Who knew closing the gender and race gap could be so easy?

I thought this article on a 15 minute writing exercise that improved the performance of women in physics and students of color in high school was beautiful in its simplicity.

Think about the things that are important to you. Perhaps you care about creativity, family relationships, your career, or having a sense of humour. Pick two or three of these values and write a few sentences about why they are important to you. You have fifteen minutes. It could change your life.

This simple writing exercise may not seem like anything ground-breaking, but its effects speak for themselves. In a university physics class, Akira Miyake from the University of Colorado used it to close the gap between male and female performance. In the university’s physics course, men typically do better than women but Miyake’s study shows that this has nothing to do with innate ability. With nothing but his fifteen-minute exercise, performed twice at the beginning of the year, he virtually abolished the gender divide and allowed the female physicists to challenge their male peers.

The exercise is designed to affirm a person’s values, boosting their sense of self-worth and integrity, and reinforcing their belief in themselves. For people who suffer from negative stereotypes, this can make all the difference between success and failure.

People who are in the minority (and I mean a power minority, not a numerical one) – people of color, women in science classes, disabled people, etc. – often feel that their values and needs are invisible in an academic situation. This exercise simply affirms that this is not necessarily true.

I want to go into academics one day. I may need to do this exercise in my classes.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Who knew closing the gender and race gap could be so easy?

  1. Phledge

    I want to use this so hard. Thank you for sharing it.

    Glad to hear you’re doing well! I’m starting to consider OB/GYN since EM’s not treating me too well–no interviews yet–and if I’m not gonna be an EP then I’m gonna be an abortion provider, hands down.

    • MomTFH

      Boo, no interviews!

      You know, you can do IM or FP and be an abortion provider anywhere. Not to talk you out of ob/gyn. But, ob/gyn is getting more competitive every single year, and I have heard this year is no exception.

      There are a lot of DO ob/gyn programs up in Michigan. You can see if they grab something good and interview you!

  2. HelenS

    I completely agree about stereotype threat, and I would be very happy if such a technique could work as advertised — but I don’t really see great evidence that it does, and I don’t quite get *how* it would do so. For me, I suspect such a technique would backfire: if I sat down in a science class and the first thing I was faced with was a personal essay, I would get writer’s block and wonder what in the heck they wanted from me and why I was being asked to jump through such a pointless hoop.

    I really do hope I’m wrong, by the way — not just throwing cold water.

    • MomTFH

      Well, your hypothetical anecdotal response aside, the research was actually fairly rigorous. It was a double-blind study. The TA’s and the students were told it was to improve writing skills. And, it worked significantly to improve performance in physics. So, for most people, at least in their sample. it didn’t backfire.

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