Students most often use the words ‘brilliant’ and ‘genius’ to describe professors who are male and in academic disciplines where women and African-Americans are underrepresented, a new US study has found.
Researchers analysed more than 14 million reviews on RateMyProfessors.com, where students write anonymous reviews of their professors.
“Male professors were described more often as ‘brilliant’ and ‘genius’ than female professors in every single field we studied - about two to three times more often,” said Daniel Storage from University of Illinois in the US.
“Students also used ‘brilliant’ and ‘genius’ to describe their professors most often in academic fields such as philosophy and physics, in which women and African-American students are a distinct minority,” said Storage.
The study found that none of the following four factors could fully explain the underrepresentation of women or African-Americans in a field - average GRE (graduate school entry exam) math scores, the desire to avoid long hours at work, the selectivity of each field or the ability to think systematically.
“While there are correlations between some of these factors and the presence or absence of women and African-Americans in some fields, we consistently found that the only thing that was explaining the proportions of women and African-Americans in a particular field was that field’s emphasis on the importance of brilliance and genius,” said Storage.
“Both of these groups are stereotyped in a similar way about their intellectual abilities and therefore are potentially affected in a similar way by the amount of emphasis that is put on brilliance,” said Andrei Cimpian from the University of Illinois.
“The people in certain fields might not see that quality in women and African-Americans. Women and African-Americans themselves may be conditioned to not see these qualities in themselves,” said Cimpian. The findings were published in the journal Science.