Girls in Advanced Math and Science Classes

By Cynthia Fang ’14

Are the maths and sciences male-dominated fields? Anyone currently struggling to understand a seemingly useless concept in one of these classes probably couldn’t care less, but some events will force this issue into daylight. Generally, we probably believe, at least in the back of our minds, that women are not as prominent as men in these areas. In the past, this was certainly true – however, with modern times have come the reduction of gender bias and prejudices in all portions of the intellectual sphere. Has Groton followed this same path?

In the wider scale of the U.S., the number of women receiving bachelor’s degrees in the sciences has definitely risen substantially in the past decade, and the gender distribution is nearing half and half. I have believed for a while that the math and science programs at Groton lagged behind the rest of the world and that the community still had a strong gender bias. However, a closer look at the statistics proved me wrong.

The gender distribution actually currently has more girls than boys enrolled in the core advanced science classes. There are twelve girls and fifteen boys in Advanced Physics, twenty-four girls and seven boys in AP Biology, and five girls and three boys in AP Chemistry.

The Advanced Physics program has a rather balanced gender distribution, as well as a very large number of students overall, especially compared to last year’s eight-member class with only one girl. Although it is not entirely possible to feel the dynamics of a class in the first week or two of school, the class seems to provide just the right amount of challenge. For example, Fifth Former KT Choi is enjoying the class. Having already completed calculus, unlike most of her classmates, she is a step ahead, and probably will not have to struggle with the math at the same time.

The number of girls taking AP Biology really stands out, completely overtaking the number of boys. The sheer number of students taking the course itself is unusually large – thirty-one—compared to last year’s seventeen. Maybe my form is just overambitious, but there also may be a growing level of interest among the girls in being challenged in science.

Also helping to set new standards is Sowon Lee (’15), who is taking AP Chemistry without having taken the prerequisite, Introduction to Chemistry, at Groton. “I’m taking AP Chemistry in Fourth Form so that I can take more advanced science classes during my time at Groton. Plus, I like chemistry. I’ve enjoyed the class so far, even though I was a little nervous before taking it.” She may face some challenging experiences throughout the year, but she is really showing her abilities.

The math program is also overcoming the gender bias; in Calculus BC, there are twelve girls and eleven boys. Manjari Ganti ’14 who is one of the class members says, “I’m definitely being challenged, and I have to think through every step. [But] I’m also taking Advanced Physics, and the two classes complement each other so well since they are both applicable to everyday situations.”

Precalculus Accelerated Honors, the usual prerequisite to Calculus BC, has ten girls and twelve boys, which is a large number of students and has a nearly even number of girls and boys.

On the other hand, the current term of Advanced Math Topics (AMT) has only two girls of the total eight students in the class. AMT is a more specialized and advanced course than Calculus, and so the students taking it are truly interested in the more abstract mathematical concepts covered.

Also, there is a large range of experience and skill levels in that class, so accommodating everyone is quite difficult. While Calculus is a class taken by students looking for a challenge, AMT is for those genuinely interested in the most complex mathematical concepts, which seems to be a trait that few girls at Groton have.

On the other hand, though they may not flaunt it, a large number of the girls at Groton do happen to be looking into futures of science-related careers. For example, Fifth Former Brittani Taylor says, “I’m taking AP Chemistry because I genuinely like chemistry. I’m thinking seriously about pursuing a career in the medical field, and having taken AP Chemistry will definitely be useful to me, and I think the school supports my choices.”

Are girls discouraged from pursuing more advanced math and science courses at Groton? The numbers seem to say a general no – and so do a lot of students. There is, of course, no voiced opinion against girls excelling in math and science. “I’ve never experienced any negativity to my taking advanced math or science classes as a girl,” says Gen Corman ’14.

On the other hand, an anonymous Fifth Form girl is ambivalent about the advanced math class that she is currently in. “I’m not sure if it’s worth it, especially because I sometimes feel uncomfortable in class. There are a few guys in the class who seem to know everything and put down the rest of us.”

Don’t forget – Groton is not representative of the real world – it is a selective community, and the people who are here have a reason to be. The stars of math and science here tend to be males such as Steve Cho ’11 and Taehoon Lee ’13 who had already shown strength in those subjects before arriving at Groton.

Maybe girls who embrace math and science don’t fit the Groton mold— few social graces, especially those practiced by girls, involve being buried in a math textbook.

Preconceptions are not always true, and although girls here sometimes slip into an image of ditziness and a social ladder, they are collectively very strong in the maths and sciences. Just as the transition to a co-ed school must have taken a while to get used to, the Groton community will need time to adjust to the fact that the genders really are balanced in their strengths in different subjects.

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