Does Star Trek Stop Women from Becoming Scientists?

A new study published this month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that Star Trek may be partly responsible for widening the gender gap in computer science careers. Their findings imply that nerdy stereotypes associated with Star Trek and computer science may dissuade women from joining that field. As a woman of science who was largely inspired by Star Trek, I have a few doubts about the study’s findings. Read on and find out why.


The Study
Statistics from the National Science Foundation show that men dominate the field of computer science, and Sapna Cheryan of the University of Washington, lead author of this study, wanted to find out if nerdy stereotypes were to blame. In the study, groups of students were placed into two different kinds of rooms set up as computer science classrooms: The first kind was neutrally decorated with coffee mugs, plants, and art posters; The second was geeked-out with Star Trek posters, video games, and comic books. The students were all given a questionnaire asking if they would want to go into the computer science field. The results showed that the women of the group were less likely to choose a computer science career if they had been in the Star Trek room, while men showed no change.

I, for one, would love to have this as my work environment!

The Results and Interpretation: Is this a real effect?
The researchers performing this study came to the conclusion that nerdy stereotypes associated with Star Trek and its nerdy connections to computer science careers would serve to dissuade women from becoming computer scientists. Is this a real result? As a woman who was inspired by Star Trek to go into science, I have my doubts. I was personally inspired by Star Trek at a young, impressionable age, well before I was able to form any kind of stereotypes about “nerds”. Star Trek is a sci-fi show that empowers women in science and technology careers. Ever since the Original Series, Gene Roddenberry’s vision was to create a future world where people no longer saw others as a stereotype, be it for race, religion, gender, or even species!

Tell Your Story!
I want to hear your point of view on this study. Do you think Star Trek stops women from entering science or computer science careers? I know that Star Trek and other science fiction shows and movies have inspired a lot of men and women to become scientists. Did it inspire you? What is your story?

Star Trek inspired us to become women of science and technology. What’s your story?

Links and Sources

WIRED Science article on this study

NSF Statistics on Gender in Science


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We’ll have to have Uhura get her second Ph.D in computer science!

I think Star Trek inspires the sort of people it’s meant to inspire, and I think anyone “dissuaded” by it would have been dissuaded by other elements as well. And in real life, people don’t generally decide their career paths by visiting a random workplace, checking out the decor, and deciding “yeah, that’s the kind of coffee mug I want to work near.” There’s no hint of legitimate causation here.

Now I’m a guy, but Star Trek certainly has helped influence me to becoming an Engineer. I think I can understand the study’s conclusion, however it seems to be a sort of second-hand influence. The Trek-like surroundings feel geeky, and the girls don’t want to be geeky, so they check ‘no’ on the computer science careers. I think the overarching message of the study is that many people still view Star Trek as ‘geeky’ and probably always will.

I like in the study how the guys didn’t really care :)

Well boborci, she was shown a couple times in the original series elbow, neck and torso-deep inside the electronics. She must have been a whiz with the equipment, too

great article Kayla

And Bob….is that a spoiler?

I don’t buy it either, Kayla. At first glance, this does not seem to be a very scientific study. Perhaps the wonen in the study were more influnced by the colors or another factor. They way it is set up does not seem very controlled…

I, too, was inspired to want to become a scientist after being introduced into Star Trek, and I am still practically a kid. I have never done better in school than now because of motivating myself with inspirations like the characters in Star Trek. I think anyone not wanting to work in a certain profession because it might appear as “geeky” is acting dumb and thoughtless. I thought one of the points of Star trek was that any one, male or female, could work as anything they wanted without sexism or racism. I guess now all they care about is being judged as a ”geek”.

or even the Women… I cannot type…

I’m guessing it goes to what your entry point into Trek was. If you’re a classic guy like me, I could see how this conclusion would be drawn, however, the TNG types will probably have a different attitude.

There’s also something here about how maybe some of the women didn’t want to sleep with the captain to advance their careers, but that’s purely idle speculation :)

Bob — now you can write a focused article on how JJ’s Trekverse is female-friendly. (And I don’t mean that the way Kirk would mean it.)

Great stuff as always, Kayla!

“Star Trek” doesn’t “stop” anyone from doing anything. The female main characters are generally highly intelligent, empowered individuals excelling and content in their chosen paths.

It may be the cliched view of Trek fandom which does the damage. Popular culture makes Trekkers look ugly, deluded, naive and stupid. If you’ve read over these threads the past few years, many posters are afraid to let their Trek flag fly in public because they feel the backlash will be too great.

Maybe the new film series will help to change that.

As for me, I am a man, and Trek inspired me to study other languages and cultures. I have spent the bulk of the last 17 years overseas in Russia and Northern Europe working in the precise countries I was inspired to study. It taught me the value of diplomacy and to understand just how different seemingly similar cultures can befrom one another, and why. That, in turn, has taught me to be flexible and open as a person, even as I approach the latter half of my forties.

I would happily mention “Star Trek” as an influence in an interview. Most people actually think it’s fairly cool.

I will say it once. Star Trek is the primary reason that I was inspired to become and Astronautical Engineer. I wanted to design and create space craft ever since I saw the amazing designs of ships in Star Trek. While real space craft are quite different, there is no doubt that Star Trek is most responsible for leading me to where I am now in my life.

The problem with studies like this is that not everyone is the same. Correlation does not equal causation. Get a different group to do the same study they might find different results the next time. That doesn’t mean the study is wrong, just that you cannot take it as gospel.

– Rob, Engineering student and Star Trek fan.

@boborci– I can imagine who her tutor would be for the Computer Science Ph.D… our favorite pointy-eared hobgoblin.

“Really, Nyota… you excel at languages, yet the mathematical perfection of the 437 known modern computer languages escape you. How is this possible?”

“Spock,” she purrs at him,”None of them have a word for “love”.”

(Spock, mentally face-planting to himself) “Perhaps I should have stayed on Vulcan…”

Unfortunately, Star Trek spin-offs, starting with TNG and happily ending with NuTrek, are simply collections of outcasts, “The Island of Misfit Toys” as it were. You have the blind engineer; the Boy Blunder; the Klingon raised by humans; the robot that wants to be human; aliens that bark and spit their words rather than speak them; assorted squishy characters that are the object of movies such as “Revenge of the Nerds”; alternative lifestyle participants and on and on.

Is it any wonder that women, who are instinctually designed to seek high-status mates to produce high quality children, are indifferent to if not repulsed by such a collection of flotsam and jetsom? The fact that technical careers have been reduced to H1B holders, or outsourced to the Third World, is proof positive that technical work holds little if any residual value to the Western mind — and that at the PhD level.

This is simple Darwinism. Call it “selective breeding” if you wish. Ironically, Star Trek is hostile to the primary faith tradition that would have us rethink the outcast, namely Christianity. In this manner, it succeeds in offending the sole remaining, mainstream segment that might lend Star Trek a positive popular perception.

It is no wonder Abrams et al wanted so desperately to distance themselves from this stereotype as it means an insufficient market to sustain the Star Trek business model. Star Trek has become a collection of minority interests that might elicit sympathy but which fail to offer an honest value proposition to most capable, fully competent people –absent NuTrek I say again, which is, perhaps self-consciously “old fashioned” in its outlook of “nothing succeeds like success!”

Those of us who are fans of the original series (note the minuscule letters, please) understand that it was intended to be mainstream in its presentation of ideas and ideals of broad interest to the survival of civilization. Star Trek’s tolerance was a product of the age of Mutually Assured Destruction — but it is not, generally speaking, a means to genetic survival absent the sword of Damocles.

So the message is clear: if you want a genetically fit mate, women know to look elsewhere than technology jobs. Now if the men would only learn that simple lesson:

Nothing succeeds like success.

C.S. Lewis, MBA

I’m glad to hear that a lot of you disagree with the findings of this study. I love hearing stories about people being motivated into science by Star Trek, just as I was!

I haven’t seen the published statistics from this study other than the interpretations and results, but it also seems to me that these are not good inferences. Most people are inspired at a young age, as I was, when stereotypes don’t play as much of a role.

This study seems ridiculous. Along the same lines as “video games turn kids into criminals”. I dismiss it.

As it is so often in studies like this one, it is quite unclear how one gets from the hard empirical result as presented to the generalized conclusion, i.e. that nerdy stereotypes dissuade women from pursuing computer science.
Wouldn’t we need a lot more experiments/empirical data in order to ascertain this result?

IMHO, yes, we need a lot more data!

I find this study absurd ! Its soo childish ! How can you base that theory on the fact that their in a star trek decorated room or not. Maybe they choose not to go into computer science because the room was poorly decorated ? lol Maybe the atmopshere they created was foul… once again, If i were a non-trek fan and be sitting in on the classic TOS bridge, I would abviously be turned off a bit ! I think women and men can love trek. This study is b.s.

I am studying for my Software Engineering Degree and I have actually spoken to many women in the Computer Science field and they’ve come to the conclusion that their scared to enter the Computer Science field because of pop-culture constraints (star trek not being the reason). I think you can blame stuff like MTV or Entertainement Tonight that paint women as non-scientific. Star Trek actually encourages women and all sexes to participate in every field of study. I entered the programming field, because i was inspired by Star Trek.

TO BOB: The New Trek was extremly women-friendly and i’m actually proud to say that the women in my family loved it ! So prove this study wrong EVEN FURTHER in the next trek….. By introducing a couple of more strong female characters. Nurse Chappel ? Female Villain ? Another Female Starship captain who has to save kirks butt ?

Gender aside, if someone’s reason for avoiding a career is based on stereotypes and perception, that someone has has huge self-esteem issue.

Thus if thus study proves anything, it proves that we raise girls in our society to be overly sensitive to the opinions of others. We don’t teach our daughters free thinking, creativity, and control of one’s own destiny. Instead, we teach them to go along to get along and, above all else, to conform.

The problem ain’t Trek. It’s Cosmo and Oprah.

In what possible way can “C.S. Lewis” demonstrate that Star Trek is “hostile” to Christianity? That’s just a bizarre statement. Trek is neither hostile to, nor a proponent of, any specific religious tradition. There have been occasional references to human religion on Trek, most of which seem to suggest that human religions are much the same in the future as they are today.

#15: That is the single creepiest post I’ve seen on the Internet in years.

I personally think this is more propaganda-esque “Anti-Trek”/”Trek Bashing” BS. Like the stories of how the media wanted to contact TrekMovie for Star Trek news stories and became disinterested in them as a source after TrekMovie refused to show Trek in a negative light.

If I really wanted to be mean, I’d say that this study has “government grant” stamped all over it. If you want REAL science, you don’t go shopping at a government store.

Well, it is hard to take Trek women seriously with the ridiculously short skirts. I’m just sayin’.

of the MAJOR trekkies i know in RL. 3 are male and 2 are female. of the CASUAL star trek fans i know, 8-10 are female and 6 are male. most of my super nerdy friends are STAR WARS fans and look down on star trek. the females don’t really make a distinctoin from what i can tell.

#24 Almost all science in the world is funded by national governments. The National Science Foundation and NASA support the research of almost 100% of the scientists I know (including myself). And, the European Research Council funds much of the work done in the UK and Europe.

I think this was just was a clever ploy to buy a lot of Trek stuff for somebody’s house, and make a university foot the bill!

All the women astronauts working today would probably disagree with this study. NASA actually hired Nichelle Nichols as an astronaut recruiter.

And #15 needs to lay off the eggnog. ;)

This is not a well designed study, as ‘being in a Star Trek room’ does not substitue comparably to watching the episodes and being influenced by them, and the message and ideals of Trek. I say this study gets an F.

But to boborci’s point, I say yes, give her a great, science filled, character driven problem to solve in a dramatic way!

This study looks like it was done by people driven to science by Star WARS instead of Star Trek. I’m with Kayla… not buying it.

Did this “study” interview her???

Seems the people conducting this study have conflated geekyness with a lack of professionalism. It’s entirely possible to have a professional/academic environment with a geeky vibe, but comic books and video games are hardly appropriate in a classroom! I’d be off-put by something like that too, and I’ve probably got more in my bedroom than they used in the study.

First, BobOrci – It would fit for Uhura to have some computer expertise in Communications, since knowing her equipment, communications protocols (both human and alien), as well as the countless complexities of technologies such as the Universal Translator and the process of encoding/decoding Linguacode are essential.

She probably has some knowledge of physics, already hinted at in the movie, since Subspace Communications probably involves transmission in the Subspace domain, and instrumentation and equipment for communications and data transfer are likely to be complex in many disciplines.

I cannot speak for women entering science or technology, but I can say that I was inspired to enter IT because of Spock working on the Enterprise’s library computer.

I saw a kind of logical, methodical, complex device, and wanted to know how they worked, what they did, and how I could use them.

I started learning programming at about age 14, and now in my 30s, I have a career in Tech Support and Software Development, and I am fairly good at what I do.

So thank you Spock, and thank you Star Trek.

I don’t buy the study on it’s face, since it assumes a general reason where countless others are more likely. Some socialogical (discouraged by old-fashoined viewpoints), but mostly personal, aka career choice (something else is simply more appealing).

The Nerdy Stereotype is something that applies to IT regardless of Star Trek, Star Wars or other entertainment fandom, and in some cases, Star Trek is regarded as symptomatic of geekdom, and is one of many attributes of the stereotype.

To be honest, I think this study might have been more timely 20 years ago. Truth is, the stereotype of someone in computer science (or science in general) has been in place for years, and I think it simply comes with the territory. As with any other career, there are going to be predetermined ideas of what’s “cool” and what’s “not cool”. I think the idea of trying to connect Trek to “not cool” (which is a little questionable for use as a variable) just simply proves a point that any Trekkie who has been around for more than 10 years knows: women and Trek don’t often mix. And this isn’t to say that I don’t know a lot of women who actually enjoyed the recent Star Trek movie, but historically, Trek has been dominated by male fans.

Even so, I don’t really know too many women who decorate their homes/apartments/offices with movie memorabilia anyway. Even if a woman likes a movie or TV series, you don’t often see their room coated in it as in the case of the room above. So, chances are, the women in this study may have been more turned off by the fact that the colors weren’t complimentary of each other much more than the fact that it was Trek based.

The fact is, women are strongly involved in the sciences, and most of the ones that I have known or are aware of know that they are going into a world dominated by males who enjoy sci-fi. But most of the women I know that are like that can also debate you to the wall whether or not Star Trek V was really the worst of the Trek series, and they know a Wookie from a Tribble. Point being, deep down, they are often pretty nerdy themselves.

I buy the story completely. Star Trek did got me interested to be involved with Space Station (late 1980s). But at that time, women were many in computer sciences but not electrical engineering. In the work face, more women were in management as they seem to have overall better organizational skills. This of course changed throughout the 1990s and this decade. Now it’s virtually impossible to find few women out of computer science studies. But during the 1990s that is when Star Trek TV and movies were hitting full stride.

Bob Orci: please keep writing scripts that attract general public and especially women! Don’t let a few stubborn Trekker/Trekkie nerds to sway you! We need Star Trek to stay “cool” and get more non-nerds in involved with sciences.

Helen Noel was hot.

Some of the comments on this thread are unbelievable sexist… #34, “Women and Star Trek just don’t mix”??? Excuse me, I’ve been a Trekkie since looong before this year’s movie came out.

If there’s one bad thing about the Original Series, it’s how women act so mindlessly when they see something happen to someone like Kirk. It’s stupid and sexist. I don’t like it, women don’t act like that.

38. I agree completely. Like most other shows of the era, the sexism is the most glaring difference, when compared with current TV. But even current pop culture tends to relegate women to a few different stereotypes. One of the places wherein sexism rears its head most today is improv comedy, but that’s not usually the case if there’s actual talent in the troupe.

As far as the article is concerned. It’s certainly possible. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s a fascinating topic to say the least.

@32 – Yes!! This study lacks controls.

I am a female who studied science & technology, but Star Trek had no influence on that decision. Personally, I always had a difficult time sustaining interest in a single episode of that show. It is such a snooze-fest for me.

My main motivation for studying science & technology is my lifelong passion for videogames and my innate talent in mathematics.

I think the people who did this study were high on something.

Women and Men both hold science positions on Star Trek. Jadzia Dax from DS9, T’Pol From Enterprise, Dr. Crusher (Medical / Science), Captain Janeway (Captain and Scientific Explorer), B’Lanna Torres(Engineering / Scientific Theory), and more.

Star Trek promotes all races and creeds to equality and liberty.

If I understand the study correctly, young women will choose their career based on how the room they’ll study in is decorated. It implies that if you just put fashion magazines and designer colors out, they’ll go major in anything!

Wow, and I thought women were hard to understand.

I’d have to disagree with #15 CS Lewis that latter-day Trek collects misfits on its various Bridges, and thus, somehow ‘dumbs down’ the fictitious genepool for women who are instinctively looking to mate with shinola in what is ultimately a pool of shit (Isn’t that what he said?).

These ‘misfit toys’ are written to gel as disparate parts of what is, or will become, a functional whole. And Star Trek has always tried hard to stress inclusion. Data on his own makes a fine toaster. But with his comrades, he excels and grows as an individual, and his contributions to the success of the mission become all the more significant. This is the same with Odo, Seven, and T’Pol and all who surround them.

I have always thought that the camaraderie amongst these individuals in Star Trek was a good reason to be inspired to pursue a field. Being surrounded with likeminded brilliant individuals brings out the best in everyone, regardless of inevitable conflicts of ego or differences of opinion. And that’s where appropriate leadership, the Captain, must effectively intervene.

Where Mr. Lewis is correct is his depiction of the latest film as an homage to pure success. JJ himself said he wanted his Starfleet Captains to all be exceptional individuals. No Will Deckers or Don Tracys. And no Baileys, Stiles, or Kevin Rileys. We get Robau and Pike, George Kirk and his son, Jim. Spock is the greatest Vulcan scientist since sliced bread. Perhaps it does feel too exclusive of the normal folk whom Kirk leaves once the sparkle of ambition, his birthright, is kindled.

In the end, Trek is supposed to suggest to humanity that it has a great purpose, and that, individually, each of us has one as well. In reality, we only have what’s available on Earth. And rather than waste our potential, we should pull our fingers out and get down to being the best we can be in whatever we care to do.

#42: “I’d have to disagree with #15 CS Lewis that latter-day Trek collects misfits on its various Bridges, and thus, somehow ‘dumbs down’ the fictitious genepool for women who are instinctively looking to mate with shinola in what is ultimately a pool of shit (Isn’t that what he said?).”

Sort of. He said they were designed (and that the design is “instinctual” to use his term) to seek out “high status” mates (and choose their careers to this end, apparently!) and that this design is a case of … Darwinism. Among other odd things.

That said, “Designed For Darwinism” would be a fun, subversive T-Shirt slogan. Edgy and faux-intellectual yet basically vapid and meaningless. That’s pretty much the formula for selling a T-Shirt slogan to the coffeehouse demographic, near as I can tell :) Anyone here do silk-screening? We can move these suckers like crazy at Galactica conventions …

Star Trek inspires us all for some thing, be it Science or Medical or Engineering and some would say Leadership. In my OCS class we actually studied the leadership qualities of all the Captains. They each have their own style and each member of my class (those that survived the course) said they would follow at least one of the captains. One could argue that these are fictional characters and not real life leaders of the military such as Grant, Lee, Patton, Bradley or Schwartzkopf. However, we concentrated on thier “style”, not any tatics. Hands down the winner was Kirk/Shatner with Archer/Bakula a close second.


If you were inspired by Trek then all the best to you as that is the best example of leadership. When you see some thing like Trek and want to be like that or do that with the positive message Trek has for everyone regardless the field one enters. You just showed how how the best and the brightest will succeed. Not to mention, you wear the uniform well.

Dumbest notion ever about Star Trek. It doesn’t stop women from becoming a scientist, WOMEN do! Much greater blame goes to MTV.

One thing I want to add is that you could argue women in Star Trek have taken a step backward with the reboot. Beginning with TNG, women have held an ever increasingly important role on each cast. Janeway was captain even. Doctors, second in command, etc. By reverting to the 1960’s cast, that has all been thrown out the door, in a sense. One of the reasons Gene’s motto “Looking Forward” was so important.

48, They didn’t take a step backward with the “reboot” because it is portraying the characters prior to what they eventually become.

If they would have made Uhura a science officer, then that would alter the reality of this reality, which is, Uhura was studying to become a communications officer and thus became Lt. Uhura in the 1966 series.

I don’t think anything was “thrown out the door” as much as it was keeping with the history of the characters who first came to us 43 years ago.

I believe that Star Trek will still influence little girls to want to be more involved with the sciences as is. It shows a strong female in a position of importance working in space. Not to say others won’t become captains, etc. but that is when the little girls can be shown how Janeway made Captain if so desired.

Duh! Why pin this all on Star Trek. If you decorated that room all in Hello Kitty I would walk away from that career too (and so would the guys I bet). It’s called socialization and the reason why schools have to present things in a neutral way.

I work with plenty of geeks and I love them all. But I’m not interested in their fetishes and can walk away from it when I’m not interested. Same with mine. Most of my guy friends are not interested in the new pair of platform boots I just picked up at lunch. I typically don’t hang out with them after hours and it was never a criteria to work in a tech field. Thankfully most schools don’t present education with this kind of bias. I’m really at a loss as to what this study was supposed to prove. How old were these “students” anyway?

My impression of guys in general is that they are less attentive to environmental details. Working in a nice clean, well organized office is no different than working in one crammed full of stuff. Whereas most women I know would rather be as organized at work as at home and resist any cluttered environment regardless of what it was. I can be a bit of a slob, but nothing compared to my teenage brothers’ bedroom growing up and he hasn’t changed much as an adult! So it kinda makes sense. It’s Pavlovian at its root. Associate an irritant with a thing and a person, based on their genetic and environmentally developed disposition, will likely avoid it.

Dumb and insulting.