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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