Being a Woman in a Man’s Place or Being a Man in a Woman’s Place: Insights into Students’ Experiences of Science and Engineering at University

  • Lene Møller Madsen
  • Henriette Tolstrup Holmegaard
  • Lars Ulriksen


This chapter presents a study carried out in three Danish higher education study programmes within science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM), each with a heavy imbalance in students’ biological sex. In Denmark few female students apply for computer science and physics with nanotechnology while few male students apply for molecular biomedicine. The study explores how students of the minority biological sex attain recognition within the study programme and how they negotiate their identities to gain a sense of belonging. The results show how both male and female students, being the minority in their study programme, need to engage in narrow gendered identity negotiation-processes to belong and become socially and academically integrated into their new study programme. We show how female students need to position themselves as non-feminine and strive to become ‘one of the boys’ whereas male students are restricted to positioning a certain kind of masculinity to become recognized. There is more room for doing gender within computer science for the female students than within physics and nanotechnology. The male students within molecular biomedicine are expected to position themselves as something different from the girls. Their negotiation strategy to get integrated into their study programme could be labelled as ‘segregation’. The implications of these results are discussed.


Computer Science Female Student Male Student Study Programme Fellow Student 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lene Møller Madsen
    • 1
  • Henriette Tolstrup Holmegaard
    • 1
  • Lars Ulriksen
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Science EducationUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagen CDenmark

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