Daniel Zhao

Yale continues to confer more degrees in the physical sciences and engineering fields to male students, in line with national trends.

During the 2016–2017 academic school year, nearly twice as many male seniors majored in disciplines in the physical sciences and engineering compared to female seniors, according to the most recent data from the Office of Institutional Research. At Yale, departments within the physical sciences include applied physics; astronomy; chemistry; geology and geophysics; and physics, among others. Three times as many male seniors majored in computer science, and eight times as many male seniors majored in mathematics. In contrast, females accounted for about 60 percent of majors in the arts and humanities, according to the data, and majors within the social sciences and the life sciences had a more gender-balanced ratio of students.

The lack of female undergraduates in STEM disciplines parallels a similarly small pool of female faculty members in these departments. According to OIR data from 2017–2018, 92 tenured male faculty members and just 21 tenured female faculty members worked within physical sciences departments.

In interviews with the News, students and faculty members pointed to a nationwide lack of women pursuing degrees in STEM fields. Professor of physics Meg Urry said that Yale tries to create a “welcom[ing], supportive environment” for female students, but fewer women than men enter Yale intending to major in disciplines within the sciences.

“I think there just is this big difference in how we judge ourselves, and partly I think that’s because the world judges women more harshly,” Urry said. “They have a much higher bar they’re aiming for.”

Isabel Lee ’21, a computer science major, entered Yale feeling fairly certain that she wanted to pursue a degree in computer science after completing a few courses in high school. Lee added that while she has noticed a discrepancy between the number of male and female CS majors at Yale, she is optimistic about the future of gender equity within the field, even though she does not expect the disparity to “go away anytime soon.”

Lee added that she has benefited from a strong sense of community fostered by the female CS majors.

“I’m really grateful for the people I’ve met in the class who I’ve made friends with, who I can share being female with,” she said.

Catherine Lee ’20 had already considered studying mathematics when she entered the University, and she eventually decided to pursue the joint B.S./M.S. mathematics program. She said that in her studies, she often notices that her undergraduate courses are more gender-balanced than her graduate classes. In the latter setting, she sometimes is both the youngest person and the only woman in the room.

She added that she has seen a lack of female professors in the mathematics — according to OIR, as of the 2017–2018 academic school year, there was only one female tenured professor of mathematics at Yale. She pointed to “a leaky pipeline” for women in the field as well as bad experiences early in the major as reasons for the lack of female math majors.

“People are turned away by some of the atmosphere of introductory classes early on. As you go on, I think things get a little better,” Catherine Lee said.

A number of students and professors cited recent efforts to engage and retain female students in STEM departments at Yale. Malak Khan ’21, who serves on the Advisory Committee on Science and Quantitative Reasoning, pointed to initiatives such as Women in Science at Yale and Women in CS at Yale, which she said have “helped foster an inclusive environment.” She added that while improvements could be made, Yale provides avenues through which female students can form friendships and find mentors within STEM.

Chair of te mathematics department Yair Minsky said that overcoming the gender discrepancies in STEM is difficult, but he highlighted recent efforts to make women feel more welcome in the department and in programs such as the Summer Undergraduate Math Research at Yale program. He said that while the department looks to recruit female “role models,” these scholars are often in high demand at other universities.

“Here the challenge is that female mathematicians at the high caliber that we strive to hire are also sought-after by many other institutions, and the competition is quite serious,” Minsky said.

Yale College conferred 1,313 total degrees in 2018.

Carly Wanna | carly.wanna@yale.edu