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Women in Sports: Summer Research examines gender discrepancies in grad school, athletic careers

Sport and exercise studies professor Meghan Halbrook and Taylor Craft '20

Sport and exercise studies professor Meghan Halbrook and Taylor Craft ’20

As more females become referees and assistant coaches in the NFL, NBA, and other traditionally male-dominated organizations, it would appear that gender equity in sports is improving. However, Meghan Halbrook, a sport and exercise studies professor at Randolph, believes there is much more work to be done.

This summer, she is teaming up with Taylor Craft ’20 to examine gender discrepancies in sports careers and graduate programs in the United States. As part of the Summer Research project, they are surveying alumni, faculty, and students from more than 65 sport, exercise and performance psychology graduate programs across the country. In particular, they are polling grad students and professionals in the area of sport psychology.

“Within the field of psychology, we know that the vast majority of graduates from graduate programs are women, and that goes across most of the different types of psychology programs until we start talking about organizational psychology or more of the business or science side of it,” Halbrook said. “So, we’re pulling from a lot of different disciplines and looking at who’s occupying the graduate programs.”

Previous research on the subject led Halbrook and Craft to hypothesize that women in sport psychology graduate programs are more likely to go into teaching careers, whereas men are more likely to pursue consulting or research jobs. They are also looking at male-female ratios among both the student and faculty populations of those graduate programs, as well as the examining factors that arise during their graduate careers.

“There have been studies that have shown males receive more encouragement in math, science, and sports at young ages,” Halbrook said. “In a science classroom, if a male and female both raise their hand to answer a question, teachers will often subconsciously call on the male. So, males have more opportunities to be successful and encouraged in the classroom too.”

“Guys are also perceived as more popular when they play sports, and teachers are even more likely to form connections with them too,” Craft added. “Girls are perceived more based on their physical appearance and social background.”

By the end of the 2019 Summer Research session, Halbrook and Craft plan to publish their survey results. Halbrook also foresees future research, since there were many open-ended questions for the participants about why they entered the sport psychology field and if they had ever been dissuaded by their family, teachers, peers, or athletes from pursuing a career in the area of athletics.

“I was really interested in this project because of the opportunity to conduct research and to have a chance to publish it,” Craft said. “Professor Halbrook came to me about it and I thought it would be really relevant for me since I’ve taken a lot of her classes and I’m a sport and exercise studies major.”

Upon graduation from Randolph, Craft plans to attend graduate school herself.

“If we can find some good data and publish it, this experience will be really helpful for Taylor,” Halbrook said. “It’s incredibly rare for an undergraduate student to come into graduate school with a publication already under her belt, and this would give her a huge advantage.”

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