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Myths About 'Talent' Disadvantage Women in Science

Written by: Maria Hornbek
Published on: Feb 26, 2024

Young Scientist

Photo Credit: auremar -

Lecturers and students in natural science programs perceive “talent” to mean asking quirky questions and being confident and playful, a study finds.

Men most frequently fall into that category, according to the researchers.

“Students who are well-prepared and meet learning objectives but do so in a way that their lecturers don’t find as exciting as when they are asked golden and quirky questions, are typically not recognized as talented. While appreciated as diligent, they are largely invisible,” says Henriette Holmegaard, an associate professor in the science education department and one of two researchers behind the study. The study appears in the book Science Identities (Springer, 2022).

According to the researchers, a sorting mechanism is at play during teaching, where students are divided into those with and without talent—a mechanism with a gender bias. This means that more female than male students are seen as lacking “the right stuff.”

“Lecturers report that when students ask questions, some of the men’s questions are simply much more exciting than those of the women. And if the women try, they risk being considered unauthentic or strategic—as if it was not natural for them to do so,” says Bjørn Friis Johannsen, a former researcher in the science education department who is now at University College Copenhagen.

According to the researchers, male students are more likely to be perceived as brave and curious “artists”—whereas women are perceived as fragile “organizers.”

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