Social Science Research

The research team at LEAF plans on studying social climate, as expressed through message linguistics, subjective experiences, and social networks, in order to explore communications regarding women in STEM. We will also analyze the depth and value of STEM professors’ networks and administrative expectations of women’s networks.

Study 1: Analyzing top-down communication through discourse analysis

Discourse analysis examines how language is used to communicate knowledge, identity, and social relationships within an institution. LEAF can gain an understanding of the underlying beliefs of the organization by examining commonplace interactions.


We will examine:

  • Electronic documents extending from two years prior to UC LEAF through the first four years of the project
  • All STEM-related online communications (emails and webpages)
  • Communications to STEM scientists via email distribution lists
  • Workload documents
  • Departmental and college bylaws
  • Reappointment, promotion and tenure policies

We will therefore identify patterns of communication to gain a clearer picture of social interactions within UC, and base theories of change off of this information. In addition to examining the experiences of women, data analyses will focus on messages which deal directly and indirectly with racial and ethnic minorities, and grounded theory will be carefully applied to these various subgroups.

Study 2: Analysis of Network Depth and Value

Those with richer social relationships and professional networks generally have more career success. However, building social networks may become difficult when STEM women enter into an area where they are judged, implicitly or explicitly, to be less competent outsiders. In addition, social networks become more difficult to manage when work-life balance becomes unmanageable. LEAF will assess the social climate through real connections between people within UC.

  • All women involved in learning communities during years 1-4 of the grant will be asked annually to outline their networks. To compare men and women’s networking success, we will invite men to participate. 
  • Each participant will be invited to send us a list of potential references and support people. To be included on a reference list, participants must be at least 90% certain that the nominated references would write a letter of recommendation for him or her. Each person listed as a support should be someone that the person knows he or she could rely on for help. 
  • Administrators will be asked to make predictions about reported network depth and value among men and women STEM scientists. Questions will inquire about their perceptions about women’s satisfaction with work, amount of support, and network equality.

We hypothesize that men will likely have richer, deeper, and self-assessed more valuable support networks in the first year. However, women who participate in LEAF’s programs will close the gaps with their male peers over the course of the research program. Racial and ethnic minority women will be assessed as subgroups as well as with other STEM scientist women. We predict minority women will initially have greater discrepancies in network depth and value but will also become more similar to those of other women and men.

We also anticipate that administrators will overestimate equality in networks between the genders, the utility of women’s networks, and amount of support. However, we believe that women’s networks will become in line with administrative expectations.