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There are many hypotheses regarding factors that may encourage female students to pursue careers in the physical sciences. Using multivariate matching methods on national data drawn from the Persistence Research in Science and Engineering (PRiSE) project (n=7505), we test the following five commonly held beliefs regarding what factors might impact females’ physical science career interest: (i) having a single-sex physics class, (ii) having a female physics teacher, (iii) having female scientist guest speakers in physics class, (iv) discussing the work of female scientists in physics class, and (v) discussing the underrepresentation of women in physics class. The effect of these experiences on physical science career interest is compared for female students who are matched on several factors, including prior science interests, prior mathematics interests, grades in science, grades in mathematics, and years of enrollment in high school physics. No significant effects are found for single-sex classes, female teachers, female scientist guest speakers, and discussing the work of female scientists. However, discussions about women’s underrepresentation have a significant positive effect.


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doi: 10.1103/PhysRevSTPER.9.020115