The experience of women in undergraduate physics : a proposed imposter phenomenon intervention

  • Ewan Bottomley

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


Across four studies (three quantitative and one qualitative) this thesis examines the experience of women in physics. Prior research has demonstrated gender differences amongst physicists in the perceptions of self-efficacy, belonging, perceived recognition as a physicist, and physics identity. This research suggests that men report being more confident in their abilities in physics, feeling like they belong to a greater degree, feeling more recognised as a physicist by others, and seeing themselves as a physicist to a greater extent than women. Building on these findings, I examined whether gender differences in these constructs could predict academic outcomes (specifically: academic performance (Chapter 2), identification with physics as a discipline (Chapter 3), and students’ sense of wellbeing (Chapter 4)). The results of these Chapters replicated the gender differences in physics identity, perceived recognition as a physicist, and self-efficacy, with women reporting lower levels compared to men. The results also found that self-efficacy was a strong predictor of academic performance and wellbeing for both men and women. However, to gain a deeper understanding of the problems facing women, and the ways in which I could begin to address these problems, I ran some semi-structured interviews (Chapter 5). The interviews provided support for our quantitative data, with women reporting that they doubted their abilities in physics and regularly reported imposter phenomenon. To address questions of self-doubt and imposter phenomenon I created a short imposter phenomenon intervention (Chapter 6) which focused on trying to normalise the discussion around imposter phenomenon in the physics classroom, encouraging students to reach out for help if they required it. The intervention received positive feedback in follow-up interviews; however, further development and a more comprehensive assessment of the intervention is required. This thesis takes initial steps in trying to address some of the major problems facing women in undergraduate physics.
Date of Award29 Nov 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorKen Mavor (Supervisor), Vivienne Wild (Supervisor), Antje Kohnle (Supervisor) & Paula Jean Miles (Supervisor)


  • Gender
  • Imposter phenomenon
  • Physics education
  • Physics identity
  • Self-efficacy

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  • 27 June 2024

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