A model of academic choice for mathematically talented college women
Gieger, Judith Lynn
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The goal of this study was to develop a model that described the factors that influence mathematically talented college women’s choice of major. The study was motivated by the extensive research literature concerning the small number of mathematically talented women who choose an undergraduate major in mathematics as compared with mathematically talented men. In contrast to previous research, however, this study examined the academic motivations of talented women independent of the academic motivations of talented men, in an effort to avoid a “deficiency” approach to the analysis of women’s academic choices.|Twelve mathematically talented college women from throughout the United States agreed to participate in a 12-week on-line focus group discussion via a Web site bulletin board. Nine of the participants were available for an individual interview after the close of the bulletin board. Data analysis followed the traditional qualitative method applied in grounded theory research: constant comparative analysis.|The resulting model of academic choice stated that the factors affecting the participants’ choices could be expressed in four domains: environment, behavior, talent, and value. These domains are listed in order of relative importance, with environment having the lowest relative importance and value having the greatest relative importance. The relative importance of the domains refers specifically to how the participants responded to any conflict within the domain and the likelihood that a conflict would cause them to change their majors. When this model was applied to the specific question of why these women were choosing to major in or not major in mathematics, the data showed that the participants had very few conflicts or concerns with the environment of the mathematics departments at their universities. The participants had many conflicts and concerns, however, with the values of the mathematics departments at their universities, and those conflicts were often cited as a central reason (and occasionally the only reason) the participant was not majoring in mathematics. Specifically, many participants felt that it was important that their work have a positive, tangible social impact, and the abstract nature of mathematics was a cause of concern for them.