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UW Psychology Professor Sapna Cheryan conducted a series of studies regarding the stereotypes students have about computer scientists. She found that young women are afraid of being labeled "computer nerds" and don't feel like they would fit in with others in the industry. (AP Photo/File)

Study: Girls afraid of being labeled 'computer nerds'

Women are making strides in science. They now make up about half the people getting degrees in biology and nearly half in chemistry and math, but for some reason they're still lagging when it comes to computers.

Sapna Cheryan, a psychology professor at the University of Washington, wanted to find out why. She discovered through a series of studies that women are afraid of being labeled a "computer nerd."

When she asked undergrad students at the UW and Stanford University to describe a computer scientist, they answered, "they're very smart, they're geniuses, they stay up all night coding, they're socially awkward."

It's a stereotype that's played out in the media over and over again, but Cheryan says it's far from accurate.

"It's a highly exaggerated and caricatured perception of what computer scientists are like," says Cheryan.

Students who had previously taken computer science classes were less likely to describe the usual stereotype. So, Cheryan says the answer is exposure at home, at school and in the workplace.

"Show them that Microsoft is a really cool place to work, that Google is a really cool place to work," says Cheryan.

The young men in the study held the same stereotypes about computer scientists, but it didn't keep them from saying they would like to go into that field as a career.

There is a national project launched in Seattle Friday called GAMES, Girls Advancing in Math, Engineering and Science. Their goal is to create a computer game geared toward keeping girls interested in STEM classes in 4th through 8th grades.

Kim Shepard, KIRO Radio Reporter
Kim Shepard is a news anchor and reporter for KIRO Radio and the office optimist. She's energetic, quick to laugh and has a positive outlook on life.
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