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MIT staff blogger Matt McGann '00

Omnibus Followup: Women in Engineering by Matt McGann '00

Melissa asks what the gender ratio is in engineering at MIT.

Last entry, I covered most of the questions that had been asked, but held one question out for further inspection. Melissa had asked, “Do you know what the gender ratio is at MIT in engineering (mechE/ECE/ChemE/BioE etc), AFTER four years? I really like that MIT has gotten the admissions up to near 50/50 like startup-school Olin College has, but I’m afraid that all my future female companions will end up in all the different liberal arts-non engineering programs you talk about, abandoning engineering.”

Melissa’s concerns are reasonable. According to statistics from the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), only 19.7% of undergraduates in engineering in the United States are women, and that number drops to 17.9% by graduation. Luckily, the situation at MIT is much better — I spent a few hours crunching the numbers myself to be sure.

At MIT, 35% of engineering majors are women — nearly twice the national average. And what’s more, by senior year, 35% of engineers are still women. In total, more than 90% of the women who start in engineering finish in engineering (the same as the men).

Let’s take a closer look at a few departments. Nationally, women account for about 27% of undergraduate students in computer science; at MIT for Fall 2006, MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science is 38% women. And even better, women are the majority of students in Chemical Engineering, Civil & Environmental Engineering, and Materials Science & Engineering.

Women in engineering are well supported here. One great mentoring and support organization is MIT SWE. SWE hosts career workshops, networking dinners, graduate school panels, dinners with professors, study breaks, and more — an average of two events each week. SWE is also the co-sponsor of the largest career fair on MIT’s campus, which brings hundreds of companies to recruit MIT students.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t room for improvement at MIT and in the greater world. But we’re trying to improve things. For example, there are several programs MIT sponsors that try to get high school students interested in majoring in engineering. One such program is the Women’s Technology Program. Also, there’s the student-organized Women’s Initiative.

When it comes down to it, the most important thing will be personal experiences. If/when you visit MIT, I encourage you to ask women about their experiences. I think you’ll find that, for the most part, it’s not all that different being a woman in engineering here. I had female friends in all of the different engineering majors at MIT (even ones like Nuclear and Ocean Engineering), and as far as I can tell, they were all quite happy with their experiences.

In short, Melissa, you don’t have to worry about coming to MIT and having all of your female classmates abandoning engineering for the liberal arts. Your engineering friends, for the most part, will stay with you in engineering all the way through graduation day.

7 responses to “Omnibus Followup: Women in Engineering”

  1. Fan says:

    Totally off topic, Matt, but I truly love ZigZag. When is the next episode coming out? Is there a regular schedule, or is it just whenever you all collect enough stories or events to build one?

  2. Rach says:

    Hi Matt! I’m considering applying to MIT this year, and I had some questions regarding the application. I spent the last 10 1/2 months(my Junior year) on exchange in Germany. How can I relate my experiences through the application?(through Essays, Activities, etc part 14?) How would MIT like my transcripts from Germany (can I just send a copy or would they like the school I was at to send an original?) How would you regard and consider the grades on the transcripts?

  3. Jessie says:

    Nice post. I got a question about this in my blog recently, and did similar number crunching.

    It reminds me of when I UROPed in the Jasanoff Lab (which is joint course 9/course 22) last year. I think there were five UROPs in the lab at the time. Two were straight 22. Two were straight 9. One was double 9/22. All of us were women. smile

  4. Aziz '10 says:

    LooL okay either you’ve posted this entry late at night or your server has a lag ;p

    I concur with Jessie this is a nice entry. Thanks for the stats Matt, I hope more women are encouraged to enter MIT and the number in engineering especially increases, since it’s a great major and women would be effective pursuing it smile

  5. SUchi says:

    off-topic: Can I send Part I of the application in the mail and complete Part II online?

  6. Timur Sahin says:

    Fun fact: you don’t have to be a woman or an engineer to be a member of the SWE.

  7. Dan says:

    Hellooo Matt. I have a question about the SAT math subject test requirement. well in the applying info, it says math level 1 and 2 scores are weighed equally but which one we take should depend on how much math we’ve taken. well in june after pre-cal I took both thinking the higher one will count. I got 110 points higher on level 1 than on level 2 (I took level 1 in the first hour and level 2 in the 3rd hour and my brain was dead by level 2 time!) SO do you still just look at whichever one is higher (level 1) despite that I’ve taken the math for level 2? so come october should I retake level 2 or stay with a 780 in math level –>ONE<–?