College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Spring 6-12-2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Bernadette Sanchez, PhD

Second Advisor

Christine Reyna, PhD


Despite significant increases in academic degrees earned in recent decades, underrepresentation in the sciences still remains for women, African-Americans, Latina/os, and Native Americans (National Science Foundation, 2015). According to social cognitive career theory, academic and career development is impacted by contextual factors, such as environmental barriers (Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994). Among previously examined factors, discrimination has been shown to be a barrier for individuals throughout their science academic and career development (Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 2000). However, the impact of microaggressions, a subtler form of discrimination, requires further exploration for its potential influence on underrepresented groups in the sciences. To fill the gap within the literature, the current study explored the role of racial and gender microaggressions on science academic and career choices. This study explored the racial and gender microaggressions that prevent diverse representation in the sciences, from the perspectives of youth, graduate students, and faculty who participate in a science support program for Latina/o youth. Three research questions were explored in this study: a) what are the perceived gender and racial/ethnic microaggressions in the sciences? b) what role do gender and racial microaggressions play in science education and careers? c) how do these perceptions of microaggressions vary by race/ethnicity, gender, and age? Qualitative one-on-one in-depth interviews were conducted with 11 youth, 11 graduate students, and 13 faculty members. Interview transcripts were analyzed using a modified grounded theory approach (Charmaz, 2006) and prior taxonomies of microaggressions were used to inform analysis (Sue et al., 2007; Capodilupo et al., 2010). Perceptions of microaggressions fell into four overarching themes: 1) microinsults (including ascriptions of intelligence, assumptions of inferiority), 2) microinvalidations (including invisibility, denial of racism and sexism, restrictive gender roles), 3) gendered microassaults (including hiring discrimination, sexual harassment), and 4) environmental invalidations (including lack of women scientists, lack of scientists of color, lack of role models). Participants reported several ways in which microaggressions impacted their science education career development, including: 1) detrimental to psychological well-being, 2) mobility across science contexts, 3) pressure to prove ability and competence, and 4) sense of social isolation. As suggested by SCCT, these findings support the role of microaggressions as a contextual factor negatively influencing career development. The current study has implications for increasing well-being, retention, and participation of women and underrepresented ethnic/racial groups in the sciences.

SLP Collection