95th ESA Annual Meeting (August 1 -- 6, 2010)

OPS 5-4 - Visibility matters: Increasing knowledge of women's contributions to ecology

Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Exhibit Hall A, David L Lawrence Convention Center
Kristen M. Kostelnik, Plant Biology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, Ellen I. Damschen, Department of Integrative Biology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, Mary Wyer, Interdisciplinary Studies, Psychology, and Women's & Gender Studies, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, Deena M. Murphy, Interdisciplinary Studies and Management, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, Thomas R. Wentworth, Plant & Microbial Biology, NC State University, Raleigh, NC and Nick M. Haddad, Department of Biology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC

Substantial gains have been made over the past several decades in the number of women obtaining advanced degrees in the biological sciences, including ecology.  In later career stages, however, these positive trends fade when women become underrepresented in faculty ranks.  Current research indicates there are many factors responsible for this discrepancy, including the undergraduate classroom environment, which can affect student learning outcomes and career choices.  We use two complementary studies to examine: 1) the representation of women in seven popular introductory ecology textbooks, and 2) the impact of enriching course content with women scientists’ contributions to ecology. The latter study addresses the theory that the inclusion of material regarding women in science increases retention and future career commitment. That study was undertaken in a large introductory undergraduate ecology course taught for three consecutive semesters. We were interested in: 1) students’ attitudes toward gender equality in science and society, and 2) students’ assessment of the classroom climate for women and people of color. The data include 398 matched pre-test and post-test survey responses from a control group, a minimal enrichment group, and an increased enrichment group. 


Our review of popular ecology textbooks indicates that women are presented in these textbooks less often than expected from discipline demographics.  Our study of course enrichment indicates that small course revisions do not influence students’ attitudes toward gender equality in science and society, but that such revisions can have a positive influence on students’ assessments of the classroom climate and increase students’ knowledge of women’s contributions to ecology regardless of their own sex, race, or ethnicity.