Newswise — We know a lot about how gender shapes students' social experiences at college. But we know less about how students' day-to-day academic experiences differ for men and women, said Emma Cohen, a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences.

In the study "Academic Engagement in College: Gendered Styles of Student-Faculty Interaction," presented at the 111th annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Seattle, Cohen uses data from the National Survey of Student Engagement to look for answers.

She examines whether male and female students differ in the frequency of five different types of interaction with faculty, as well as whether there are gender differences in students' participation in research with faculty. Hers is the first study to look at gender differences across a variety of student-faculty interactions while statistically accounting for other factors that might explain any relationship between gender and student-faculty interaction.

“I found that women are more likely to frequently interact with faculty in instrumental ways related to course logistics and future planning, while men are more likely to have frequent higher-order interactions with faculty,” Cohen said.

“For example, women discuss grades and assignments and career plans with faculty significantly more frequently than men. Men discuss ideas from readings and courses with faculty outside of class and work with faculty on activities other than coursework -- for example, committees and orientation -- significantly more frequently than women.

“Freshmen men are also significantly more likely to plan to work on research with faculty, and senior men are significantly more likely to have actually done this,” she said.

In general, the findings suggest that women look to their instructors to guide them through course requirements and to help them plan future careers, but men may be more likely to see faculty not just as guides but as mentors and colleagues.

“It is possible that due to these differences in interaction style, men may be more likely to develop stronger relationships with their instructors. This is important because research suggests that when students have strong relationships with faculty, they are often inspired to take up new courses of study and expand their career goals, including deciding to pursue careers in academia,” Cohen said.