I'm teaching a graduate applied mathematics qualifying exam review course this summer, and I have 9 males and 1 female. My co-instructor and I are also both male. While I don't necessarily see this being an issue, I'm trying to be more sensitive to such "classroom environment" issues, and I've been wondering if there is anything specific I can try to do to help keep the atmosphere welcoming. I imagine this is a general issue that others have thought about at the upper division and graduate level, so I welcome any suggestions or references to articles, books, etc.

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    $\begingroup$ Like I said, I don't necessarily see this as being an issue, but I'm biased - I'm asking if anyone thinks it is an issue, and if so, if there is anything that can/should be done about it. In my experience teaching this course (this is my 3rd year), the guys tend to be the first to jump up to the board to present and are most vocal when it comes to discussing problems. $\endgroup$
    – icurays1
    Jun 7 '17 at 19:51
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    $\begingroup$ @tilper: E.g., there is some evidence that awareness of identity difference in a classroom setting causes mental load that inhibits higher faculties. See work by Claude Steele. "When confronted with those negative stereotypes, female math majors do perform worse on tests..." npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125859207 $\endgroup$ Jun 7 '17 at 21:10
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    $\begingroup$ To augment Daniel's citing of Claude Steele, the work of Buju Dasgupta confirms these detrimental biases. Here is her article on the physics culture, which is, I suspect, more challenging than mathematics (so caveat lector): "How Stereotypes Impact Women in Physics," 2016. $\endgroup$ Jun 7 '17 at 22:35
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    $\begingroup$ Start by using real English. You and your co-instructor are men. Your students include 9 men and 1 woman. $\endgroup$
    – Jasper
    Jun 8 '17 at 1:38
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    $\begingroup$ My partner's immediate response was, "Don't interrupt her!". $\endgroup$ Jun 8 '17 at 2:07

I'm a female who was often 'the only one' and later became a teacher in classes with 'only one' or very few females.

When I was a student in a normal (say 100th-ranked university), I just worked hard (and screwed up the grading curve for everyone hehehe) and didn't notice the gender ratio or whatever. Then I moved to grad school at a really elite school and from engineering to math-ish so probably a steeper boy-girl ratio, and there I noticed that the boys played mental games a lot, for instance pretending to be so much better than you when they really were not. The professors did that too. A lot of acting and less substance than lowly hardworking me. I confirmed that in my first year.
Oh yeah by the way I'm black too lol.
And I noticed heavy levels of prejudice that were a big burden for me.

My comments are that it's nice that you care, and I'm sure it's appreciated. If, as you coach these people towards their exams and in maths in general, you can offer a helpful comment that isn't awkward, then go ahead and please do so.
I ended up quitting. Nobody's fault, really. And I truly appreciate the people that were intentionally helpful and the people that were not. C'est la vie. Some people will be ###holes, right?
May I add that I did not quit just because I wasn't doing very well or because the 'atmosphere' was not very good, but also because the purpose, long-term, of the career just didn't really seem to fit right, so I couldn't see myself really in many of the successful leaders in the fields I tried, not exactly; and also because the career itself seemed to have an emotional problem and things would not get better even five years or ten years after successfully graduating. There just seemed to be too high a rate of non-success and unhappiness and for too deep into the career path. So let's not put too much weight on prejudice :)

Years later, I've found that as a teacher I'm sometimes harder on the (few) young women than many of the young men. So I try my best to create standards that ensure I'm more blind and more fair. For example I'll try to grade blindly to make sure I'm not letting the bias (on various dimensions, not just gender, say 'attitude', ...) through in this supposedly objective measure. It's not easy to do, even in classes with many dozens of students, because I can feel a lot of subjective elements through their exams, so sometimes I know who I'm grading.

Ah what can I say, I'm still going to be a mathematician someday. And if the system had been better they would have kept me without things having to be so hard. Can't blame any one person. And beyond it all, I'm happy. Broke but happy.

What was your question again? :D
Watch Hidden Figures.
Don't worry too much about it. And if you can't stop worrying about it, get into advocacy part-time.


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