LGBTQ undergraduates more likely to abandon STEM studies

15 Mar 2018

Student unions gather together in Hong Kong waiting to join pride parade. Image: YE HANZHANG/Shutterstock

Research appears to confirm that those from an LGBTQ background are more likely to not complete their studies in STEM when compared with heterosexual classmates.

The science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) pipeline from academia to a career is by no means stable, with countless testimonies showing it to be somewhat leaky, especially for women and LGBTQ students.

This means that many of those from minority backgrounds find it difficult to not only make it to senior leadership positions in these careers, but in many instances don’t get to participate in a STEM career at all.

Future Human

This reality was compounded by a new study showing that those who identify themselves as LGBTQ were more likely to abandon their STEM studies when compared with heterosexual classmates.

According to Nature, the study led by PhD student Bryce Hughes is the first to provide direct evidence of this, basing his analysis on data from a nationwide survey of 4,000 university students at 78 US institutions.

The data was able to show whether first-year LGBTQ students in STEM subjects were still enrolled four years later or whether they had switched to a non-STEM degree.

As it turns out, almost half of senior-year LGBTQ undergraduates were doing lab or fieldwork, putting them ahead of their heterosexual counterparts at 41pc.

However, the data also showed that the former were 8pc less likely to stick with the STEM degree.

Launch of LGBTSTEM Day

The study, however, does not explain why these students leave more frequently, but those who have researched LGBTQ inclusion in education said the findings show that there is no indication these students are any less interested in STEM than their peers.

Michael Falk, a material scientist and vice-dean for undergraduate education at John Hopkins University, believes marginalisation and isolation play a big part.

Falk contributed to a report back in 2016 that showed one-in-five physicists who identify as LGBTQ in the US experience exclusion and harassment.

In Ireland, meanwhile, Pride in STEM, House of STEM and InterEngineering Ireland are aiming to combat this situation with the launch of the first ever International Day of LGBTQ for STEM, called LGBTSTEM Day, to be held on 5 July 2018.

“It is time to make a bold statement of support and we believe that this special event can help make a significant step towards this goal,” the organisers said.

Student unions gather together in Hong Kong waiting to join pride parade. Image: YE HANZHANG/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic