Thursday, July 13, 2006

Women in Science Update

  • There's a commentary in Nature this week titled "Does gender matter?" "The suggestion that women are not advancing in science because of innate inability is being taken seriously by some high-profile academics. Ben A. Barres explains what is wrong with the hypothesis." It's an excellent read and I encourage you to do so (if you have access). But if you just want the salient points, read the summary over at propter doc's place.
  • In case you want more anecdotal evidence, that women face biases in academia that have nothing to do with ability, check out the new blog on the block, Science+Professor+Woman=Me. In a recent post, she describes a search for a leadership position in which she was passed over and described as unqualified because she was too young, by a whole four months as compared to the sucessful male candidate. Isn't this exactly what Barres (above) and the InterAcademy Council report are talking about?
  • Women have less confidence than men in their Internet savvy. "Women tend to rate themselves significantly less competent at navigating the Internet compared to how men rate themselves. But in reality, both sexes are equally skilled given similar experience and education levels, a new study finds." Is this a case of low female self-confidence or boys with over inflated tech egos?
  • But in Vietnam, apparently, "women conquer the world of science"despite centuries of a patriarchal society. At least that's the official story.
  • Finally, Irene Karl, a pioneering biochemist passed away recently in St. Louis.


Astroprof said...

A couple of years ago, our director of student activites decided to do a series of speakers about women in science. She asked if I had any suggestions of speakers. So, I got two to come and speak on the same day. Both women got PhD's within a year of each other, from the same university, under the same advisor, working on complimentary projects. Both are similarly outgoing. Both even look similar. So, as many variables as possible are controlled for. They had completely different experiences with gender issues in science. One said in her talk that academia is the absolure worst place for women in science. The other said that academia is the absolute best place for women in science. Oh, and they are good friends, and knew what each would say, too.

Anonymous said...

There's an interesting article in today's (7/14/2006) Wall Street Journal. I don't have it in front of me, but it's about a scientist who started out as a woman and has since become a man, and his unique perspective on how woman scientists are treated.

ScienceWoman said...

Astroprof- that's really interesting. I never mean to imply that all women have bad experiences in science, but what bothers me and makes me think that this stuff is important is how often we hear anecdotal and quantitative evidence about the barriers that women face, particularly in academic science.

Anonymous - thanks for the tip. The Nature article was also written by a female-to-male transgendered neurobiologist. I wonder if it is the same person.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I met as postdocs (>10 yrs ago) and have had similar career trajectories since. We have faced many classic examples of sexual bias in academia. One of the interesting things I've noticed is that her being an attractive women leads more 'significant' scientists to remember her than remember me (even if we meet in the same context), but that then she has an extra barrier to hurdle to convince them of the quality of her science and ideas. (I am some anonymous guy that is probably smart while she is that specific, named, woman I met last year that is probably not smart). Fortunately for her, as the Nature articles she publishes start to add up, the barrier erodes away.

Sunflower Optimism said...

Yes, the NY Times had an article last week, also about transgendered scientists - one went m>f, other went f>m. One male scientist's comment overheard at a talk being given by the one that had changed to a male was "He seems so much smarter than his sister," not knowing it was the same person!

My original career was in metallurgical engineering, aerospace, lots of DOD work. I'll never forget, once we had a summer intern, not the sharpest tool in the shed, unfortunately - but my (male) co-workers told me "It's people like her that give women engineers a bad name - you're not like that - you probably would have done ok, even without affirmative action." Unbelievable.

Xi Hyperon said...

I don't believe that women, as a whole, are disadvantaged in math and science compared to men. I have had the privilege of knowing, in my short 17 years, quite a few very gifted left-brained women. Both my piano teacher (a professional classical pianist) and my financial advisor are women, and they have outperformed many men in their field.

When anyone tells me that men are more suited to math and science than women, I scoff.

I believe that any difference lies in the form of education that the said girl or boy received when they were younger. Boys and girls are documented as learning differently, and, as such, can excel or fail in a class as a result of the process of education.

Granted, both my high school Algebra teacher and my Chemistry teacher were women, and they were both horrible teachers, but I don’t hold that against the entire female gender. They were simply some of the not-so-great people in the world.

I believe that it depends more on the individual person’s intellectual focus (i.e. left brain v. right brain, math + science vs. language arts) than on the gender of that individual person.

View my blog: The Threshold

nextdoor10 said...

Unite instead of divide!!! It's that same attitudes and beliefs that holds us back as a society.

Nuclear Mom said...

I loved this article. The "too young" quote got me too. I was cited as "too young" in leading a million dollar project, but comparatively, there are men in my group who are younger than me with comparably sized projects.

Looking forward to reading more of your blog too. Good luck on your dissertation.

ExpatJane said...

I'm not in the sciences, but I can say that when I was in grammar and high school I loved math and science. I think a lot of it has to do with the confidence level your parents arm you with.

Even studying in Korea, although I'm at the top women's university in Korea, a lot of my classmates think they can't do something before they even try. I find myself constantly telling them they can do it as they're whip smart and many successful women have been educated at our university.

However, because of where I live when I was considering various programs, I chose this one because I figured I'd be more comfortable studying with women and not having to do that "my brain is bigger than yours" male vs. female shuffle that I had to deal with when I was in law school back home.

Also, congratulations on making the Blogs of Note list and good luck preparing for your defense!

Arlo Muttrie said...

Society likes women better. Really. Americans adopt girls 4 times more than they adopt boys. It starts there, and continues through to college, where we now have a system that is tilting (for some reason I don't pretend to know) towards women. Later in life,courts favor women as parents. There's more. I'm not trying to be some mens' rights ranter, but there are things that need to be looked at in greater depth that aren't, especially the adoption disparity.

M. said...

As for the previous commenter - it's attitudes like that that cause the problems. There is a well-documented lack of women at higher-up positions in the sciences, and there is well-documented evidence of discrimination. I bet that arlo muttrie is not in the sciences, thus has not experienced the male-dominated field and the sublte gender biases that still exist.

Hi there - I'm doing a postdoc in biochemistry and - gasp! - I'm a woman. Excellent blog, by the way.

What really blew the lid off the secret that women are still discriminated against was the 1995 study at MIT - here's the url: - that determined that not only were women passed over for tenure more often than men, but that they were given less choice when it came to teaching, were paid less, and were given less laboratory space than their male counterparts.

It's maddening to listen to people argue that just because it's not blatant, there's no more gender discrimination or bias in the sciences. There is, it's well-documented, and thankfully people are working hard to change that.

Keep up the excellent writing and keep educating people about these issues! Good luck with your dissertation and the search for a faculty gig!

The_Girl_From_Ipanema said...

i just noticed your blog. I recently did a post on this myself, that invited some heated debate. you may want to look at it when you get a chance.
nice blog, and good luck with the defense!

chantelle said...

I really like your non-agressive femininity that you represent on your blog! Women are subject to stereotypes and harrasment in every field I think. I am a physical therapist, and I help patients recover from injuries with different therapies and equipment but at times patients think I'm not an expert because I'm female.

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