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Students reflect on popular majors for female students

New-found college students are plagued with an impossible question: What do I want to do for the rest of my life?

Although many students can carefully articulate their aspirations, others grapple with uncertainty. The decision becomes even more complex when influenced by the gloom of societal pressures like gender roles.

According to research by Dalen Foster, an Ohio University institutional research analyst, the most popular majors for female-identifying students at OU's Athens campus are biological sciences, nursing and psychology.

The most popular major among OU women, biological sciences, has 722 female-identifying students. Only 311 male-identifying students are enrolled under the same degree category, according to Foster's research.

Makenna Koogler, a junior studying wildlife and conservation biology, decided to pursue a career in biology after gravitating toward all things outdoors, from hiking to species preservation.

Koogler attributed the female majority within biological studies to the healthcare field. As she explained, the desire to enter the healthcare field, a degree in biology, and a caring, nurturing demeanor are all connected. 

"I guess just caring and nurturing, wanting to do that type of stuff, I feel like that's why a lot of women choose biology because it kind of gives you more leeway in which way you want to go," Koogler said.

In her specific field of biological science, Koogler attributed a female majority to a growing number of women seeking careers as park rangers. 

"I feel like it's also just the movement as a whole," Koogler said. "A lot of people are very environmentalist-minded right now."

At OU, women dominate the nursing program, accounting for 85.47% of students. There are 712 female-identifying nursing students are enrolled at OU, making it the second most popular major among women, according to research by Foster.

Maura Murray, a sophomore studying nursing, first decided to pursue a career in health care when she was in high school. 

"I really love the sciences and as cliche as it sounds, I really liked helping people," Murray said. 

Murray said her courses typically consist of majority female students. She attributed this factor to socially established gender roles, specifically, the trait of being caring and motherly. 

"It was always a woman's role to help other people and put other people first," Murray said.

According to the National Library of Medicine, in 1900, 91% of American nurses were women. By 1950, that number rose to 98%. As of 2019, women make up approximately 85% of the field. 

Murray said she enjoys moving in the opposite direction of societal standards, traditional gender roles and gender-based stereotypes. 

"It's just so ironic I picked nursing because it's kind of the opposite," Murray said. "I feel like I'm fitting into society's standards."

But as Murray explained, she can still make strides for gender equality in other aspects of her career, even if she is not challenging gender-based statistics. 

"I can make movements for women in that regard, to advocate for better payment wages, better staffing and stuff like that," Murray said. 

The third most popular major among female OU students is psychology. The field of study accounts for 672 students, according to Foster's research.

Eden Sutliff, a junior studying psychology, discovered a passion for psychology after taking a College Credit Plus course in high school. 

"I love psychology," Sutliff said. "I like analyzing behavior. I like learning why people do what they do."

As Sutliff explained, psychology was a field created by men, but currently, it is dominated by women. 

According to the American Psychological Association, 69% of the U.S. psychology workforce is composed of women. 

Much like Koogler and Murray, Sutliff credits the majority-female workforce to societal perceptions of gender roles.

"I think (it’s) because most of the jobs associated with (psychology) are career jobs," Sutliff said. "I think it's more common among women; nursing, counseling and therapy are all seen as feminine."

Despite existing gender roles, women at OU are making decisions rooted in their love for their field of study, forging a connection between passion and profession.


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