Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

physicalscienceimageThis was not my planned post, which is some fantastic advise from an awesome minority woman graduate student. I will post that tomorrow. Instead I am going to do something I don’t usually do on this blog. I am going to rant a little. Usually I try to stay super positive, but today’s news on Women In Science needs a little response.

THE NEWS: If you are a woman in science, you were probably inundated with emails, Facebook posts, and tweets about today’s NYTs Magazine article “Why are There Still So Few Women in Science?”. I echo the sentiments I heard from other women that I am happy to see this is being tackled by the NYTs Magazine instead of only being discussed in women’s groups or women’s blogs. Don’t get me wrong, the blogs and groups are so important. As a blogger of one, I hope that the 12 people following are getting something from my posts, if not all of them (BTW, you can Follow this blog by clicking the +FOLLOW button). Another good one I found recently is TenureSheWrote which covers a lot of what we do here, and has better publicity. I have to figure out how to get this blog out to more people 🙂

Anyway, I had some comments about today’s article, and I would be interested to see what you say, too.

First, this whole thing just goes over the same old stuff in science. Was there anything new? Those of us who live this everyday don’t need to read this story, yet I was sent it many many times. Please stop sending it to me. Please find the most sexist jerk in your department and send it to them. Send it to your male chair, your dean, your colleague who thinks women have it easy because they get to organize more conferences when they are pre-tenure than post-tenure men. That was sarcastic.

Second, the story starts off with anecdotal story about a woman who left physics after being super awesome. (Women Rock!) She decides to go back to her undergraduate institution to see how things have gotten better. She assumes no women will show up for a women’s group, but the room is packed. They all sit around and share stories of sexism and negative attitudes towards women in science. The author and the chair of physics, also a woman, are stunned that things have not improved! What? Seriously? Did they really think everything was honky-dorey just because they have a female chair and a women’s conference each year? I was shocked that they would be shocked. Just a quick poll, comment to this post: Post if you have or have not experienced blatant discrimination about their desire to do science? (I have multiple times.)

Third, they reference the Big Bang Theory and discuss the women on the show. Yes, they are caricatures. Yes, they are funny. Yes, one woman is very stereotypically nerdy. Another one is cute, blonde, and wears dresses. Another character they seem to have forgotten is Leslie Winkle played by Sarah Gilbert. She was strong, smart, and could stand up to Sheldon or any of the other men of the show. I really loved her character. She kicked butt and totally rocked! Yet, they didn’t mention that she existed. They do say that women would rather be Penny, theactress, than the science women, but I don’t know if that is true. The blonde Bernadette is pulling in 6 figures out of her Ph.D. as an industrial scientist. I would want to be her or Leslie Winkle, myself. What do you think about BBT? Does it disuade women from going into science? Does it affect men at all? A little? Comment to this post.

On page 4 of 10 there was a discussion of the effects of Stereotype Threat without ever discussing the term “Stereotype Threat.” That is a disservice to people trying to find information about it. Also no mention of Imposture Syndrome. Interestingly, one of my best science women friends just mentioned today that even after getting tenure in HighPowerDepartment, she still suffers from this. She posted about it just today on Facebook.

There were some things I liked. I really liked this sentiment, buried on page 9 of 10:

The key to reform is persuading educators, researchers and administrators that broadening the pool of female scientists and making the culture more livable for them doesn’t lower standards. If society needs a certain number of scientists, Urry said, and you can look for those scientists only among the males of the population, you are going to have to go much farther toward the bottom of the barrel than if you also can search among the females in the population, especially the females who are at the top of their barrel.

Finally, the very end of the very last page 10/10 is the best. She talks to 4 current graduate students, and they have great advise for women young and old. You rock, women. (Plus, another good example that mentoring goes both ways.)

Four young women — one black, two white, one Asian by way of Australia — explained to me how they had made it so far when so many other women had given up.

“Oh, that’s easy,” one of them said. “We’re the women who don’t give a crap.”
Don’t give a crap about — ?

“What people expect us to do.”

“Or not do.”

“Or about men not taking you seriously because you dress like a girl. I figure if you’re not going to take my science seriously because of how I look, that’s your problem.”

“Face it,” one of the women said, “grad school is a hazing for anyone, male or female. But if there are enough women in your class, you can help each other get through.”

“As my mother always taught me,” she said, “success is the best revenge.”

These were just a few of the thoughts I had as I read the very long article. I hope it wasn’t so long that people couldn’t get through it. That’s another issue. It has sparked some nice, interesting conversations, and I hope this blog is no different. Hope to read this and post comments. What do you have to say??

Comments on: "Response to Why Still So Few Women in Science" (3)

  1. woman postdoc of science said:

    In answer to your poll: I would say I have only once experienced what I would call “blatant” (though, in the scheme of things, pretty mild) discrimination about my desire to do science (from a non-scientist in fellowship application advising at my undergrad institution). There’s one other experience I can think of that I would characterize as blatant discrimination related to being a woman in science in general (from an older male physics professor), though not about my desire to do science. And of course many more subtle experiences.

  2. Genneekay said:

    I too found the last page, where she talked to the women in school, most inspiring since it echoed my own belief. I am in science because my love of science was greater than my need to fit in. Sometimes that hurt, sometimes it felt unfair, but we all compromise in life. Nobody gets everything they want.

    In regards to blatant sexual bias, I experienced this last just the other day, like last week! I asked a male coworker (we are both tenure-track profs at a small school), who also has kids, if he knew a good babysitter. Why are babysitters so hard to find? Someone should do a research project on that, it would really advance the number of women in science if we could get better child care. Anyways, his response was to “just ask the cute little blond girl in your [advanced senior level engineering class]”. It bothered me that he believed good babysitter=cute little blond girl. It also makes me wonder what he thinks of me, what are my natural abilities based on my gender and appearance? Even if this guy had tons of grant money and a large active lab, comments like that would make me not want to work with him. In the end, this means my choices as a researcher are limited by his limited mindset. As a woman, I have to be more selective of my collaborators which makes my path more difficult.

  3. CourtneyLannert said:

    Thanks for the post! I liked the article, but also had the feeling: I already know this, nothing new here. But then it led to an unexpected conversation with a friend who majored in a humanities field in college but had started college loving math (and I hadn’t known that about her). That was a very interesting conversation and I’m glad this article prompted it. I think the article also gave me food for thought, by emphasizing things that I maybe know, but don’t think about often. For instance, whether women in male-dominated fields need more encouragement and more explicit statements that you expect them to succeed. As a teacher and mentor, I would like to be more mindful of that.

    Small point, but I think the article neglected to talk about the character Sara Gilbert played on BBT because she got cut! She was only on the show for 8 episodes, and left in 2010 (according to IMDB). That was honestly enough reason for me to never watch the show again; she was the only female character on there that didn’t make me want to throw something at the tv.

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