My Experience related to Gender in Academic Science
by CAchemist, Thu Jul 17, 2008 at 09:48:54 PM EDT
Earlier there was a diary related to gender inequality in the sciences. Unfortunately, active discussion in the diary was not really possible. With that in mind, I thought I would take a moment to discuss my personal experiences with gender issues in the world of academic chemistry from my male perspective.
I am a graduate student at one of the top universities in the country. I am not trying to get patted on the back (as I was accused earlier) but simply adding context to the story. I think it is relevant that the men and women I work with are probably some of the smartest people and best chemists in the world.
The department I work in has a man to woman ratio of around 3/2. My specific research group comprises 20 men and only 4 women. We are very much a boys club, albeit unintentionally. My boss actively courts women but we find it difficult to convince them to join a male heavy group and therefore we never seem to be able to break out of the mold. There are also groups in our department with the opposite problem. They are predominantly female and few men join because the persona of the group has been set. This is the first problem that I saw in my academic career and it is something many people notice pretty quickly upon their arrival. I have thought of no reasonable solution to this problem.
There are also problems related to internal gender perceptions. I have noticed that one of my female co-workers is typically unwilling to ask general questions of us. At times it is detrimental to her progress in her project. When I pointed out her unwillingness to get help, she said that she didn't want us to think she was stupid or the dumb girl. She then gave several examples from her undergraduate experience where there was some mysogeny at play. She had stereotyped her new male coworkers and in the process slowed down her own progress. We discussed the matter in depth and she came around to the idea that the older grad students are there to help her just as the other grad students helped us. If we already knew everything, why would we be at grad school.
I am also friends with a Canadian post-doctoral scholar. After deciding to become a professor and doing some research into staying in the states, she realized that the US academics do not have a system for accounting for female faculty that want a child and tenure. In Canada, the pre-tenure position is extended for women who choose to conceive. This is not true here. Young women faculty here have to choose tenure or children but rarely both. My friend decided to return to Canada so she could do both.
These are the problems of gender inequality in my own personal experiences. There are fewer women than men. The women who are here sometimes are not well integrated into the greater community. At least one women assumes that we think less of her due to her prior experiences in undergrad. Lastly, women in the US have difficulty accomplishing their career dreams and their desire for children at the same time.
Unfortunately, there are no magic bullets for these problems. The first clear step is to give girls in primary school equal footing at the beginning.
That is about all I can think of. Sorry it rambles.
I would be happy to stick around and discuss my anecdotes and yours. Blogs are about dialogue not monologue.