Page all of 8 12345>Last »
Topic Options
#31629 - 08/02/02 06:16 PM Women in (or just interested in) Science
miercoles Moderator
Ching Shih


Registered: 10/29/00
Posts: 877
Loc: Ann Arbor, MI

Offline
In the Feynman thread, badverb had an anecdote which sadly, is probably all too familiar for many of us:

 Quote:
I have a weird, tangentially Feynman-related story: When I was working at a book store, a young man and his father came to my register with a pile of all books Feynman. I picked up The Pleasure of Finding Things Out and said, conversationally, "I love his work!"

Young man looked at me and said, "Yes, I hear that from many women who are sexually attracted to him. Every woman I know thinks he's incredibly attractive. They all go on and on about him. I'm not surprised you feel the same way."


I thought it might be interesting to discuss the reactions (both good and bad) some of us have received (from men and women) upon expressing interest in science. Were you encouraged or discouraged? Did you have a mentor or role model, or did you blaze your own trail? Has the situation improved at all for women? Why are there still so few women in science?

I can't quite put my finger on it, but I do feel there is still some kind of societal barrier that prevents a lot of women from even considering a career in science or engineering. Any thoughts?

Top
#31630 - 08/02/02 10:28 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
voiceofreason Moderator
Ching Shih


Registered: 04/27/02
Posts: 1257
Loc: Brookline, MA, USA

Offline
I think there's definitely still a barrier there. I think I do science now mostly because of my fundementally contrarian nature! I do molecular biology, and it seems as though there are a lot more women in my field than in the physical sciences or more classical biology and ethology. My (small) lab is all women right now, and there a lot of the primary investigators on my floor are female, but even there most of the senior professors are male...

It's my impression that women are even more strongly discouraged from doing physical sciences, math, engineering, computer science... I can recall (male) friends in physics and CS commenting on female members of their classes unfavorably, not saying "the girls in the CS department are stupid" but rather, "Colleen is a ditz, Bashira is flaky, Wendy doesn't know what a base-case is." And though they may have been right (one guy friend sort of made fun of another friend of ours, and she really was a flake, and her grammar was appalling [not that that's relevant, especially since the guy's writing is terrible too, but now I'm digressing from my digression, yikes!]), it just seemed a little suspicious to me. Too pat, you know?

I think part of the problem is that establishing a scientific reputation and becoming high-profile is a long, slow process, so we may only begin to see the trickle-down effects of women getting into science years and years later, and because only (OK, maybe not only) with high-profile women in science does science become a more acceptable career for women (and a more acceptable course of study for girls), it can take that feedback loop a while to get going.

Worst of all, know that I know that I don't want to be a scientist (and am leaning toward a career as a teacher or librarian!) I feel like I'm betraying some feminist ideal by taking a traditionally feminine career path instead of being a "real scientist." Not rational, but still I feel that way.

Top
#31631 - 08/04/02 09:35 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
Sixtieslibber
Gráinne ni Mhaille


Registered: 05/24/02
Posts: 21

Offline
I'm an early-retired scientist. (Early Retirement Incentive was just too good to pass up!) Seems like things had gotten pretty good by 1980 as far as women being judged as individuals. Then by 1985 or a bit later I started noticing a new trend: a huge increase in foreign-born male scientists from countries where women are still second-class citizens. This coincided with the fad of cultural sensitivity training. The end result was a giant step back for American women scientists. Has anyone else experienced this?
Top
#31632 - 08/05/02 05:08 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
athena
Gráinne ni Mhaille


Registered: 07/29/02
Posts: 7

Offline
I'm a graduate student in experimental physics and must say I don't see much overt sexism around me. For the most part, the people I work with don't treat me any differently than they would if I were a man.

That being said, the hardest time for me was when I was first starting out in physics as a freshman in college. The male students were much better prepared for the courses (they had come from private science schools) and had a tendency to try to intimidate those students who were less prepared. If a female student made a comment or asked a question in class, even if the question was a good one (as it often was), they would groan and mumble, "Oh, that's so obvious." They themselves would ask obscure and unrelated questions, which seldom impressed the professors but managed to intimidate the other students. Once a female student made it through those first few years (only three did in my class of eighteen), she almost certainly did not quit afterwards.

I think that what discourages girls from being interested in the sciences is the attitude of their parents. Most adults in the United States will buy science toys for their sons but dolls and makeup kits for their daughters. They will send their sons to private science schools and emphasize the importance of choosing a good career, while asking their daughters whether they're dating any little boys and lead them to think that success for them means the ability to attract men. The only reason I'm in science now is that I was lucky enough to be an only child (i.e. no brothers) and have a family that believed the education of a girl to be just as important as that of a boy.

One other thing: in experimental physics in the U.S., there seems to be an attitude that if a female physicist is well-dressed and groomed, she can't be very good (i.e. she has time to think about her appearance, so she must not think much about her work). So whereas young male physicists are free to look as "sexy" as they want, young female physicists tend to look unkempt. This goes hand-in-hand with the attitude that for a woman, being smart is unattractive. If a little girl has been made to believe that being attractive is important, she will not want to be a scientist.

This last thing is something I'm still struggling with. I don't really mind dressing down, but I would be much happier to be able to wear short skirts and make-up once in a while without getting annoying comments and stares from every direction.

Top
#31633 - 08/05/02 07:53 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
miercoles Moderator
Ching Shih


Registered: 10/29/00
Posts: 877
Loc: Ann Arbor, MI

Offline
 Quote:
Then by 1985 or a bit later I started noticing a new trend: a huge increase in foreign-born male scientists from countries where women are still second-class citizens. This coincided with the fad of cultural sensitivity training. The end result was a giant step back for American women scientists. Has anyone else experienced this?


I haven't experienced this -- all the professors I had problems with were old, white men (many of whom had gotten their Ph.D. before roughly 1965). I could definitely see this being a problem in engineering and CS, where a much higher percentage of the professors are foreign-born (as compared to physics and astronomy).

 Quote:
[The male students] would ask obscure and unrelated questions, which seldom impressed the professors but managed to intimidate the other students. Once a female student made it through those first few years (only three did in my class of eighteen), she almost certainly did not quit afterwards.


athena, this is the EXACT same experience I had in undergraduate physics. Exact. Once I worked in small groups with the guys on homeworks, I realized they weren't any smarter than I was. However, it took me quite a while to work up the nerve to work with them. They were overconfident, and I was underconfident, which was quite a contrast.

 Quote:
If a little girl has been made to believe that being attractive is important, she will not want to be a scientist.


I'm not sure if I agree with this. Is this because scientists are cartoonishly portrayed as old, lumpy men with messy hair and rumpled clothing? Or are "physicist" and "chemical engineer" not sexy job titles?

Top
#31634 - 08/06/02 08:36 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
athena
Gráinne ni Mhaille


Registered: 07/29/02
Posts: 7

Offline
I'm sorry, Miercoles; I worded my thoughts incorrecly and also made a faulty generalization. What I meant to say is that in experimental physics in the U.S., female graduate students (at least the ones I've met) really don't look very good ("good" meaning fashionable and traditionally attractive). In an attempt to show that we're just as dedicated as our male counterparts, we make a point of paying little attention to our appearance. A female freshman who sees the way we look may be reluctant to go on in physics. One of the women in my undergraduate class quit physics to major in history after her second semester, and almost the very day she quit, she started dressing in traditionally feminine clothes. I can't help but think that she quit physics because she wanted to be able to wear skirts, dresses and makeup. Isn't it unfair to expect women to give up traditional femininity to be physicists, while not expecting anything similar of men? It seems to me that when a woman becomes a scientist, her "femininity" becomes questionable; when a man becomes a scientist, his "masculinity" becomes reaffirmed.

I don't know whether a similar culture exists in the other sciences. My female friends in theoretical physics wear dresses and skirts (though not makeup and high heels). In other places like Europe and Japan also, women scientists seem to have the choice to look "feminine".

I'm not saying that wearing short skirts, makeup and high heels is a good thing. But in a culture that teaches us that a woman has to wear short skirts, makeup and high heels to be considered attractive, is it any wonder that women aren't anxious to choose a career where they can't be "attractive"? I get so frustrated when I see my male colleagues at meetings wearing tank tops showing off their muscular arms and shoulders. If I ever wore a short skirt showing off my legs to a meeting, no one would pay attention to anything I said.

The fundamental problem, of course, is with the culture that says that a woman wearing khaki pants and a loose shirt with flat sandals is not attractive, whereas a woman wearing unhealthy heels, an uncomfortable mini skirt, a tight top, and layers of makeup is. But it's not for reasons of health or comfort that women in experimental physics wear flat shoes, etc. It's to hide the fact that they are women. And that's what really gets to me. I'm uncomfortable with the idea that I have to go out of my way to hide my femininity to work in the field that I love.

Top
#31635 - 08/07/02 11:15 AM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
Strega
Ching Shih


Registered: 06/01/00
Posts: 106
Loc: Maryland, USA

Offline
 Quote:
Most adults in the United States will buy science toys for their sons but dolls and makeup kits for their daughters. They will send their sons to private science schools and emphasize the importance of choosing a good career, while asking their daughters whether they're dating any little boys and lead them to think that success for them means the ability to attract men.
That's a rather sweeping generalization about 200 million people, don't you think? Particularly when you consider how many of those people are women with their own careers.

Top
#31636 - 08/07/02 08:43 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
athena
Gráinne ni Mhaille


Registered: 07/29/02
Posts: 7

Offline
I said most, not all. I see it happen everywhere. Do you see people in large numbers (and I'm not talking about the educated upper middle classes here; I'm talking about the majority) taking their daughters' science education as seriously as they do their sons' science education? How do you explain the fact that less than 10% of physicists are women?
Top
#31637 - 08/07/02 09:23 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
miercoles Moderator
Ching Shih


Registered: 10/29/00
Posts: 877
Loc: Ann Arbor, MI

Offline
 Quote:
Do you see people in large numbers (and I'm not talking about the educated upper middle classes here; I'm talking about the majority) taking their daughters' science education as seriously as they do their sons' science education? How do you explain the fact that less than 10% of physicists are women?


Honestly, I don't know large numbers of people, so I really can't say. It seems as though people in general don't take science and math education very seriously for their children, regardless of gender, but that's another rant.

As for the low percentage of women physicists, I don't think you can explain it away with that. The percentage of women in all fields of science is low, but physics is the only field in which it has not risen over the past ten years. (I have stats on Ph.D.s granted -- it may not be the greatest indicator, but it paints a decent picture.)

Top
#31638 - 08/07/02 10:29 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
voiceofreason Moderator
Ching Shih


Registered: 04/27/02
Posts: 1257
Loc: Brookline, MA, USA

Offline
That is weird that the physics stats have held steady. Especially when math is going up. To me, the math is the scary part of physics; the actual ideas are fun. And in my own head I imagine math as being even more of a boys' club than physics is (with no hard data and very little anecdotal evidence to back myself up, mind you). A mysterious thing.

Totally OT, I'm watching an old "Friends"; it's the one where Phoebe gets Ross to admit that there's a teeny, tiny possibility that evolution/natural selection might not have happened, then says "How can you go on with your work? How will you face the other scientists?" And I just want to say "Because always being open to other explanations is what science is all about, damnit!" Not that there's a whole lot that you could do to really destroy natural selection as a theory, but in principle.... It's also the episode where Chandler complains about a girl who says "supposably" and Joey says, to himself, trying to figure out what's wrong with the word, "Did they go to the zoo? Supposably..."

Top
#31639 - 08/08/02 04:32 AM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
dazey
Ching Shih


Registered: 06/25/01
Posts: 941
Loc: Edinburgh, Scotland

Offline
My lovely stepdaughter will be leaving in September to start her astrophysics degree, so I'm fascinated by this discussion. My take on the "taking science seriously" question is that it's a matter more of children's and schools' culture more than parents: the girlie is a scientist herself, and she's always been keen for her daughters to follow her. However, the stepette's original subject choice was humanities. It's not so much that she had the feeling that science wasn't sufficiently "girly", as that science is hard, and also that science is specifically for future scientists. If you lack intellectual confidence (which girls do, I think, more than boys), and you don't very clearly and determinedly see yourself as wanting a career in science, then you're not going to pick science subjects at school. People take French or History quite casually, without needing to think they're going to be interpreters or archaeologists, but they don't think that Chemistry is open to dabblers.

The stepette decided, at 17, that she wants to be an astronaut. We think this is feasible As for me, after dropping science at 15 and maths at 17, I'm starting an OU science degree in February. We're all about the second chance at science in my family.

Top
#31640 - 08/08/02 12:08 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
Helina
Ching Shih


Registered: 07/21/02
Posts: 69
Loc: Vancouver, Canada

Offline
I think physics has a reputation of being very difficult, more difficult than math because in physics you have to do difficult math and then apply it to a physical system or vice versa. Whether physics is actually more difficult than chemistry or english, I don't know. I suspect it's all relative. I had more trouble in my first year art history class than my fourth year theoretical physics classes.

Anyway, since physics has this intimidating reputation, only the people who are really sure that they're smart will try it. If girls lack "intellectual confidence" as dazey put it then I can see why fewer girls choose physics.

It's also possible that more of the girls who go into physics become teachers rather than going on to do their PhDs.

Top
#31641 - 08/08/02 01:08 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
zada
Gráinne ni Mhaille


Registered: 05/15/01
Posts: 16
Loc: Fairbanks, AK USA

Offline
Even thought the female biologist has become more widely accepted, I can attest to the fact that often our research still is not considered valuable unless it is corraborated by a male counterpart.

Recently I decided to go back to school for a Ph.D. in which I hoped to specialize. I was told by a professor in the department that I should really consider a social science major instead.

Top
#31642 - 08/08/02 02:26 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
voiceofreason Moderator
Ching Shih


Registered: 04/27/02
Posts: 1257
Loc: Brookline, MA, USA

Offline
 Quote:
Originally posted by zada:
Even thought the female biologist has become more widely accepted, I can attest to the fact that often our research still is not considered valuable unless it is corraborated by a male counterpart.


Do you think this is independent of the seniority of the women involved? Because with the numbers of women granted biology PhDs going up all the time, women are disproportionately represented in the lower levels of the science world, and it does make some sense to question the work of someone whose work you aren't familiar with. I'm not saying this is necessarily the case, just that this is one possible explanation.

My first boss after college was a very strange and interesting person; she got a PhD in history, had three kids, went back and got a PhD in biology, had another kid, got divorced, got tenure, semi-secretly married one of the other professors in the department... there might actually have been another kid in the middle there; I can't quite remember whether the final count was four or five. And even aside from all this, she was an odd, odd woman, in ways that are far beyond the scope of this post. So I never like to assume that she's at all typical, but she, at least, was always harder on the women in the lab than the men. She just expected a lot more from the women, which could have been OK, except she expected a lot more than most of us could give, and she ended up just turning a lot of girls off from science permanently, I suspect. And her unusual life-story made it a little more difficult to think of her as a role model. There were many fewer men than women in the lab (which was mostly undergraduates), but I suspect that the numbers who went on to further study in science were pretty evenly distributed between the sexes. And if you can't be safe in an predominantly undergraduate lab run by a sucessful woman scientist, where can you look for encouragement? I think that at all levels are barriers to women who want to study science, and it's only with real societal change that they can be broken down.

Top
#31643 - 08/08/02 07:55 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
sobell
Ching Shih


Registered: 07/12/00
Posts: 175
Loc: Alameda, CA, USA

Offline
I was in science and I left -- not because I was run out on the rail of patriarchy, but I had the revelation that I didn't love doing science nearly so much as I loved writing about it -- so voiceofreason, I totally understand how you can feel like you're somehow betraying the sisterhood by leaving the lab bench.

But to get back to miercoles' original questions: my earliest science-related role models were really Sally Ride, Anna Fisher, Shannon Lucid, Judy Resnick and Rhea Siddons -- the first women to train as astronauts. I remember getting the publicity photo from NASA (we lived near NASA Langley) and totally wanting to be one of them when I grew up.

As for my parents -- their attitude was always, "Whatever floats your boat." Getting a microscope in 4th grade, turning my bedroom into a nursery in 7th grade after I read one too many YA novels about environmental disasters and decided to become a hydroponics expert so I could refine farming techniques for the (presumably aquatic) aftermath ... it was all good.

It never really occured to me that science was unfeminine. This, I think, was the benefit of growing up as a geek where half my female idols were scientist characters in books/comics/movies/TV shows. In my head, I was already living in 2525 and sexism was a relic of the ancient past.

The first time I ran into anything resembling a gender barrier was in my Physics II class the first day of my senior year of HS -- in 1989. The teacher looked at me and Amy (the other girl in a class of nine people) and snorted, "I think you ladies would be happier in home ec."

I responded by blowing the curve on every test and ordering a pizza to be delivered during the final.

Then I went to college and majored in microbiology. If there was sexism, it was more on the part of my peers than from the top down -- my advisors and role models were women, but I used to have to jockey with the guys to get equal time at the bench.

The only time I ran into serious gender issues was in an ecology lab run by two good ole boys who were under the impression that women couldn't hack it in the field. But by then, I had read enough about and by Jane Gooddall, Dian Fossey and Birute Galdinkas to dismiss that as hogwash.

I do wonder if I had it "easier" than geologists (the department at my college was an infamous boys' club) or other hard sciences -- biology's got a hefty percentage of women, so I rarely had the experience of walking into a lab and
being outnumbered 4-to-1.

Still, for all that we have better numbers, I've observed my friends from my major racheting down their careers or dropping out as they decide they want to have kids. If you're working with tetragens or carcinogens in the lab, pregnancy can be a career liability. I had a friend whose doctoral thesis in organic chem was derailed for a year after she found out she was pregnant. Some women are simply unwilling to perform the balancing act or try to time everything in their life Just So -- and it's still women expected to do this -- so they simply choose what they think is most important. I suspect that if more men thought of their lives in terms of making tradeoffs between career and family, we'd see a shift.

(Edited because I wrote a novel the first time around. Not that this is a model of brevity.)

[This message has been edited by sobell (edited August 08, 2002).]

Top
#31644 - 08/10/02 07:00 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
Strega
Ching Shih


Registered: 06/01/00
Posts: 106
Loc: Maryland, USA

Offline
athena -- I'm not claiming that there's no bias in the culture against women having careers in science. I was taking issue with the idea that "most adults" express the extreme degrees of sexism you described.

My dad would have been delighted if I'd gotten a BS instead of a BA. Not that he wasn't proud of me, but I did get some teasing about majoring in something "impractical." I certainly never got the impression that I should try to land a husband while my brother went off to get a degree.

I think sobell's point about the pull that families have on women is an excellent one. You're giving up a lot of time and energy if you want to study science, and the rewards aren't as enticing as they are in something equally rigorous like law. Whether it's cultural or biological, women do seem to feel a greater need to maintain social networks, and that cuts into our ability to stay at the lab for a four days in a row. To make a sexist gross generalization, men can be more obsessive where women are (or are forced to be) more practical.

Top
#31645 - 08/10/02 09:37 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
athena
Gráinne ni Mhaille


Registered: 07/29/02
Posts: 7

Offline
Strega, I did not mean to imply that all or even almost all families in the U.S. are sexist in the raising of their children. Clearly, there are many families where girls are encouraged in the maths and sciences. But I think most families still apply sexist double standards to their children, sometimes in subtle ways. I suspect that the percentage of boys who get computers, computer games, and science kits is much higher than the percentage of girls who get such presents. Society in general plays a big role: few computer ads on TV and in catalogues or magazines have a girl sitting in front of the computer. I have yet to see a Hollywood movie where the child prodigy or math genius is not a boy but a girl.

Actually, I don't find it surprising that there aren't many women in physics. Being in physics myself, I know just how hard it is for a woman to stay in physics. For a woman to be a physicist, she has to want to do physics so much that little else matters to her. The same level of sacrifice is not required of men in physics. They can spend 12 hours a day in the lab and still have two children at home. (Again, this is a generalization; I've known male physicists who were very involved in bringing up their children). As a result, a natural filtering process occurs, where the standards for a woman are much higher than those for a man. I can't pinpoint exactly how this filtering happens, but I think that a lot of different factors go into it.

I disagree that social networking is important to women; it certainly isn't to me, and I know many women like myself. I think it's just societal pressures that push women to be more social than men. I'm sure that if women could easily find husbands who would be willing to cook their meals, clean their houses, and take care of their children in isolation, they would be just as obsessive as their male counterparts about working 12-14 hours in the lab.

Top
#31646 - 08/12/02 03:27 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
sobell
Ching Shih


Registered: 07/12/00
Posts: 175
Loc: Alameda, CA, USA

Offline
Just a few observations:
 Quote:
I have yet to see a Hollywood movie where the child prodigy or math genius is not a boy but a girl.


In Jurassic Park, the child computer genius is the little girl -- I remember that vividly (in part because I was snickering over the point-and-click interface appearing as she said, "This is Unix! I know this!" but also because it was a girl). You're right about the general gender breakdown, but it does seem to be improving in dribs and drabs -- Noggin Network's latest series of shorts centers around a girl who wants to be an entymologist and treats all her neighbors like field subjects.

Part of the reason we don't see a lot of parity in depictions of children as scientists is because there isn't the market for it -- little girls may be curious about the way the world works, but they tend to be attracted to different toys and games than little boys do.

Of course, it's very easy to assert that the reason for this is that bugbear, socialization, but even when the parents have been scrupulous about gender-neutral toys and positive role models, etc., little girls and little boys often go for different toys, or use similar toys in different ways.

The underlying traits toys should bring out -- curiosity, inventiveness, problem-solving -- in play are still the same. They're simply engaged and expressed differently depending on what the toy is.

 Quote:
For a woman to be a physicist, she has to want to do physics so much that little else matters to her. The same level of sacrifice is not required of men in physics.


The sacrifice you're talking about doesn't seem to be related to science -- 12 hours in a lab is 12 hours in a lab, regardless of who's doing it -- but in social contexts instead.

It is probably easier for a man to find a partner who's willing to be the primary point of contact for all domestic matters and handle everything from scheduling pediatrician's appointments to waiting for the plumber -- if only because a lot of people still internalize the idea that all things home and child-related fall into female territory. It's a more commonly accepted idea.

Note that "common" is not the same as "correct" or "personally endorsed."

[This message has been edited by sobell (edited August 12, 2002).]

Top
#31647 - 08/13/02 12:30 AM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
athena
Gráinne ni Mhaille


Registered: 07/29/02
Posts: 7

Offline
I'm stepping out of this discussion, since everybody seems to be trying to disprove every comment I make. I guess the logic goes, "Since she is a woman in physics, she must have no clue about this topic." Whatever. Have fun discussing.
Top
#31648 - 08/13/02 06:55 AM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
badverb
Ching Shih


Registered: 02/13/01
Posts: 379
Loc: n'yawk

Offline
Wow! I never expected my story about the little craphead could spark such interesting discussion.

I'm not even a woman in science, professionally speaking. I'm a woman who likes reading about and discussing science, because she grew up reading Scientific American and Smithsonian and Analog and Asimov's, Larry Niven and Carl Sagan -- who also happens to think the social and physical sciences are not mutually exclusive fields, nor even gendered fields. Sexist scientists really, really anger me, almost as much as people who look down on anthropology because it's not clear cut or easily measured and therefore not "rigorous" enough ... and I guess that's because being less rigorous, despite the difficulty of actually getting a floor clean, has somehow gotten to be associated with women. (talk in circles, much?)

So do people who make such a rigid distinction between finding things out (which is my favorite casual Feynman phrase) about people and finding things out about objects that they can't stomach anyone actually enjoying both ... I don't think it hurts, either, that a goodly number of young men who enter scientific fields are in it not for love, but for glory.

When I used to live in Nashville, I fell in with a bunch of the Vanderbilt medical students. It was readily noticeable that about 90 % of the boys were there because their mothers wanted them to grow up and be doctors. I met three young men out of a class of 200 (I didn't actually meet the entire class, but I did have long conversations with, oh, about 80 of them -- I was very into calling them on their crap) who were genuinely interested in medicine. Another young man was trying to decide on a science, because he enjoys thinking, and had gotten into medical school so that's where he was right then.

The rest of these young men were there because they wanted to make money. And because it was easy for them to be there. So they could afford to be cavalier about their positions; they never stopped to think about what insensitive buffoons they were.

I met about 20 women in the program. Every single one of these was incredibly relieved to be in the program. Sixteen of them felt genuinely called to learn the art of medicine; one of them was an artist who was dedicated to learning anatomy; the others were there out of a sense of duty.

(I wrote all this down in my diary while I was living there, because it was all so fascinating and thought-provoking for me, the outsider, that I wanted to be able to read it and mull it over whenever I chose.)

When I was even younger, I was the lone girl at science fiction conventions who was sitting and listening to the science panels, all dressed up in my fairy princess costume, asking questions based on what I'd read in the science magazines.

Now I work as a designer, photographer and computer coder. I pay the bills with a production-side job in the finance industry; I don't think the same kind of intense sexism, even thought the "art scene" of photography can be incredibly sexist and irritating, exists outside the sciences ... anymore. Unless it's in politics. And I have a feeling politics is even worse.

Egad. I'm thinking so many thoughts, I'll have to come think some of them all over again later.

Top
#31649 - 08/13/02 09:15 AM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
StephA
Ching Shih


Registered: 06/13/02
Posts: 2744
Loc: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Offline
 Quote:
Originally posted by sobell:
In Jurassic Park, the child computer genius is the little girl -- I remember that vividly (in part because I was snickering over the point-and-click interface appearing as she said, "This is Unix! I know this!" but also because it was a girl). You're right about the general gender breakdown, but it does seem to be improving in dribs and drabs -- Noggin Network's latest series of shorts centers around a girl who wants to be an entymologist and treats all her neighbors like field subjects.

Part of the reason we don't see a lot of parity in depictions of children as scientists is because there isn't the market for it -- little girls may be curious about the way the world works, but they tend to be attracted to different toys and games than little boys do.


Just FYI, in the book of Jurassic Park that little girl did not remotely resemble a computer anything. The boy was the dinosaur and computer expert. Her chief skills included whining and complaining. (I'm glad they changed it for the movie!)

And for those who might be interested, Prizes by Erich Segal features a girl physics prodigy... who also plays the violin.

Now back to science-discussion-lurking mode, to daydream about being Jane Goodall..

Top
#31650 - 08/13/02 11:39 AM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
miercoles Moderator
Ching Shih


Registered: 10/29/00
Posts: 877
Loc: Ann Arbor, MI

Offline
 Quote:
I'm stepping out of this discussion, since everybody seems to be trying to disprove every comment I make.


Please don't, athena. Of all the science and engineering fields, physics is one of the least friendly towards women, and I think that's what you've been trying to illustrate. For instance, you could just say fuck it, and wear short skirts and make up all the time, but the looks and comments and smirks you'll get clearly aren't worth it, and you shouldn't have to put up with it. (Are they mostly from your fellow students, or from various superiors/faculty members/etc.?) And unfortunately (and here I speak from personal experience) there's not much you can do about it. It may not technically be sexual harrassment, but all those looks and comments add up.

And that's probably just one of the many reasons why women in physics, especially academia, probably just throw their hands in the air, say, "This isn't worth it," and go into industry or something. (Anyone have stats on the rate of men and women leaving the field at various levels?)

 Quote:
I don't think it hurts, either, that a goodly number of young men who enter scientific fields are in it not for love, but for glory.


badverb, this hasn't really been my experience, but maybe this varies by field (although astronomy is very popular at the amateur level, so there's a decent chance of glory outside of your field) and institution (I am not at a top school). Does this include the med school students you mentioned?

[This message has been edited by miercoles (edited August 13, 2002).]

Top
#31651 - 08/13/02 12:13 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
sobell
Ching Shih


Registered: 07/12/00
Posts: 175
Loc: Alameda, CA, USA

Offline
athena, I apologize if my last post seemed targeted toward disproving anything you said. That wasn't my intention at all -- I was simply adding my observations (which were different) to yours.
Top
#31652 - 08/14/02 02:17 AM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
badverb
Ching Shih


Registered: 02/13/01
Posts: 379
Loc: n'yawk

Offline
Yeah, miercoles, I was talking about the med students. I was also referring to a bunch of physics majors and another bunch of philosophy majors.

Looking at this with a little more sleep at my back, I see where I was making a number of silly generalizations (the sentence to which you were referring being one of them). In my waking life, I think people who are in a given field for love and love alone are extremely rare.

I also think (based on my experiences with those med students, and on having grown up with a bunch of girls who graduated from technical universities) that more women, still, today, enter a field like medicine or engineering because they love it rather than, like many, many men who go into these fields (some of whom I believe I've had as personal physicians ...) because they want to make money/earn glory/have the respect of their immigrant families (as true for my Greek and Serbian cousins as for any other immigrants.)

And I think it is true that more women leave fields they like, not because they can't hack it as scientists, but because they can't take the atmosphere and the constant criticism, positive or negative, of how feminine they are, more or less.

Top
#31653 - 08/24/02 12:20 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
Angiv
Ching Shih


Registered: 06/01/00
Posts: 1291
Loc: Scotland

Offline
Our local annual Science Festival this year includes an exhibition on Women in Science and a lecture on the same subject. Many of the lecturers are (as usual) women, but it's especially nice to see special events dedicated to women.

Sarkycat and I are dizzy with excitement about this year's programme. So much to see - almost makes me glad I don't have a job...

Top
#31654 - 08/30/02 05:36 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
pinga
Ching Shih


Registered: 01/21/02
Posts: 146
Loc: UK

Offline
I've been really interested in what everyone thinks on this topic, as it's always surprised me that women don't get into science much: it always seemed to me that in science people are looking for truth, so it should be easier to prove yourself against peoples' prejudices. I don't know.
The two biggest reasons I've heard from my (female) friends for getting out of science were the need to move around after the PhD and the need for really strong self-belief. In my bit of chemistry it's seen as professional suicide to stay in the same uni for your PhD and postdoc. I know half a dozen guys who're doing their postdocs because their wives have managed to switch jobs and follow them. I don't know any women who've managed to do the same thing.
The other thing, about self-belief: academic research is such a lonely thing, and there's noone to tell you if you're doing rubbish work. I think self-doubt affects most PhD students but I met a few blokes during my PhD who seemed to thnk they could do no wrong. Girls seem to be less secure, and so they abandon the independant research in favour of industry jobs where they can be sure what they're doing is useful to someone. I'm like that - I do doubt my work sometimes, and I'm lucky to be in a job where I have contact with people who know their stuff, and I can learn more and crucially, I can learn how to measure error in my work and say for sure if it's valid or not. I think everyone should have the resources about them during their PhD to be able to do that, and then we'd actually be looking for the truth instead of stumbling blindly for two years and then reinventing the wheel for the remaining one.

Sorry, I've tapped a deep well of bitterness here. Thank you for letting me rant.

Top
#31655 - 08/30/02 05:53 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
dazey
Ching Shih


Registered: 06/25/01
Posts: 941
Loc: Edinburgh, Scotland

Offline
pinga: you're right, if I can join you in your well of bitterness for a while. The expectations of academia, science or otherwise, are just not compatible with anything other that either being a hermit, or having an old-fashioned wife. I was told that I simply could not expect to stay in one place and be taken seriously. With only one undergraduate teaching department in my subject in Scotland, it was uproot, or no career. Had a fair bit to do with my decision to quit.

Um, topic: science careers, perhaps, are more tied to this career pattern that other types of careers?

Top
#31656 - 09/01/02 04:06 AM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
seabean
Ching Shih


Registered: 12/22/01
Posts: 117
Loc: Brighton, UK; previously Brisb...

Offline
pinga, I agree that it's a lot more common to see wives accomodating themselves to their husbands' academic careers, but there are a few exceptions (encouragingly). I'm doing my PhD in molecular evolution, and my boy moved to the UK from Australia with me so I could go to the university I wanted. My supervisor is in the same situation - her husband (then boyfriend) followed her from country to country for her PhD, postdoc, and now tenured position. Since I got to chose this move, my boy gets first say on where we go next, but we are keeping in mind that it'll be harder for me to find a postdoc in biology than for him to find work as a computer scientist - so we may still end up going where I need to go, rather than where he would most prefer.



[This message has been edited by seabean (edited September 01, 2002).]

Top
#31657 - 09/02/02 03:01 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
pinga
Ching Shih


Registered: 01/21/02
Posts: 146
Loc: UK

Offline
seabell, well done! Mr Pinga and I are working a sort of similar thing. He did a postdoc in Edinburgh cos I've got a job here, and now he's heading off to London for a proper job and I'm hopefully going to follow him. I do believe it's doable, and it'll get easier as the years go on and it gets more common.
It's such a weird one though. When we got engaged, everyone was like "when are you buying a house?" and I was like "some time around 2020, or earlier if Mr Pinga decides to be a house husband".
dazey, I knew about that stuff with your PhD - it's a killer. I read on one of the boards you're doing a science degree. Any chemistry in it? I hope you enjoy it.

Top
#31658 - 09/02/02 03:59 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
dazey
Ching Shih


Registered: 06/25/01
Posts: 941
Loc: Edinburgh, Scotland

Offline
pinga: it's just an intro-level OU course, so, yeah, there will be chemistry, along with everything else under the sun! I don't start til the New Year, though. I've got it planned out: in about ten years, I could be a qualified forensic scientist, which is, really, what I want to do when I grow up.
Top
#31659 - 09/24/02 11:59 AM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
PumpkinJane
Gráinne ni Mhaille


Registered: 09/24/02
Posts: 1
Loc: London, England

Offline
While women are still admittedly put off by physical sciences (namely physics, chemistry, maths), things are improving. For example, there are a lot of strong women role-models out there in the physical sciences. I never thought I'd find a strong South Asian woman role-model in that department, but I found Kalpana Chawla, the first Indian woman astronaut to go into Space. As long as there women out there willing to go the extra mile and make a difference, things will continue to improve.
Top
#31660 - 10/12/02 07:28 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
magpie
Gráinne ni Mhaille


Registered: 10/12/02
Posts: 6
Loc: Los Altos, CA

Offline
I am a computer scientist and believe me - the influx of immigrant males (particularly pacific rimmers) has practically made it impossible for me (a mom with 2 children, to continue working). "They" are willing to work 12 hour days and all weekend, for smallish pay and a little stock, to push a project out the door - hey, they have wives (darn - forgot to get one) who apparently make NO demands on them to help raise their children. And as long as companies can "steel" the educated from the third world (a questionalbe practice anyway), there is no reason to accomodate women (or even men who want time with their families). This sets the silicon valley industry standard which makes for the most family-unfriendly environment ever.

My personal epiphany came at 7:00 pm one evening, whilst sitting around a conference table discussing technical issues (in largely incomprehensible English), longing to be home with my babies, when it occurred to me that I'd rather be poor than than sitting there, so I quit. They begged me to stay and offered more money than anyone ever will offer me again, but no amount of money can buy back the years with my children.
Also, I have "professed" in EE/CS at a major ivy-west university and everyone wonders why none of us stay on to get tenure. Well, it takes a lot of time to publish, get grants and funding, etc. and just as you need to max out your work as you approach tenure time, your bio-clock goes off like a fire alarm. Baby or tenure? Baby or tenure? So far, baby is winning and the industry is losing smart ladies galore. Change is coming, but it is still a man's world, ladies.

But, as Arnie says: "I'll be back."

And, yes, I do feel guilty about bailing, but I am the only mother my children get.

Top
#31661 - 11/16/02 04:10 AM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
badverb
Ching Shih


Registered: 02/13/01
Posts: 379
Loc: n'yawk

Offline
 Quote:
it always seemed to me that in science people are looking for truth, so it should be easier to prove yourself against peoples' prejudices.
Scientists are trained to test every hypothesis far more rigorously than are laypeople. They tend to be, despite themselves being forces of change, very slow to change themselves or to accept new research until they can really wrap their heads around it. I think a lot of that spills over into many scientists' personal belief systems.

I do think that in a very literal-minded way, women are expected to prove themselves much more thoroughly in scientific fields than otherwise.

Top
#31662 - 11/16/02 12:31 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
pinga
Ching Shih


Registered: 01/21/02
Posts: 146
Loc: UK

Offline
 Quote:
Originally posted by badverb:
Scientists are trained to test every hypothesis far more rigorously than are laypeople... I think a lot of that spills over into many scientists' personal belief systems.
That makes sense. I know a few male scientists who approach the gender balance in science question as if it were something to study. "Why do women not like science? Is it something to do with men's over-specialised brains that makes them better able to focus on complex systems?" Aargh. Please involve your value system in this question.
Of course being a manufacturing-type scientist I'm more focused on solving problems. how can we get more women into science? Maybe if junior researchers in academia were employed by a central agency with a longer contract instead of a single university, then they could work at a couple of places and still build up service and get maternity benefits and some job security. I'm sure there are a thousand reasons the senior academics would hate it.
This reminds me of a documentary I saw a few months ago. It was about some unfashionable bit of astronomy, and the bloke (head of a research group) was moaning that he couldn't get PhD students because his subject wasn't relevant to industry and all the students wanted to do something they could go on to earn money off. As if there was something wrong with that.

Top
#31663 - 12/28/02 06:48 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
Mirren
Ching Shih


Registered: 07/19/02
Posts: 136
Loc: Vancouver

Offline
A long time ago and very far away, over in the Boys and Books thread, Crescent Moon said:
 Quote:
As a feminist, it does kind of bother me that I'm in such a traditional female major[literature], but I can't change my gift. I am confident that I could do well in a math or science related major, but would I be happy? Not nearly as much as I am now.
This really struck a chord with me. As a feminist teenager, and coming from a family where science was very highly valued (mother a doctor, father an accountant, younger brother now a maths PhD) I deliberately steered away from my gift and took a maths degree. Have other women in the sciences arrived there by the same route: sheer bloody-mindedness?

I don't regret doing maths at university, though if I was to do further formal studies I would probably choose classics, literature or philosophy. I don't now work in the maths field, or anywhere near it. But having a "scientific background" I still get huge pleasure from science books and articles, plus kudos at work where all the non-scientists think I must be brilliant. Funny how educated people are perfectly happy to confess to being innumerate ...

Top
#31664 - 01/02/03 09:44 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
LauraT
Ching Shih


Registered: 05/04/01
Posts: 161
Loc: Redwood City, CA, USA

Offline
Mirren, I had a very similar experience. I chose to get a BS in chemistry partially because I wanted to 'prove that a woman could do it.' Too bad it wasn't really what I loved to do. But I don't regret it since it taught me a great deal and I know that I'm capable of dealing with difficult technical subjects.

(BTW, my family supported me from the beginning, and I didn't encounter any overt prejudice, although there was still a dearth of tenured women professors in my department.)

As others have mentioned, I think that the different life paths for men and women have a lot to do with the lower numbers of women in science. A lot of women are reluctant to give up the other parts of their lives - family, friends, hobbies, etc. - to dedicate themselves to a cause, and unfortunately science often requires people to do that.

Top
#31665 - 01/10/03 12:02 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
kari
Ching Shih


Registered: 01/03/01
Posts: 129
Loc: Orange Co NY

Offline
ooh, this topic is long and good.

I'm an engineer - and I have to say, I didn't experience first hand the sexest professors who were in my very small, very tough engineering school. There were some, tho', and I did hear about them from my classmates.

and now that I'm working in environmental engineering, I'm surrounded with women, smart, sexy women scientists. (actually, my school had the unheard of ratio of 1:4 women to total students, instead of the usual best of engineering school ratio of 1:5. One of my male classmates asked me once we got real jobs where all the girls were, and why he had been so tricked by our school!)

what I AM experiencing is the tendency of male engineers and scientists in my company to surround themselves with young, impressionable, eager to please women. I'm that girl, I started here 3 years ago straight out of school and didn't realize until within the last year that the reason my boss worked with primarily women is not because of any kind feelings of equality and unity, but more because he could MANIPULATE us. He knows we can do our jobs, but he also knows he can guilt us into doing more than our jobs. He is able to manipulate us with guilt and his own hair shirts, and I think it's kind of sick. He is unable to control the male scientists or engineers (because of his own poor management techniques) but it's ok, because he can get the 'girls' to carry not only their own weight, but the weight of the brilliant, uncontrolable minds of the men.

has anyone else experienced this? That the societal expectation of a woman as one who will go to great lengths to please is being used harshly and methodically in the work place?

Top
#31666 - 01/10/03 01:40 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
crumpet2
Ching Shih


Registered: 12/17/02
Posts: 719

Offline
I'm a crop researcher, so I've spent many years in agriculture faculties and the ag industry. It's very sexist. Very.

At university it was the profs. Many of the women, scientist we were looking up to as role models, favoured the men. In fact it went beyond that. Many of them really shat on us women. I think it was a kind of "if I had to struggle so hard to get to this level so do you" attitude.

Many of the male profs "favoured" women. Gave them better grades, hired them more in the labs, and found more time to help them in office hours. One prof even said he would never hire a guy grad student. (I'm not sure the Human Rights Tribunal would have found that acceptable, but nobody complained.) I think it came down to what Kari mentioned. Women are often enthusiastic, smart, keen and capable...and willing to put up with more crap. They are likely to take on more responsability than they should in some cases because they are keen to be accepted and respected and treated as "equal" even if it means doing more than guys in the lab. Easier to manipulate, yes.

Now as a researcher who conducts projects with farmers and companies, I find I don't warrant the same respect as a man. I can't take my technician with me to certain meetings, because they will speak to him, not to me, even though I'm the researcher! I've had to become very pushy and assertive. But I have vowed never to crap on a woman just to see her struggle because other women have and do.

Top
#31667 - 01/10/03 01:41 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
crumpet2
Ching Shih


Registered: 12/17/02
Posts: 719

Offline
Sorry--my first double post. How embarassing!
Top
#31668 - 01/17/03 03:44 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
miercoles Moderator
Ching Shih


Registered: 10/29/00
Posts: 877
Loc: Ann Arbor, MI

Offline
Several of you have mentioned something along the lines of
 Quote:
Women are often enthusiastic, smart, keen and capable...and willing to put up with more crap. They are likely to take on more responsability than they should in some cases because they are keen to be accepted and respected and treated as "equal" even if it means doing more than guys in the lab. Easier to manipulate, yes.
and I've been thinking about it for a while. Are the women aware that they are working harder (i.e. do they talk with the men in the lab)? And, while the practice seems appalling and manipulative, does it pay off in the long run? Do women end up getting more work done, or a better letter of recommendation out of it? Or do they end up putting up with more verbal abuse? I'm very curious, because I've never encountered this type of situation before.

Top
#31669 - 01/19/03 07:51 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
Aredhel
Gráinne ni Mhaille


Registered: 06/08/02
Posts: 7

Offline
This topic fascinates me because I am a (female) high-school student currently driving my guidence counselor mad (due to the complications, not because she thinks I shouldn't take the classes) as I arrange my schedule to incorporate AP Chem (which I am in now), AP Calculus, AP Physics, and AP Economics. There are girls in these classes, but it's not at all a 50-50 split.

The most geeky guy in my chem class said recently "Science is for men and strong women." I'm interested in what other people think about that comment. The reaction of the people around him when he said that was "Aredhel is going to kill you for that." I'm by far the most vocal girl in the class, and the youngest (I went to a summer camp and had to have my mom do some manuvering to even get into the class). I replied with "Really? So men can be weak, but the women have to be strong?" and then I dropped the topic. It wasn't worth it, especially since I had the same grade as him anyway, and that proves it's own point. ;\)

Top
#31670 - 01/20/03 11:52 AM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
crumpet2
Ching Shih


Registered: 12/17/02
Posts: 719

Offline
 Quote:
Originally posted by miercoles:
Are the women aware that they are working harder? And, while the practice seems appalling and manipulative, does it pay off in the long run? Do women end up getting more work done, or a better letter of recommendation out of it?
My own experience is that it does pay off. I think that's because often the men who hire us do know that we work harder...that's partly why they are hiring us. But they aren't so petty as to not appreciate it. And I don't think it's necessarily abuse of power. The arrangement is often implicit instead of explicit, and mutally pleasing. Sometimes we accept manipulation willingly and happily. Nothing to say we aren't manipulating back.

Top
#31671 - 01/20/03 01:54 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
kari
Ching Shih


Registered: 01/03/01
Posts: 129
Loc: Orange Co NY

Offline
I'm still hacking away at my first job out of college, so miercoles, I don't really have a lot of experience.

Where I work, however, most of the women don't understand that they have been hired because they'll work harder than the men. I don't know if it's symptomatic of the industry (consulting engineering), but I notice more women working late than men in the same position/career path. There aren't as many women in management positions, but everyone in management seems to be working equally hard. Usually, if you're a woman and you work hard, you're snapped up by a project manager (usually a man) and end up in some kind of "deputy" position from which it is very hard to get other work that might develop your career.

Of course, I wouldn't be surprised if it's just here, because there's quite a few other things that are just fundamentally wrong with management and the corporate culture.

(edited to clarify my muddled point)

Top
#31672 - 02/15/03 03:16 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
animaldreams
Gráinne ni Mhaille


Registered: 02/01/03
Posts: 17
Loc: University Park, PA

Offline
This is a great topic. I'm a female undergrad engineering student at a very large state school. (I think we actually award the first or second largest number of engineering degrees every year.) I'm only in my first year, but so far I've encountered no sexism. There are very few girls in my engineering, math, and science classes, but the girls that are there aren't really treated any differently than the guys, in my experience. Maybe I just have an easier time of it because I'm fairly intelligent, if I do say so myself. One of the guys on my hall always comes to me when he needs help with the physics homework, and an aerospace engineering major in my physics recitation told me the other day that he wanted to work with "the smartest person in the class." (that was me, haha) Also, I'm generally treated as the expert in my chem lab, the person to go to if you need help. So maybe I've had more acceptance because I'm smart.
Top
#31673 - 04/08/03 06:10 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
eanja
Ching Shih


Registered: 04/03/02
Posts: 398
Loc: Boston, MA, USA

Offline
I am an environmental engineer, and I have come to the conclusion that there is a wide variation between different fields of engineering in how much difficulty women run into.

I know women in the computer field who have to deal constantly w/ implicit chauvanism (from clients as much as coworkers; there seems to be a belief that an 18 year male programmer must be a whiz-kid, while an experienced older woman probably isn't).

While I am currently the only woman among the 10 or 12 of us in my discipline at work, I've never really noticed any different treatment. In fact, I sometimes have a slight advantage, because some of the subcontractors who give my male coworkers crap would never dream of being other than polite to me.

Some differences are situational. My field tends towards consulting work. Since we account for all our work by project on a timesheet, no one cares much about daily schedules, and I've never had any trouble working around my son's schedule. For my sister, who worked in Construction Management, where you have the same project for months on end, it was just assumed that everyone would be in the office for 10 or 12 hours a day, even if a couple of those hours went to group breakfasts, lunches or bullshit sessions. Oddly enough, they didn't have any women w/ children working there.

I do get the impression that pure science still has less women, and is less friendly towards them, than many kinds of engineering. W/out getting into a debate on the differences in outlook between engineers and scientists (which are significant, and interesting, but that's a different topic), my impression is that this is probably due to a mixture of how the fields are viewed by the public, and types of people they appeal to.

Whether because of culture or nature, I have met a lot of women, including those w/ a technical bent, who see many pure sciences, or the more "hard" fields of engineering as being very cold and clinical and because of that, less appealing than areas that involve some sort of service aspect. This is a generalization, of course, but I don't think it's a coincidence that more women go into civil or enviromental engineering than into nuclear or electrical. At any rate, a lot less of my male graduate classmates seemed to have "wanting to do something that helps the world" on their personal list of reasons for choosing the field.

I think this is a least part of the problem. Sciences are portrayed not just as difficult and unfeminine, but as lonely, purely intellectual fields where unemotional people sit in cubicles or hang out alone in labs, never interacting w/ others, and very likely doing something w/ no practical application whatsoever. And that's a narrow and skewed view of a broad field, and not one designed to appeal to a lot of girls, no matter how good at math.

Top
#31674 - 04/14/03 11:05 AM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
kari
Ching Shih


Registered: 01/03/01
Posts: 129
Loc: Orange Co NY

Offline
eanja, I agree wholly with you about why there are so many more women in 'service' engineering like civil and environmental. And it also goes hand in hand with the lower pay. (not that there are women in these professions, but that it's a 'service' job. Right, like, teaching, or nursing.
Top
#31675 - 04/16/03 12:23 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
fillyjonk
Gráinne ni Mhaille


Registered: 04/16/03
Posts: 2
Loc: Oklahoma

Offline
My situation seems to be a little different from some of the other folks' here.

I am an academic scientist (biology -specifically, ecology and biostatistics). I never notice any kind of "sexism" or "reverse sexism" among my peers. (perhaps that's because my dept. is half female, and that people here are open enough that if someone is offended, they let the person who offended them know).

What I *do* notice, and what bugs the *heck* out of me, is when I'm out in the general public, and invariably someone asks what I do. When I tell them I am a biology professor, I almost always get one of three responses:

A. "Ooooh, a brain" (Yes, let me put my hair up in a bun and wash off my makeup so I fit your view of me)

B. "Oh, I hated biology" (Gee, that gives us a lot to talk about then, no? Bye.)

C. they simply draw back from me in mock horror. (What? I'm not going to try to clone you, I promise. I'm not even that kind of biologist)

Dear God, what do I have to do to get people to react to what I do as they react to the woman who says she teaches grade school or works as a nurse? I don't try to come across as brainy, and no one has every told me I seemed arrogant or superior.

Top
#31676 - 04/16/03 12:43 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
Kristin K
Ching Shih


Registered: 03/31/03
Posts: 109
Loc: Durham, NC

Offline
eanja,

I agree with you wholeheartedly about the appeal of service-based fields of engineering over more purely service-based ones. My undergraduate degree was in mechanical engineering, a field I selected somewhat arbitrarily coming out of high school ("I am good at math and physics, but mathematicians make little money... so engineering it is!"). At first I enjoyed the coursework; but then I spent three summers working in the auto industry. In addition to being quietly sexist, the work environment was also completely unfulfilling to me. An employee's sole purpose was to grease the wheels of the money making machine that was the corporation. While I admit there was room for creative, individual thought built into the job, I just could not get excited about spending the vast majority of my waking hours trying to devise faster ways to weld a car together.

In the end, I decided to get a graduate degree in biomedical engineering, and I now apply my engineering skills to problems in medicine and environmental health. Other women I know in my field have very similar backgrounds as I, and many of them felt the same way about their initial, "technical" choice of career.

However, my experience has been that there are more women in "pure science" than in engineering (at least in chemistry and biology). Of course, this observation is based on my experience in academia and government as opposed to industrial research and development. I believe many women in science select academic or government jobs because while they often pay less, they provide advantages that appeal to many women (such as stability, flexibility, and intellectual freedom).

Edited to add: Fillyjonk, I just saw your post. Your comments about your department (half female, no blatant sexism) fits with what I've experienced. Why did you choose academia?

Top
#31677 - 04/16/03 01:03 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
crumpet2
Ching Shih


Registered: 12/17/02
Posts: 719

Offline
 Quote:
Originally posted by fillyjonk:
Dear God, what do I have to do to get people to react to what I do as they react to the woman who says she teaches grade school or works as a nurse?
Gee, I'm usually saying "what do I have to do to get people to react as they do to the woman who teaches biology?"

Actually, I take great pleasure, when people ask what I do, in saying "I manage manure."

Some of them say sympathetically "Oh so do I, all that bullshit out there!" Then I say, "No. Really." And then they usually have nothing more to say to me.

But back to the real topic!

I just had an interesting conversation a colleague. She's a science manager. She said people are always faulting her because whenever she hires, it is inevitably a woman. After which she said she really isn't biased against men. It's just that women work harder longer. They aren't stronger, but they're steadier. I raised an eyebrow until she admitted there are exceptions. Then she said that she's not sexist, it's just her observation. Made me think of that line "It's not racist because it's the truth."

Top
#31678 - 04/16/03 04:04 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
kari
Ching Shih


Registered: 01/03/01
Posts: 129
Loc: Orange Co NY

Offline
(OT: crumpet2, I do the same thing, only I say "I work with hazardous waste..." I love the shock value of it!)
Top
#31679 - 04/17/03 09:33 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
Professor Frink Administrator
Ching Shih


Registered: 05/28/00
Posts: 52
Loc: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Offline
This thread has been interesting to read, as my undergrad was in engineering (civil + environmental) and I was involved in the programs to encourage acceptance of engineering as a career choice for young girls (we focused on grade eights).

In my class, there were about 10% females, and the ratio changed over time. Why? Those who failed were men. Now, it's not difficult to show that statistically this implies nothing about men or women (larger pool of men means larger numbers of people likely to fail). For the years I was in school, I noticed that overall the ratio of women:men was around 1:5, and it was as high as 1:3 in chem eng and systems design. It was substantially lower in civ, mech, etc. Geo was evenly balanced, but it was a very small department.

When it came to the Engineering Society, awards, and leadership, it was an entirely different set of ratios. For example, there was always at least one female on the EngSoc exec, and one year all positions were held by females. Class representatives were often female. A very large percentage of the movers and shakers were female. All of my female friends were smarter and harder working than I was. (I just played broomball and went dancing.)

During the year that the EngSoc exec was entirely female, it finally struck me that the reason was simple. It's not that either gender is smarter, or whatever. It's that the women who got to engineering had to be smarter, tougher, and more determined. They had to fight the system to get there. The men were just as often there by default as by design. The women who got to engineering at my alma mater had already been through the thresher. They also already knew how to work hard, and I know they pretty much got the jobs they wanted after graduation.

Our observations regarding women working harder than men, being willing to put up with more garbage, etc. are based on a skewed sample. They know what it takes to get through the system, and are predisposed to do it. The very fact that they do it is why they've made it so far.

Enough of that rambling. Let me blather about something slightly different -- the work-family dilemma. Both of us are self-employed, so there's no distinction between work life and life life. We are dedicated to our companies, because we are our companies (and we won't "downsize" ourselves to meet quarterly profit projections :-)

Traditional business was made by men for men. Not because of sexism, but for the simple reality that most men worked outside the home. The schedule, the hours, the demands, were all based on having someone at home to take care of your domestic life. That's changed over the last few years as the new women in the workforce don't necessarily have someone at home to take care of that aspect of life for them. But the game is still governed by male-oriented rules of time at the job.

Perhaps one part of the solution is for more women-owned businesses to flourish and to create policies and procedures that recognize the importance of family in one's life. It's not going to happen in a traditional business, because nothing is perceived as wrong when defined by its operating rules.

I swear I had a point when I started. Really. Perhaps the smartest thing to do now would be to stop.

Top
#31680 - 04/19/03 04:16 AM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
mieledio
Ching Shih


Registered: 04/16/03
Posts: 165
Loc: USA

Offline
I apologize in advance for a long post.

This thread fascinates me because I have spent a lot of time wondering about this topic. We all hear the dire statistics about women in science, but I have been a science person from the beginning and I have never, ever seen any real sexism or gender gap in my personal experience. I fully understand that others' experiences have been very different, but I can't understand where it is if I haven't seen it.

I am the only girl in a family with three boys, and my family (parents and others) always encouraged all of us to do exactly what we wanted to do. There was no pressure, not even in subtle ways, for any of us to fit into any sort of pattern, gender-related or otherwise, and I am the only one who went into a scientific field.

In my undergraduate work (University of Texas), some science classes had more men and some had more women but (although I never took an exact count) to the best of my recollection I believe it worked out fairly evenly overall. In my graduate work (Texas A&M), there was actually a strong majority of women in my cohort. In undergraduate I had 2 male and 2 female science professors; in graduate I had 3 male and 2 female. There were definitely more men than women in medical school (Texas Tech... I've been everywhere, man ;\) ), and roughly 90% of the professors were male, but I agree with whoever said that a higher percentage of the women were there because they truly loved medicine, and a large percentage of the men were there for other reasons, often just because they could.

I have worked in government and industry labs, and I have never had more than 25% of my coworkers, including superiors, be men. I am now (sort of) in academia, if preK-12 counts as "academia". I am a curriculum consultant, which means that I work on a contract basis with school districts to help them develop top-notch science programs in their schools. I focus on schools that really need the help, private schools and very small public schools, and most of them only have a few non-required science courses. In those courses, the majority of students is invariably female.

I've never in my life had anyone... colleague, professor, coworker, boss, friend, family... absolutely no one... say anything inappropriate to me relating to the fact that I am a woman in a scientific field. My specializations are in chemistry and physics, with of course the medical background on the side, and I've always worn makeup, and nice dresses when I felt like it, and my coworkers have too, and I've never known of any of them being subjected to harassment.

As I said, I don't mean at all to invalidate anyone else's experience; all I'm saying is that I just don't get it. Where is all this rampant sexism and lack of women in science? With the arguable exception of medical school, I've never seen it. Have I just been incredibly fortunate? I'm not naďve and I'm not stupid; surely it didn't just pass me by... so what gives?

P.S. To avoid future confusion I should add that I never finished medical school. I did half of it and then decided I didn't love it as much as I thought I would and headed out to find something that I did love. I found it. \:D

Top
#31681 - 04/23/03 08:46 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
kari
Ching Shih


Registered: 01/03/01
Posts: 129
Loc: Orange Co NY

Offline
Prof. Frink, regarding the women/family situation:

I don't know any engineers who have managed to make the family situation work out to their complete satisfaction. There's a compromise made somewhere, and it usually involves x months of maternity leave and then coming back, and working the long hours of a consultant in order to stay abreast of the good projects. Or, staying home until your children are school aged and trying to get back into the swing then.

There is one woman scientist I know of at our company who manages to work flexibly from home with her children, but her advantage is she works from her home in ITALY. she's already 1/4 of a day offset from us here in New York, and therefore, she can work late at night or mid morning and as long as her billable hours are worked and she checks her email after her dinner, everyone is happy.

But I've been thinking about what I posted earlier, and I do think that most of what I've observed has to do with the corporate culture where I work. It's an old-school consulting company started in the 50s by a bunch of Army Corp engineers, recently aquired by a large international engineering company. Scientists and women were not usually managers because you had to have your PE (engineering license) to manage and most women ended up going to the government sector where the hours were more flexible when they started to have children.

My roommate is a teacher, and my mom jokes that she's my "wife" because after all, doesn't it benefit every engineer to be married to a teacher who can get home before her/him to make dinner?

And it's my dream to start or work in a woman owned consulting company. We can get great leads on government projects, and I imagine the work ethic and personal goals would be more in line than mine. But it's not because it would be a woman owned company specifically, but I think because I (and my coworkers who plan with me) are less bound to traditional business models and rewards and willing to experiment with a new way of getting things done.

Top
#31682 - 04/24/03 08:38 AM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
Kristin K
Ching Shih


Registered: 03/31/03
Posts: 109
Loc: Durham, NC

Offline
 Quote:
Doesn't it benefit every engineer to be married to a teacher who can get home before her/him to make dinner?
I know you are making a joke, but seriously, my husband is studying to be a teacher, and I am an engineer. We think it is really going to help with the whole family-work thing. We don't have kids yet, but we plan on my husband staying home with them until they are school age, and then he can be home with them in the summer. I might take off a year to be with them when they are infants, if we are able to generate enough savings (it would be hard for us to live solely on his teacher salary). I consider myself lucky to have found a husband who has no hang-ups about breaking from traditional male-female roles. My husband loves kids (which is why he wants to be a teacher) and he looks forward to being there for ours. I would love to be able to work from home eventually as well, and I'm currently investigating opportunities that would allow me to do so. But I am happy knowing that even if nothing pans out for me, we still have a plan.

Top
#31683 - 04/30/03 05:26 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
kari
Ching Shih


Registered: 01/03/01
Posts: 129
Loc: Orange Co NY

Offline
Kristin K, that's great!

update on my coworker who's got it all: she's in town from italy and I told her she has my dream life. She and her husband both work part-time from home. If she's got a conference call that will, b/c of the time difference, go into dinner time or bed time, her husband covers for her with the kids. I told her it's so rare that people are able to have a career with no sacrifice like that, and she wrote it off as not being "ambitious" for power, rather, as just wanting to do the technical work. She says she and her husband took a chance 5 years ago because "what was the worst that could happen, we'd go back to the way things were before?"

Top
#31684 - 04/30/03 09:10 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
miercoles Moderator
Ching Shih


Registered: 10/29/00
Posts: 877
Loc: Ann Arbor, MI

Offline
kari and Kristin K, that's great! I'm on a mailing list for women in astronomy, and lately the question came up of managing kids and a career. Many women wrote in to say that it worked for them -- maybe they had to take several months off, or work 80% time for a year, or their husbands took time off -- but the point is they all did it. That was so refreshing to read. My mother also points out that in academia, I'll have good access to child care, plus the flexible work schedule (as I type this from work at nearly 10 p.m., sigh).

 Quote:
Where is all this rampant sexism and lack of women in science? With the arguable exception of medical school, I've never seen it.
mieledio, I'm surprised that you saw a lack of women in med school, as I was under the impression that med students were approaching a 50-50 gender distribution. I'm in physics and astronomy, and the lack of women in physics is particularly acute. In astronomy, many grad classes are close to 50-50, but there is still a very leaky pipeline; it's rare for even a mid-sized astronomy department (10-15 faculty) to have more than one woman professor. Despite the connections to astronomy, physics is much worse -- grad classes are at most 25% women, and there are even less women faculty. I have no idea why astronomy is balancing out faster than physics is; my only guess is that astronomy got ahead early (small number statistics), and women interested in physics were drawn to astronomy because they saw women in the field, and perceived it to be friendlier to women.

Personally, I've heard stupid comments from astronomers and physicists, but I've also had great advisors in both physics and astronomy. Most of the differences I've observed between the departments (at two schools now) has been due mainly to size. Hm, I'm typing by the seat of my pants but now I want to look into this some more.

Over in industry, women are especially underrepresented in electrical engineering and computer science (much to the dismay of many of my male college friends). Chemical engineering was 50-50 at my undergrad school, but I don't know if that's the case everywhere.

 Quote:
Sciences are portrayed not just as difficult and unfeminine, but as lonely, purely intellectual fields where unemotional people sit in cubicles or hang out alone in labs, never interacting w/ others, and very likely doing something w/ no practical application whatsoever. And that's a narrow and skewed view of a broad field, and not one designed to appeal to a lot of girls, no matter how good at math.
eanja, the "solitude" of science partly appealed to me, since I've never been much of a people person. However, I have found that it's quite the opposite! Everyone has a wide web of official collaborators, and it seems that every time I turn around I'm in a group meeting discussing my research, or in a journal-club setting discussing recent published papers. All of these occur in a fun, informal setting, and I wish more young people (girls, obviously, but also boys) could be exposed to that.

I'm not sure how to change the perception of science, though. Science fairs, maybe? But even by high school, most students view science as stuffy and pointless (i.e. "Why are we doing this experiment when everyone else has done it before us), and even in college you have to trudge through years of work before the journal clubs and group meetings are even comprehensible.

Top
#31685 - 05/01/03 10:17 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
mieledio
Ching Shih


Registered: 04/16/03
Posts: 165
Loc: USA

Offline
miercoles: I enjoyed reading your comments and I'm quite interested in your perspective.

I want to clarify that, while the composition of my med school class was indeed predominantly male, it wasn't a large majority. I can't remember the exact numbers off the top of my head (it's been around 12 years since I was there, which may also partly explain the disparity, now that I think of it), but it seems like it was something like 56 men and 46 women.

As I mentioned, my background has mostly been chemistry and physics. It is true that there is more gender disparity in physics than in chemistry, but I still maintain that I haven't seen much of it in any field. Can't say how or why though.

You make a good point about small numbers. Almost all of my work has been either (a) at very small colleges, school districts, companies, or government agencies or (b) with very small, select cohorts within large universities, school districts, companies, or government agencies. Obviously problems arise with small sample size, and that could be part of the reason that I have not seen much gender gap.

I remain very interested in other people's points of view on this. I have no experience whatsoever, for example, in either electrical engineering or computer science, and I am curious about whether others have noticed a particular shortage of women in other specific fields as compared to the ones we've mentioned.

With regard to changing the perception of science, I agree that it has to start with the young. High school is definitely too late for precisely the reason that you described. Science fairs are great and they do make some difference, but they generally have more impact on the students who are already interested in science than in others. I believe that the emphasis needs to be placed on how science is presented and taught, and my entire career is focused on equipping teachers to teach in such a way that the students aren't simply repeating the work of other people for no good reason. They need to experience what science really is before they can truly appreciate it, and my (admittedly incomplete but increasingly convincing) follow-up work indicates that this approach makes a significant difference in student attitudes toward the field of science, for both boys and girls. And, incidentally, the kind of teaching that I encourage actually seems to create increased interest in and success at science fairs and other real-world projects.

Sorry this is so long; I had several points to which I wanted to respond.

Top
#31686 - 07/08/03 12:10 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
miercoles Moderator
Ching Shih


Registered: 10/29/00
Posts: 877
Loc: Ann Arbor, MI

Offline
A committee tracking the status of women in astronomy recently met, and there's an article about some of the findings. While the leaky pipeline still exists, the number of women in astronomy is increasing at all levels, and for students under the age of 23, it is actually slightly over 50%.

I can only speak from an astronomer's perspective -- I have no clue what physics, chemistry, etc. are doing about women in their fields -- but I think this shows that making an effort to keep women in the field does work. There are older women faculty who go out of their way to mentor younger women in the field. There are departments who make an effort to hire more women (realizing, among other things, that more women faculty will help them attract more women graduate students). And while there are still problems, there have been advances in just the past ten years.

I asked this question earlier, and I still don't know the answer. Why has astronomy been able to improve more readily than so many other fields. Is it just due to size? Or has the field truly recognized the problem, and put forth more effort to change things?

Edited to add another article about the meeting, which offers more reasons as to why women leave the field. No surprises, I'm sure, but I thought I'd share.

Top
#31687 - 08/12/04 02:20 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
miercoles Moderator
Ching Shih


Registered: 10/29/00
Posts: 877
Loc: Ann Arbor, MI

Offline
It's been over a year, so I'm double-posting. A new study shows that the number of women earning computer science degrees has dropped over the past twenty years. Wow, I didn't think things were getting worse. But there was an interesting quote:
 Quote:
How well those initiatives succeed may determine whether the half of the U.S. population that is female ever boasts 50 percent of the nation's computer science degrees, as women do now in professions such as medicine and law.
Is the gender split really 50-50 in medicine and law? If so, that's fantastic.

Top
#31688 - 08/13/04 06:21 AM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
deborah Administrator
Chief Bibliofreak
Ching Shih


Registered: 05/27/00
Posts: 3901
Loc: Funkytown

Offline
I thought it was actually stronger in medicine (i.e., that there are slightly more female than male doctors). But that might not be right. I'm pretty sure I've read, though, that med school enrollment is now higher for women than men.

Somebody less lazy than I probably will find the statistics.

Top
#31689 - 08/13/04 09:48 AM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
ainsley
Ching Shih


Registered: 02/26/02
Posts: 614
Loc: north carolina

Offline
I, too, was thinking that the split was less even than that, that females were becoming dominant, but then realised I was thinking about law school/med school enrollment, which takes a few years to change the balance in the profession. And I think law school is about 57% female these days.
Top
#31690 - 08/13/04 05:44 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
miercoles Moderator
Ching Shih


Registered: 10/29/00
Posts: 877
Loc: Ann Arbor, MI

Offline
I think for college enrollment overall, women are dominant (is it approaching 60%?). I'll try and find some good statistics over the weekend.
Top
#31691 - 01/17/05 09:24 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
miercoles Moderator
Ching Shih


Registered: 10/29/00
Posts: 877
Loc: Ann Arbor, MI

Offline
Apparently, the president of Harvard thinks the lack of women in science and engineering might be due to an innate difference between men and women . I'm slightly suprised to see anyone outside of Slashdot seriously propose this argument, but what makes science and engineering so much harder, or so much more special than law or medicine?* And, if there are innate differences, how can you possibly study them or understand them before all of the societal barriers and prejudices have been removed?

The president of Harvard. I just . . . damn. That's a hell of a vote of no-confidence in the women students and professors there. They should all strike, or something.

* Nothing, of course, but I've seen many people argue this while defending the status quo.

(I'm so upset I've have to edit this post four times now. Gah.)

Top
#31692 - 01/17/05 09:32 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
Mistral
Ching Shih


Registered: 05/03/01
Posts: 321

Offline
Ugh. That's...horrendous. I could see someone saying that the lack of women in science and engineering might be due to an innate difference between T's and F's (Thinkers and Feelers in the Myers-Briggs sense), and that women (I think) tend to be Feelers and men tend to be Thinkers. Of course, you can be a Feeler and want a career in science or engineering, but I would think most Feelers would seek a career where they could use their personality type more fully. And there are plenty of female Thinkers. But still, that would be a valid observation.

But to say what he did...what century are we living in, again?

Top
#31693 - 01/17/05 10:38 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
halfhalfkat
Gráinne ni Mhaille


Registered: 01/17/05
Posts: 10

Offline
 Quote:
When I tell them I am a biology professor, I almost always get one of three responses:

A. "Ooooh, a brain" (Yes, let me put my hair up in a bun and wash off my makeup so I fit your view of me)

B. "Oh, I hated biology" (Gee, that gives us a lot to talk about then, no? Bye.)

C. they simply draw back from me in mock horror. (What? I'm not going to try to clone you, I promise. I'm not even that kind of biologist)
I know exactly what you mean - I'm a physics major, and it's really frustrating sometimes how many people just go bug-eyed and look sick when I tell them what I do.

I think part of the problem with things is that while there are women doing great things in science, there are very few of us in high places. The male-female ratio among students (at least at my school, and I think this is true more generally) is pretty drastically different than the male-female ratio among professors and other scientific professionals, and things look even more skewed if you just look at deparment chairs, administrators, etc. Disregarding the many possible reasons for this disparity, sexism persists in large part because when people look at the scientific community, they see lots of powerful, very intelligent men - the brilliant women are behind the scenes, often unrecognized.

From my (admittedly scant) experience of things, I don't think this disparity will hold up - the average age of physics professors in the US is somewhere in the 60's and is creeping upward every year. Sometime soon, all these old professors (who are predominantly white men) are going to retire and will be replaced by the leading minds of a younger generation - a generation which, so long as women don't make a mass exodus out of scientific fields, will have a much nicer gender ratio. Professor Frink mentioned that the women in his classes were "the movers and shakers"; I've seen the same thing among the women at my university. Sometime soon, these women will get the same chances at big-shot type jobs as men have now, and I think that will open up the floodgates in terms of women studying science. With women in powerful positions, hopefully, girls won't have to fight for the chance to study science.

In some ways, we can see that happening already. MIT, possibly one of the most stereotypically macho schools out there, has just seen its first female president take office - Susan Hockfield, a neurobiologist. At my own school, the number of female physics professors tripled in the last year. (Okay, granted, that statistic is a little fishy - we now have a grand total of 3 female profs. But still, it's something.)

Maybe I'm overy optimistic, but I think that most of the sexism out there is the product of an archaic school of thought and one soon to be extinct. (Yeah, that's you, Harvard.)

Top
#31694 - 01/18/05 02:14 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
miercoles Moderator
Ching Shih


Registered: 10/29/00
Posts: 877
Loc: Ann Arbor, MI

Offline
Summers defended his remarks today. Of course.

He talked about family issues that women face:

 Quote:
The first factor, he said, according to several participants, was that top positions on university math and engineering faculties require extraordinary commitments of time and energy, with many professors working 80-hour weeks in the same punishing schedules pursued by top lawyers, bankers and business executives. Few married women with children are willing to accept such sacrifices, he said.
Few married men with children are willing to accept that -- it's just that men are more likely to have a partner who stays at home with the kids a significant fraction of the time. Howard Georgi, a Harvard physicist, talks about increasing the number of women in physics, and one of his points is that making physics (and science in general) better for women also makes it better for men. God, Georgi needs to sit Summers down for a nice, long talk about women in science.

Top
#31695 - 01/18/05 02:21 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
Marina
Ching Shih


Registered: 09/04/02
Posts: 65

Offline
I just saw that Summers quote, and I'm stewing (and I'm not even in science!). There's a discussion that's going on at Metafilter about it that's actually making me ill.
Top
#31696 - 01/19/05 01:34 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
Platinum
Ching Shih


Registered: 08/06/03
Posts: 58
Loc: Dublin, IE

Offline
Doesn't that quote about working/home/children contradict Summers' statement about the disparity being due to innate differences between men and women?
Top
#31697 - 01/19/05 01:57 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
voiceofreason Moderator
Ching Shih


Registered: 04/27/02
Posts: 1257
Loc: Brookline, MA, USA

Offline
Summers is just so bizarre to me. I mean, is he even paying attention to what's going on in his own institution? I used to work in a Harvard lab. It was run by a woman. So was the lab next door and the one on the other side. More than half of the postdocs and probably 80% of the predoctoral students and technicians I knew there were women. I know that the numbers are always changing on this, and that these numbers are very different in different fields (I was in a mostly cancer biology department, and obviously this is a different field from math or even chemistry, though some of my colleagues were biochemists), but really I think social factors explain the disparity between men's and women's acheivements in science so much more easily than any hypothetical brain differences.

I mean, it's not like there's this one huge skill called Science. Doing science uses all kinds of different skills, from the obvious analytical skills to management (cost management, time management, personnel managment) and interpersonal skills and political skill and writing skill... I can believe that men (on AVERAGE) might be better than women at one or two of these but I'd be very surprised if it didn't all balance out in the end.

I don't think there's anything wrong with hypothesizing that there might be biological differences that might make women less inclinced or less able at science, but is the evidence there? You know, evidence? Or do they not go in for that in economics (Mr. Summers' discipline). Oh, who needs evidence when you've got stupid anecdotes about your daughter and her trucks.

Top
#31698 - 05/04/06 01:49 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
ken_m
Ching Shih


Registered: 04/25/02
Posts: 503

Offline
I've been away from chicklit for a while, so I missed the discussion of l'affaire Summers, but I'd like to resurrect this thread. Most of the replies in the topic are from people describing the obstacles encountered by women working in science and technology. What I've been wondering about lately is what sorts of reasons young women have for choosing (or not choosing) science and technology fields in the first place, which I think is a different question. (Maybe it's not, either.)

There is a perception among engineering schools in Canada that we are in a crisis right now. Enrollment is dropping for young people in general, but it seems to be dropping faster for young women. (In our current graduating class of computer engineers, I believe the total number of women is zero.) I'd like your impressions of what is going on and what can be done to fix it.

I have very little patience for the "girls' brains just don't work like that" school of neuroscience.

Every now and then, somebody will release a "for girls" video game that is something like "Dress your Virtual Barbie" as an attempt to involve more young girls in technology. Is that sort of thing a step in the right or wrong direction?

I can't imagine, as Summers seems to think, that it is a question of women being unwilling to enter fields that require hard work or long hours. Lots of women are doctors and lawyers, and I think in the public's mind, those are professions that REALLY lead to long, hard hours. (I think I worked a 36 hour day once. I think medical residents do it about once a week.)

I know of at least one wrongheaded guidance counsellor (he tried to get Ms._m to drop advanced math in grade 8) out there. Is there a common problem of guidance counsellors giving "girls don't do math" advice?

What do you think needs to be done to address the problem? Our school is focusing on activities for girls in the 11-13 year old set. Is that the right group to target, or does it need to start earlier? Or later?

I've always been reluctant to involve myself in our school's young-girls-in-science program because I'm not sure it's appropriate for men to be involved. I think seeing female role models will have a much greater impact on the target audience. Am I right about that? Do you think there a role in this process for men in the profession, other than just generally not being a prick when they encounter female colleagues and students?

Top
#31699 - 05/05/06 06:41 AM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
deborah Administrator
Chief Bibliofreak
Ching Shih


Registered: 05/27/00
Posts: 3901
Loc: Funkytown

Offline
ken_m, nice to have you back!

You have raised several excellent questions.

 Quote:
Every now and then, somebody will release a "for girls" video game that is something like "Dress your Virtual Barbie" as an attempt to involve more young girls in technology. Is that sort of thing a step in the right or wrong direction?
I think it's a step in the wrong direction. I never ever get the feeling that such games or software programs are meant to attract women to technology as much as they're just an attempt to capture some more market share.

 Quote:
Is there a common problem of guidance counsellors giving "girls don't do math" advice?
Not being in grade school and not having kids in grade school, I can't comment on whether this is still the case. However, when I was in school (I'm 41, so I began kindergarten in 1970 and finished high school in 1983), I was definitely either subtly or openly discouraged from focusing on or even working harder at math and science. I think this is true for most women my age and older, at the very least. I think I've gone on about this at length elsewhere, so I won't do it again here.

 Quote:
What do you think needs to be done to address the problem? Our school is focusing on activities for girls in the 11-13 year old set. Is that the right group to target, or does it need to start earlier? Or later?
I think that age group is your last chance, actually, so I would say it's almost too late. I think it needs to start much earlier -- the minute they come into contact with the school system, and preferably, they'd be getting positive messages about women in science and math from birth onward. After the age of 13...I think it's a very hard message to sell to teenage girls, who, in the midst of general adolescent turmoil, are besieged with messages about femininity, and inundated by fears, insecurities and doubts about what it means to be a woman.

 Quote:
Do you think there a role in this process for men in the profession, other than just generally not being a prick when they encounter female colleagues and students?
Yes, I think there's a role. At the very, very least, men can always be supportive of such initiatives. If women have taken the lead, men can always ask those women, "What do you need? How can I help?" If women haven't taken the initiative, men can raise the subject, encourage specific women into leadership roles on the matter, and again, offer support for such programs and initiatives once women take up the challenge.

Unfortunately, because inequality persists, the opinions and attitudes of men on the subject of women in science, math and technology are going to carry disproportionate weight. So it goes beyond just not being a prick; men who want to see women working in science, math, technology, etc. are going to have to openly and frequently express and demonstrate their respect for and admiration of such women. Girls are going to need the message really heavily reinforced (and it won't hurt a bit if boys receive that same message).

Top
#31700 - 05/05/06 11:20 AM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
carrotbat
Ching Shih


Registered: 06/01/03
Posts: 238

Offline
How have I not spotted this topic before?

I think the thing that surprised me the most when I was at university (around eight years ago, and in a Computer Science program so male-dominated that I was the only female CS major in my graduating class) was that the majority of dumb comments about my choice of major came from other college-age girls. The guys in the program with me just asked if I had the answer to question #6 in the homework or if I remembered the name of some obscure C++ function. My all-time favorite clunker comment had to be "Did you pick your major to meet men?" -- asked by one of my fellow altos in the college choir! I had to bite my tongue to keep from asking "Did you pick yours to meet women?"

Top
#31701 - 05/05/06 03:09 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
Auroranorth
Ching Shih


Registered: 03/30/05
Posts: 318

Offline
I think I'd have responded, "No, did you?"
Top
#31702 - 05/08/06 10:07 AM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
ken_m
Ching Shih


Registered: 04/25/02
Posts: 503

Offline
 Quote:
Originally posted by deborah:
ken_m, nice to have you back!
Thanks.

 Quote:

You have raised several excellent questions.

 Quote:
Every now and then, somebody will release a "for girls" video game that is something like "Dress your Virtual Barbie" as an attempt to involve more young girls in technology. Is that sort of thing a step in the right or wrong direction?
I think it's a step in the wrong direction. I never ever get the feeling that such games or software programs are meant to attract women to technology as much as they're just an attempt to capture some more market share.
You make a good point. I hadn't even thought of the cynical marketing angle. More generally, though, if we assume good faith, what do you think of the idea that we can make technology "more accessible" by using "girl friendly" applications?

I'm kind of going back and forth with myself on this, so I apologize for the rambling. Bear with me. On the one hand, even if you limit yourself to a stereotype of "girls are into clothes and makeup", there are a lot of ways to make "clothes and makeup" about science and technology. The early industrial revolution can be summed up as "the quest for cheap cloth"; things like spinning wheels, power looms and sewing machines are excellent examples of innovative technologies to meet needs/improve productivity; James Burke thinks the Jacquard loom is the prototype of the modern computer; there is a *lot* of chemistry and biochemistry in cosmetics, etc. It seems like you can leverage an interest in clothes and makeup and turn it into an interest in science and technology if you spin it the right way.

On the other hand, "girls are into clothes and makeup" is a very limiting stereotype and it doesn't seem like a good idea to reinforce it.

On the third hand, it seems (if I can generalize from the subject matter of most teen magazines) that lots of girls really are into clothes and makeup and maybe it makes sense to meet them on their turf.

On the final hand, a lot of boys are attracted to technology because they like fast cars, blowing stuff up and first-person-shooter video games. Certainly there are also some girls who like fast cars, blowing stuff up and playing DOOM, but it seems like as long as that is how young people see technology, you are going to get a gender bias. It seems like there should be some value in finding more inclusive motivating examples.

I think I just groped my way near to something resembling an answer. The trick may be to just find out what young people are interested in, (all of them, irrespective of gender), and show them the science and technology behind it. It's a tall order, and I have no idea how actually to go about doing it, but at least I think this approach might make the subject more accessible while avoiding the "virtual Barbie" scenario.

Top
#31703 - 05/08/06 02:22 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
kandiam
Ching Shih


Registered: 03/16/04
Posts: 69

Offline
Barbie fashion design software? Are they serious? Didn't she think math class was tough?

While video games are often a young person's first exposure to computer use, kids just as often use them for communication and research.

I was a Computer Science undergrad 25 years ago. If I recall, women entered the field because they were interested in problem-solving, or felt a thrill in making something work. That seemed like an excellent reason.

I was a Letters and Science student and took my computer science degree there. That was a good choice for me, leaving enough room for the breadth I wanted and allowing me to come relatively late to that path (engineering students overwhelmingly applied straight from high school). Ken_m, does your university offer that sort of degree, or would a student need to go EECS in the engineering school? Alternatively, is there extra support for women who want to tranfer into the engineering school?

I think it's also important to provide opportunities for re-entry students (older students looking for a second career or a first career with a later start than the norm). Women with analytical talent who lacked the right high school preparation, or who chose other paths initially, can find their way into the field with the right support. Men, too.

I agree with deborah that encouraging girls' interest in math and science needs to start young, even before middle school.

Ken_m, I think you're on the right track, demystifying the technology behind tools we use every day. Perhaps it's worth explaining what the practitioners who make the technology do, too.

Top
#31704 - 05/08/06 04:06 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
sophietje
Ching Shih


Registered: 04/19/02
Posts: 318
Loc: Buffalo, NY, USA, Earth, The U...

Offline
There was a documentary on PBS a few months ago called "The Video Game Revolution" where they talked about these Barbie games and the lack of girls\' games in general.
Top
#31705 - 10/04/06 05:15 PM Re: Women in (or just interested in) Science
deborah Administrator
Chief Bibliofreak
Ching Shih


Registered: 05/27/00
Posts: 3901
Loc: Funkytown

Offline
 Quote:
Go Eng Girl is an event that every school of engineering across the province is offering to girls in grades 7, 8, 9, and 10.

The Waterloo event includes special guest speakers, a showcase information fair, opportunities to meet current female Waterloo Engineering students, and cool hands-on activities. Lunch will be provided during the event and the only cost to attend is transportation to the University of Waterloo. Check out the agenda for the day below.

On Saturday, October 14th, 2006 come to the University of Waterloo to learn more about the exciting field of engineering, a caring profession. Don't miss your chance to join in the fun!
Please spread the word about this event -- I've posted about Waterloo because that's where I'm going to school, but every engineering school in Ontario is doing this, and maybe there's one near that grade 7-10 girl you know and love. (And if any of you take your daughters, I'd love to hear how it goes...)

Top
Page all of 8 12345>Last »


Moderator:  miercoles, voiceofreason 
Hop to: