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Gender and the Choice of a Science Career: The Impact of Social Support and Possible Selves

Abstract

This study examined the relationships among perceived social support, beliefs about how one would fare in a science career, and perceptions and choice of a career in science. Participants were 48 men and 33 women from the Midwestern United States who had been identified as gifted in mathematics and science and participated in a high school science enrichment program. They ranged in age from 24 to 28 years old, and the sample was predominantly White (83.3%). Participants completed an online measure approximately 10 years after the program ended examining their sources of support and beliefs about the self as a scientist to see how these variables influence perceptions of a science career and actual career. We expected that the relationship between perceived support from people and current job held would be mediated by participants’ beliefs about their personal life as a scientist in the future. Similarly, we expected that the relationship between a perceived supportive environment and having a science career would be mediated by participants’ beliefs about their career as a scientist in the future. Findings indicated that social support contributed directly to men’s and women’s ability to envision themselves in a future science career, which, in turn, predicted their interest in and motivation for a science career. No significant gender differences were found in the predictors of men’s and women’s perceptions and choice of a science career. Implications for recruitment of students into scientific majors and careers are discussed.

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Acknowledgement

This research was conducted as part of Sarah Buday’s master’s thesis under the supervision of Jayne Stake. The authors wish to thank Dr. Ken Mares and Kathy Kirkpatrick for their assistance in collecting data and contacting participants, and Graham Wohler for his assistance with data analysis.

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Correspondence to Sarah K. Buday.

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Buday, S.K., Stake, J.E. & Peterson, Z.D. Gender and the Choice of a Science Career: The Impact of Social Support and Possible Selves. Sex Roles 66, 197–209 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-011-0015-4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-011-0015-4

Keywords

  • Science careers
  • Sex differences
  • Gender
  • Social support
  • Possible selves
  • Self-confidence