The Importance of Spatial SkillsSeptember 27, 2011
Each month this year, AAUW is teaming up with Nature Publishing Group, one of the world’s leading science publishers, to put together an online forum on women in science. The AAUW posts highlight findings from our 2010 research report, Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, now in its third printing.
The topic for “AAUW week” this month is spatial visualization skills.
One of the most persistent gender gaps in cognitive skills is found in the area of spatial skills, specifically on measures of mental rotation, where researchers consistently find that men outscore women by a medium-to-large margin.
While no definitive evidence proves that strong spatial abilities are required for achievement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers, many people, including science and engineering professors, view them as important for success in fields like engineering and classes like organic chemistry. The National Academy of Sciences states that “spatial thinking is at the heart of many great discoveries in science, that it underpins many of the activities of the modern workforce, and that it pervades the everyday activities of modern life.”
Sheryl Sorby, a professor of mechanical engineering and engineering mechanics at Michigan Technological University, has studied the role of spatial-skills training in the retention of female students in engineering since the early 1990s. She finds that individuals can dramatically improve their 3-D spatial visualization skills within a short time with training and that female engineering students with poorly developed spatial skills who receive spatial-visualization training are more likely to stay in engineering than their peers who do not receive training.
For those of you who are scientists or engineers, do you use spatial skills in your work? Do you think well-developed spatial skills are important for scientists and engineers?