Women in STEM: A Research Guide

This guide provides sources and research strategies for critical analysis of women in STEM fields. 

What is Unpacking STEM?

The sources on this specific page seek to “unpack,” or critically evaluate, common knowledge about STEM. Many of these critical conversations are happening outside academia, or start in non-academic spaces and aren’t fully reflected in the scholarly literature.

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Practice Noticing "Common Knowledge"
This guide as a whole provides entry points to scholarly conversations about gender and work in STEM fields. As with any conversation, people approach these subjects with their own underlying biases and assumptions. These assumptions may be about what STEM is, where it comes from, who works in STEM, and why it matters to address gender inequities in STEM workplaces. When a lot of people share a bias, it may be considered "common knowledge." What do your sources treat as "common knowledge"? Why do you think people make those assumptions? Who benefits from that way of approaching the subject?
Broaden Your Search
When “unpacking” common assumptions, it can be fruitful to broaden a search beyond peer-reviewed journals to get a sense of the full range of conversations. Terms vary by community and depend on context. An activist-scholar may use different terminology on a personal blog than they do when trying to get published in an academic journal.

Resources for Educators

Two children sit back to back reading books overlooking an industrial landscape. Banners come from the books, each with a word: Dream Empower Question Study. Beyond them is a blue sky with white clouds.

Dream • Empower • Question • Study by Pete Railand

License: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

STEM: Impacts and Alternatives

A child sits at the edge of a body of water. In the water, there are shadowy human figures. Below the child, there is text "What we do to water, we do to ourselves."

 

The inequity that shows up in the workplaces of scientists, mathematicians, engineers, technologists, etc, also impacts in the communities affected by these technologies and developments. The resources below use feminist and other political frameworks to question and go beyond STEM practices. 

 

 

What We Do To Water… by Bec Young

License: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Brandt, M. (2014). Zapatista corn: A case study in biocultural innovation. Social Studies of Science, 44(6), 874-900. 

de la Bellacasa, M. P. (2012). 'Nothing Comes Without its World': Thinking with Care. The Sociological Review (Keele), 60(2), 197-216.

Where does "STEM" come from?

Long before the acronym "STEM" came into use, women and other people studied science, technology, engineering and math. However, the frameworks grouping these together as a discrete academic and professional category come from a particular US political and social context. The resources below  (as well as some of the books on this page) discuss how STEM became an academic category.

 

 

Image (Woman Teaching Geometry) is from the British Library digital collections and is in the public domain.

Smith, C., & Watson, J. (2019). Does the rise of STEM education mean the demise of sustainability education? Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 35(1), 1-11. 

McComas, W. F., & Burgin, S. R. (2020). A critique of “STEM” education: Revolution-in-the-making, passing fad, or instructional imperative? Science & Education, 29(4), 805-829. 


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Is STEM Neutral?

We can break down some of the non-neutral parts of science into 5 main categories: 1 Who is digging? 2 Where are they digging? 3 Who Benefits? 4 Who is Harmed? 5 What is the product/whose knowledge are we using?

Excerpt from "Science Under the Scope" by Sophie Wang. License: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Shared with author's permission.

In her comic, "Science Under the Scope," Sophie Wang uses mining as an extended metaphor for scientific research in order to delve into both who is doing the digging (a question of representation) and also who is impacted. Her guiding questions, as pictured, are: who is digging, where are they digging, who benefits, who is harmed, and what is the product/whose knowledge are we using. Read the full comic here.

Books