July 21, 2011, by

Close your eyes and take a moment to visualize a scientist working in a lab.  Chances are that you see a middle-aged white man wearing a lab coat and thick glasses.  One problem for me is that these socially entrenched beliefs have such a pernicious effect upon girls’ self belief and test performance.  So many of my students believe that they are unable to do Math, and much of this belief comes directly from social conditioning.  In study after study, when people in a certain social group are led to believe that they do well on a certain test (think men at Math, or women at sewing, or Asians at Math) they actually do significantly better. And vice versa.

Well, here’s some evidence to the contrary.  All three winners in the first annual Google Global Science Fair were American girls.  In each age category, the winning project belong to a girl (that she was American is for another blog post).  Shree Bose, who won the grand prize and the 17-18 year-old award, sought to understand why cisplatin, a chemotherapy drug commonly taken by women who have Ovarian cancer, gradually loses it efficacy, and how we can counter this issue.  She found that a cellular energy protein AMPK (adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase), held the key to the problem.  When AMPK was paired with cisplatin at the beginning of treatment, the combination reduced the efficacy of cisplatin.  However, if AMPK were added to the treatment program later on, when cancer cells were growing resistant to Cisplatin, it helped maintain the effectiveness of cisplatin.

    Here is the link to her research:

My point here is that we collectively can change performance.  If more of us start to see women as scientists, more of my students will believe they can do better on the ACT Science section or the SAT Math section, and will approach the test with less anxiety.  So close your eyes now, and visualize a scientist.  What do you see?

For more details on the science fair, look here: http://www.google.com/events/sciencefair/

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