Doctoral Candidate Sona Kumar Awarded 2019 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

Sona Kumar, a doctoral candidate in BU Wheelock’s Applied Human Development program, has been selected as the recipient of a 2019 National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship. The Fellowship provides a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 issued over three twelve-month “Fellowship Years.”

Ms. Kumar’s selection as an NSF Graduate Research Fellow is a significant national accomplishment. Her fellowship proposal outlines work which will examine the type of language that parents use when discussing STEM with their children, with a specific focus on discrepancies in between language used when discussing STEM with boys and that which is used when discussing STEM with girls.

Ms. Kumar graduated from Swarthmore College in 2017 with her B.A. in Psychology with a minor in English Literature. Upon her graduation, she spent a year as a lab manager at the Cognitive Development Lab at Wesleyan University. In fall of 2018, Ms. Kumar began the Ph.D. program in Applied Human Development at BU Wheelock.

“Broadly, my work is motivated by the fact that there is an underrepresentation of women in STEM fields” says Ms. Kumar. “Even though  in school women are often outperforming men in STEM subjects, when you get to higher education there are way fewer women doing STEM than men.  So, I was really interested in why this is happening and in thinking developmentally about how this discrepancy came to be. I really started to think about kids and the messages they’re receiving about who can be a scientist.”

When asked about how this research could be applied, Ms. Kumar says that she wants to develop an intervention for parents that could help modify their language when they talk about STEM opportunities with their kids. “In this day and age, parents are not consciously discouraging their girls from participating in STEM” notes Ms. Kumar.“The explicit language is all pro-science, but we all have biases that impact how we talk and what we choose to talk about. These biases can emerge in parenting with boys versus girls. I think there’s an opportunity here to work on changing the language that we use to encourage girls to participate in STEM.”  

Ms. Kumar is enthusiastic about this work and extremely grateful to her graduate advisor, Dr. Kathleen Corriveau. “I couldn’t have done this with without Kathleen’s guidance and support” says Ms. Kumar. “She put this grant on my radar and gave me feedback throughout the process. I’ve never done anything like this before and it was amazing for her to give me so much of her time.”

Dr. Corriveau is equally enthusiastic about this and offers words of congratulations. “Sona has demonstrated strong potential to make a lasting impact in the field of education, as well as in developmental science” says Dr. Corriveau. “Sona’s research on how children’s attention to subtle differences in adult language to ultimately reduce STEM gender inequities is extremely timely and important. It directly aligns with NSF’s focus on broadening representation in STEM through diversity and inclusion. Moreover, her strong desire to focus on how parents and teachers can foster these skills in early learners should serve as a blueprint for future targeted interventions.”

We’re proud to call Sona Kumar a member of our community, and look forward to reporting further on the research that this Fellowship will enable her to conduct!

Grace Hagerty