Understanding and avoiding stereotype threats in research

Macmillan Employee
Macmillan Employee
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With a new school year underway, it is important to consider and anticipate some of the potential threats to a new research student’s success. Among those threats are stereotypes that can take hold, especially in STEM fields of study. 

Stereotype threat is defined in Entering Research as “the psychological experience of anxiety about performing in a way that reinforces a negative stereotype about your group”. An important step to avoiding these stereotype threats is to understand the subtle cues that make negatively stereotyped groups feel anxious or undermined. When groups of students are triggered, they experience anxiety that leads them to underperform and subsequently reinforce those negative stereotypes, creating a harmful loop. 

There are many stereotypes surrounding women, racial minorities and others in academia. One of the ways to protect these groups of people from stereotype threat is to build and develop self-efficacy beliefs. However, saying that students should simply have strong beliefs in their own abilities to perform does not make it a reality. So to mitigate the negative impact of stereotype threats, a more direct approach of educating students about these threats may be necessary. Being a good role model regardless of gender, race or sex; encouraging students to have a growth view of intelligence; explaining other reasons for test anxiety; providing activities that reaffirm the student’s abilities. 

How do you support your students when stereotype threats arise? 

Read more about stereotype threats and other ways to help your research mentees in Entering Research: A Curriculum to Support Undergraduate & Graduate Research Trainees.