There’s a New York Times piece, Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard), that’s been making the rounds about the alarming number of students who start out in Science and Engineering, but then switch to another field of academic study. The general tone of the article is that students leave because these subjects are hard, they often aren’t well taught, and students receive the lowest grades they’ve ever received in any subject. It contrasts the way science is taught in elementary and high school as “fun,” filled with science fairs and experiments where you get to blow things up, with the grim reality of first year calculus. There are worries raised about the number of scientists the United States needs and whether that goal will be met but it also raises concerns about who leaves. It’s not just weak students or underprepared students who abandon science in the early years of university, it turns out. The article doesn’t address gender specifically but I found myself wondering if female undergraduates are more likely to think that they ought to leave the sciences if they get bad grades. One the studies cited is by Ben Ost. Ost, a doctoral student at Cornell, found that STEM students are both “pulled away” by high grades in their courses in other fields and “pushed out” by lower grades in their majors.” (Ost’s study, The Role of Peers and Grades in Determining Major Persistence in the Sciences is here. Ost’s abstract says, “In both the physical and life sciences, I find evidence that students are “pulled away” by their high grades in non-science courses and “pushed out” by their low grades in their major field. In the physical sciences, females are found to be more responsive to grades than males, consistent with psychological theories of stereotype vulnerability.” I haven’t read through all of Ost’s paper yet but I did find myself wondering about Philosophy. Philosophers often boast about being tough graders and I think that we like that our grades are lower than other Humanities subjects. Does that grading culture cost us our female students? If so, what ought we to do about it?