measured looking at different dimensions including the probability of the risk, the magnitude (variance) of the risk, and the expected value of the risk. Of particular importance in this definition is the chance of loss weighed against the expected value. When students choose to enroll in certain courses, they may weigh their chances of not doing well and therefore not earning credit against the expected value of completing the course. Also, they may forfeit money and time by enrolling in a course they do not feel they will succeed in or pass. Despite these chances of loss, students may choose to take the course because it is a requirement for their major, which will eventually lead to a job in a lucrative field (e.g., engineering or medicine).

In the academic setting, when someone makes a choice to do a particular activity or take a particular course, he or she may be calculating the chances of earning a good grade, the benefits associated with the task or course, and how it will affect his or her self-esteem. If the student believes there is only a small chance of success despite the value associated with the task or course, he or she may opt not to take the chance. This calculation of risk, which involves educational choices, is academic risk-taking. It is defined as the selection of school-related achievement items or tasks varying in difficulty (Clifford & Chou, 1991). Put differently, a student may select a social sciences course over a physical science course because of the difficulty associated with the latter.

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