My Experience related to Gender in Academic Science

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.

Tags: chemistry, equality, gender, men, Women (all tags)



tips or flames

There is a lot to discuss on the topic of gender equality in the sciences.  Hopefully, people will talk about their own experiences here and/or we can brainstorm about how we can resolve the current issues.

by CAchemist 2008-07-17 09:58PM | 0 recs
Re: tips or flames

I completed a post-doc in summer of 2007.

I am not a woman.

My opinion is that academia in america is governed by the core principle that intense competition delivers the best science. Anything that hinders the ability of a scientist to compete (i.e., maternity) is bad.

While women are the most frequent victims, men may also be victimized by this philosophy as well. Taking paternity leave or going on disability or leaving for family matters would be equally (if not moreso) frowned upon

I do not believe it is true sexism, but rather a result of biology plus philosophy that leads to a greater incidental victimization of one sex.

by iohs2008 2008-07-18 06:45AM | 0 recs
Re: tips or flames

So my best guess, to provoke you, of what's behind all of this is that the largest phenomenon, by far, is the general clash between people's legitimate family desires and employers' current desire for high power and high intensity, that in the special case of science and engineering, there are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude, and that those considerations are reinforced by what are in fact lesser factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination. I would like nothing better than to be proved wrong, because I would like nothing better than for these problems to be addressable simply by everybody understanding what they are, and working very hard to address them.

Larry Summers said out loud what a lot of powerful men in academia think -- that there are fewer high-performing women due to issues of "intrinsic aptitude.", you're wrong.  It is sexism.

by randomscientist 2008-07-18 08:15AM | 0 recs
Is that so?

You seem fairly certain, especially after reading one man's words.

-isms are pervasive in this world, and academia is no exception. Academia, in my opinion, is one of the most dysfunctional professions around. It would be of little surprise that there are -isms in academia too.

All of the women scientists I have met are eminently compitent and entitled to affirmative action policies and funding.

But at the end of the day, they are routinely passed over for tenure and department positions. Why? Because in the minds of the men, you can't be doing research and raising a family at the same time.

by iohs2008 2008-07-18 08:45AM | 0 recs
Re: Is that so?

I'm not just basing it on one man's words.  I'm basing on his words, the debate about those words that occurred at the time, and my personal experience in academia.

I'm not saying everybody is sexist.  I'm just saying that sexism is still a problem in our community.

by randomscientist 2008-07-18 08:59AM | 0 recs
Re: Is that so?

It certainly is. But just because it is a (IMO, valid) explanation, it is not the only explanation.

by iohs2008 2008-07-18 09:15AM | 0 recs
Re: tips or flames

The academy is competitive. One could argue that those who are truly brilliant do well and get credit regardless of family. After all, Einstein's greatest work happened in Bern when his children were young. On the other hand, heard of Rosalind Franklin? Was it because she had kids? I think not.

Scientists should look first at the science and data on a question.   Your uninformed guess at how gender functions in the academy is like the informed guess of a person about DNA because they have bodies.  If you are interested in the topic as academic, do the reading. Bring your training to bear or do not stand upon the credentials.

If you don't like creationists making things up about evolution then you should  not just make things up about social science.

Male privilege is alive, well and extremely well-documented in the sciences. Less so in the life sciences, where you were working as indicated by the gender balance in your lab.

by redwagon 2008-07-18 09:43AM | 0 recs
What are you talking about?

Please elaborate.

by iohs2008 2008-07-18 10:37AM | 0 recs
Very well written diary..recommended..

just a it a question of gender equality or gender based discrimination?

by louisprandtl 2008-07-17 10:19PM | 0 recs

Tricky.  Lets say a little of both.

The issue of child conception is certainly discrimination.  The girl who feels inferior because of previous experiences is even a more clear cut case of discrimination.

The problems my department has with mixed gender research group is a problem rooted in old practices.  There always has to be a first group of women willing to make the step and break a boys club mentality.  People seem to just find it easier to go toward the comfortable.  We really actively try to recruit women (upon request by current women in the group) but only seem to get one or less a year.

by CAchemist 2008-07-17 10:31PM | 0 recs
It is tricky and a thin line between the two.

But the terms elucidate different reactions from folks. It is important to get the terms right if we need to improve the situation. Sometimes gender equality positions of universities are opposed more stridently than gender discrimination.

Right now I think there are powerful professors who still discriminate against women or don't think they are at par. Unfortunately sometimes women professors themselves hold similar opinions about their women students.

Your lab is having difficulty in recruiting women because the pipeline of women students who are qualified for that position maybe pretty thin..
I have known student counselors in high schools telling girls not to take advanced math or physics or chemistry courses because it might be too hard for them.. I've seen in conferences the ratio to be sometimes of the order or 1:10 or 1:20.

Anyway my personal thought it is a case of more gender discrimination rather than gender equality. But that is my own opinion, not worth much..

Sorry for the babble, don't think I'm making much sense..time to go to sleep.

by louisprandtl 2008-07-17 10:46PM | 0 recs
on the other side, it is extremely difficult for

any institution to admit that there is gender discrimination because it is violative of law.

by louisprandtl 2008-07-17 10:51PM | 0 recs
Re: on the other side, it is extremely difficult f

I agree sometimes word choice here can change how people react very quickly. My school is very willing to admit to the gender inequality here based on statistics but I am sure discrimination is a taboo word.

by CAchemist 2008-07-17 11:06PM | 0 recs
WTF are you apologizing for???

This needs to stop:

But that is my own opinion, not worth much..

Sorry for the babble, don't think I'm making much sense..time to go to sleep.

by catfish2 2008-07-18 08:06AM | 0 recs
Umm..I'm still suffering from the bubble burst

of being notified as low information person from the big Orange Blog folks. In reality I think humility and being aware of one's limitations is not a bad thing..hence the caveats to my own opinions.

by louisprandtl 2008-07-18 10:39AM | 0 recs
Re: My Experience related to Gender in Academic Sc

It is bedtime for me.  I will respond to any new comments in the morning.  I hope more people are willing to join in the conversation then.

by CAchemist 2008-07-17 11:08PM | 0 recs
Why wouldn't you respond to the other diary

Maybe you didn't want to subordinate your comments to a woman. Very suspect.

by catfish2 2008-07-18 08:07AM | 0 recs
come on now catfish.

if people want the diarist to engage with commenters - there is nothing wrong with that is there?

by canadian gal 2008-07-18 08:10AM | 0 recs
Always piling on

trying to side with the guys to give yourself more credibility.

by catfish2 2008-07-18 08:47AM | 0 recs
Re: Always piling on

Wow that was totally uncalled for.

Instead of attacking people who are open and willing to discuss the topic at hand, join in and add you own experiences into the mix.

by CAchemist 2008-07-18 08:55AM | 0 recs
The other diary was well-sourced

and linked to all sources used. You didn't even link to it. It is very strange your protest and subsequent diary.

by catfish2 2008-07-18 09:09AM | 0 recs
Huh?? n/t

by GreenHills 2008-07-18 09:08AM | 0 recs
always piling on?

im not sure what you mean.  

simply - why attack the diarist for engaging in an interesting and relevant topic?

when you write diaries - whether i agree with you or not - you are at least willing to stand up and defend your positions - for which you deserve credit.

if people choose not to that's their right, but certainly people do not have to engage.

by canadian gal 2008-07-18 09:08AM | 0 recs
Did you see the other diary?

Thanks for your input cgal. The person wrote a good diary but apparently now the rule is you have to engage within the comments or the diary is ignored.

by catfish2 2008-07-18 09:11AM | 0 recs
cgal, I love you but you've done this before

as if you're the arbiter of what is and isn't sexism. Were you in the other diary? The other diary was well-researched and cited some good sources, made some very good points. I can't find it now and CAChemist didn't even link to it.

But CAChemist commented there that he went to a top school, studied science, and had some things to add to the conversation but harrumph would not because the diarist would not comment beyond the original diary.

It's ridiculous - we're engaging in conversation now even though that diarist is not here. CAChemist could have easily left a comment and discussed the issue with the other commenters.

by catfish2 2008-07-18 09:08AM | 0 recs

certainly not.

what i am is a person that believes in engaging your readers.  if users here do back up their diaries, then its also the right of users to not engage them.

by canadian gal 2008-07-18 09:11AM | 0 recs
Re: cgal, I love you but you've done this before

Actually I am here, that is the point.

I don't think it makes sense for people to write diaries and admit that they are not going to stay for the conversation.  I am sticking to my guns on this one.

by CAchemist 2008-07-18 09:19AM | 0 recs
Re: My Experience related to Gender in

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.

Well, it's not universally true.  My advisor had her tenure clock paused while she had kids...and this is a top 5 school.

But I absolutely feel sympathy for what you're saying overall.  The fact that my advisor had her tenure clock paused is a rarity when it should be the norm.

Larry Summers' comments about women in science were shocking, but not nearly as shocking to me as the amount of people who rallied behind him (like Pinker especially).  It's a pernicious attitude that isn't going away any time soon  :-/

by randomscientist 2008-07-17 11:15PM | 0 recs
Re: My Experience related to Gender in

This is the case with my wife as well.  She can pause her tenure clock for one year for each child.

by jimotto 2008-07-18 05:32AM | 0 recs
Re: My Experience related to Gender in

Maybe my friend was wrong.  She was very upset by the stories she had heard about where women didn't get extra time or a fair shake and felt that staying in the states would hurt her career if she chose to have children.

by CAchemist 2008-07-18 07:10AM | 0 recs
another related story.

i was in vegas during the 2000 election.  i met a blackjack dealer there that was 39 weeks pregnant and still working!  when i asked her why she was still working, she explained that she wanted as much time as possible with her baby so she was working to the very last second.

(if anyone can relate, for most women - the last week or so of pregnancy is not fun at all)

can you imagine, the smoke, dirt, and standing on her feet for 9 hours a day about to drop a baby at any time?

absolutely horrible.

by canadian gal 2008-07-18 07:18AM | 0 recs
Re: My Experience related to Gender in Academic Sc


Based on my own classes and such, I think you'll find that there are very few women in physics [its a pretty male dominated field], and maybe more women than men in biological sciences- while it seems chemistry, seems to be a fair better at having more diversity.

my research group is actually more dominated by women, we only had 1 guy in my research group. And most of the women in my research group were biologists.[i was the only chemist]

maybe Ill ask around and see what other peoples research groups look like-

The first clear step is to give girls in primary school equal footing at the beginning.
i dont think primary school is to seems that the numbers [of women in science] drop in college. i have no idea why the numbers would drop to the point that men outnumber women by significant margins.

[by the way, just curious, what university are you at?]

by alyssa chaos 2008-07-18 01:48AM | 0 recs
Re: My Experience related to Gender in Academic Sc

I think it is promary/high school to a very large

What I see in heavy-math areas is actually an increase in the percentage of women as you go from undergrad to grad because of increase in foregn students, who do not go through the north american system and hence do not know that "math is hard" and "girls are bad at math" as they seem to be taught
in school here (grrr....).

In areas not seen as math-heavy I'd speculate (I know less here) the drop out rate can relate to the  discovery that math is nevertheless central.

BTW my knowledge/thoughts above are based on being a  prof. at a Canadian university.  

by lolo08 2008-07-18 07:13AM | 0 recs
Re: My Experience related to Gender in Academic Sc

In my own experiences, the women who were interested in science in high school stayed interested and found careers in the field (1 nurse, 1 doctor, 1 neurophysiology).  So I had always assumed that the lack of interest was formed before high school.  I generally chalk it up to men and women learning old-fashioned gender roles from their elders (parents and teachers).  

A large chunk of women at my school have very successful, career minded mothers.  I think they were taught at a young age to go after what they wanted to do and that women could do it.

by CAchemist 2008-07-18 07:17AM | 0 recs
I am a woman in the biological/medical sciences

There are far more female than male students in my department.  Faculty are evenly divided between men and women.  I think the biological science are doing somewhat better than math/physics/chemistry.

I've noted that the greater number of female students in the biological sciences is probably due in part to the greater number of women than men who are seeking a college education.  I'm looking forward to observing effects of this trend over the next 30 years or so.

by GreenHills 2008-07-18 07:18AM | 0 recs
I gots a question

To what extent do you think the subject itself matters?  I would think to the extent that someone's work can speak for itself, and the harder the science the more likely that is, the more easily correctable gender inequality might be.  But that may be too simplistic.

by Jess81 2008-07-18 02:56AM | 0 recs
Re: I gots a question

There is a big difference.  Engineering tends to be male-dominated, especially computer science (which was my subject).  If I had to guess at a ratio for my school (Georgia Tech), I'd peg it at 5:1 male to female in my department's grad program, and maybe 10 or 15:1 in undergrad.

I had a class with three female students sitting near the front, and the professor routinely called them out to make fun of them.  On the first day he made some crack about, maybe they'd gone to the wrong room, were they looking for the English department?

We had three graduate degree programs: computer science, information security, and human-computer interaction.  The rule of thumb was basically that the men went into the first two and the women went into the third.  HCI tends to be much less "hardcore" computer-oriented and have a heavy dose of psychology.  I don't recall this being promoted consciously or unconsciously by any individual or policy--I have a feeling that it's just a symptom of the larger issue, that being we are taught from a young age that boys do the hard sciences and girls do the soft sciences.

There were very few female faculty in my department, and those we did have tended to be very strong-willed and ambitious; they had to be in order to get where they were.  Plenty of the male professors and post-docs were laid-back and friendly, but the female professors didn't have that luxury.

Among the students, thankfully, I didn't see a whole lot of overt prejudice or sexism.  Nobody complained about having to code with a woman, nobody second-guessed one of their fellow student's suggestions or bugfixes because she was female; not that I saw, at least.

Oh, and everybody read xkcd, which is as staunchly anti-sexist as they come.

by BishopRook 2008-07-18 04:29AM | 0 recs
Re: I gots a question

I'm also a Tech student.  Bishop, do you have any involvement with the local College Dems chapter?

by odinseye2k 2008-07-18 07:17AM | 0 recs
Re: I gots a question
Nope. And even if I did, I got out in December.
by BishopRook 2008-07-18 09:02AM | 0 recs
I can tell you the ratios in MAE are worse..n/t

by louisprandtl 2008-07-18 08:16AM | 0 recs
Aware more about Guggenheim School..the ratios

are more skewed than the CompSci...

by louisprandtl 2008-07-18 08:17AM | 0 recs
Re: I gots a question

It would be nice if academia were purely egalitarian such that ideas and work are judged purely on their merit, but unfortunately that simply isn't the case.  On the one hand, there are infrastructural issues pertaining to graduate education.  There are a number of ways in which women are discouraged in certain fields during the process of education due to the unconscious ways professors and other students behave towards them.  This is especially true in male dominated fields such as philosophy, physics, chemistry, etc.  On the other hand, there's been a good deal of research showing that the attitudes of journal editors vary significantly depending on whether the name at the top of the article is a male name or a female name.  Once again, these biases are unconscious yet very real.  Given that placement in institutions will largely be determined by publications, this places women at a serious disadvantage.  From a non-gender related perspective, the absence of merit in making job decisions can simply be seen in the way that letters of recommendation from renowned scholars can place one in the running for the best positions despite the quality and originality of one's work (this would apply, I think, more in the humanities than the sciences, but all the same...).  There are a huge number of extra-scholarly factors that determine who gets what position and where.

by Philoguy 2008-07-18 06:45AM | 0 recs
Re: I gots a question

Work can speak for itself, it's true.  However, as above, I also go to Georgia Tech, as does my girlfriend.

I'd say another major problem I've seen is that we are competition-focused.  Stereotypically, boys are more willing / eager to compete (especially at the age of undergrads), whereas girls shy away.  Also, the guys I know are more likely to overstate their competence (myself include) while girls are more likely to understate their competence.

There are actually several situations where I'd prefer the female mindset (project scheduling immediately comes to mind) in terms of expressing confidence or knowledge of a given aspect.

However, in a competitive environment, preferring competition and being able to make yourself look better than you are still helps.  Even when the subject matter "speaks for itself," it can still often be obscured.  It takes time to check things out, and so appearances are often taken for granted.

by odinseye2k 2008-07-18 07:16AM | 0 recs
why the segregation?

In your summary you wrote:

The women who are here sometimes are not well integrated into the greater community.

Earlier you wrote:

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.

What is going on here, do you think? Few men are joining these "female persona" groups because men in general prefer working with other men, and/or because there is some sort of stigma attached to a group that is currently predominately female?  And is the psychology the same in the other direction?

I'm thinking about how the word "nurse" in the past always brought to mind the image of a woman, and "doctor/physician" a man.  Those fields seem much more integrated nowadays.  Does anyone know if gender bias issues in medical academia today is better or worse or about the same, compared to other sciences? And if it's better, does that field have some particular lessons that could be learned/applied by other disciplines?

by Rob in Vermont 2008-07-18 05:37AM | 0 recs
Re: why the segregation?

In the cases I mentioned, it is largely due to the types of science being done. For reasons I don't fully understand it seems that women are more drawn to biochemistry or chemistry with a heavy biological tilt.  This creates the initial disparity.

So I don't think that men are more comfortable working with other men and I have never seen anyone not join that group because it is female heavy.  I have seen cases in the opposite direction.  Some women are more comfortable in that group or are afraid to join the male heavy groups.

It is also important to note that I was talking about the two extreme cases.  There are many groups with 50/50 ratios or close to.

by CAchemist 2008-07-18 07:25AM | 0 recs
great diary!

and it made me thankful of my current situation as i am currently on paid maternity leave from my job for 1 year.  i believe that in the US its 3 months?

it makes a big difference.

anyway - highly rec'd.

by canadian gal 2008-07-18 05:58AM | 0 recs
Re: great diary!

I am not sure how long maternity leave is here.  Maybe I will ask around.

by CAchemist 2008-07-18 07:27AM | 0 recs
i think its worse than i thought....

from my understanding, it varies from state to state and can be up to 12 weeks.

and its not mandatory paid!  sick - how do you guys do it?

by canadian gal 2008-07-18 07:31AM | 0 recs
Re: i think its worse than i thought....

Well, having a newborn and having a job at the same time... is VERY hard in the US.  For both the father and the mother.

For our 2nd daughter, I took 2 weeks vacation time.  My wife took 6 weeks disability, but she was forced to use up all her vacation/sick hours first.

So, we were very low on sleep, and very low on vacation/scik hours.  A newborn tends to get sick fairly often, which means we had to use up more vacation/sick time.

by SevenStrings 2008-07-18 07:58AM | 0 recs
yet another reason...

i loved BC...

There have been several attempts at introducing paid maternity leave in the United States. The Clinton administration wanted to allow states to use unemployment funds for maternity leaves, but that was shot down by the Bush administration after opposition from business groups concerned with increased contribution to state unemployment funds.

by canadian gal 2008-07-18 08:03AM | 0 recs
Re: yet another reason...

In California, new mothers get 6-weeks of paid State Disability Insurance and 6-weeks of Paid Family Leave (administered through the Unemployement Department). Fathers can also take 6 weeks of Paid Family Leave. The "pay" in all of these programs is limited, and is never more than 55% of salary. But at least it's better than the rest of the country.

by LakersFan 2008-07-18 10:06AM | 0 recs
maternity leave story

alright this is my only maternity leave story. lesson of the story: career women should be very aware of their benefits or lack of;

So this brand-new teacher, she just graduated, works at the school where my mom works. She got pregnant but because she was new to the district she wasnt eligible for the benefits, ie. maternity leave. So my mom told her to take disability leave, well since she found out she was pregnant before she paid for the disability leave earlier that year, technically her pregnancy was a pre-existing condition and they wouldn't cover her.

So she had to resort to her sick days. and she only had 7 sick days. she just prayed that she would go into delivery a week before spring break so that she would get hopefully get 3 weeks [the sick days plus the actual spring break] to rest.

Apparently the praying paid off- but there was some major brick-shitting up until that point.  

by alyssa chaos 2008-07-18 09:14AM | 0 recs
Re: maternity leave story

what a nightmare.  honestly - so far too go - it actually makes me sad.

by canadian gal 2008-07-18 09:24AM | 0 recs
Re: maternity leave story

and this was working with the best school district in the city. i cant imagine what it would be like working at a dead-end job [aka no benefits offered], where you have to choose between working or giving yourself a descent rest time. and it probably effects women of lower incomes worse. [they are more inclined to take less time off because they need the money.]

i'd say its more disgusting than sad.

by alyssa chaos 2008-07-18 09:42AM | 0 recs
Re: great diary!

they have to hold your position for three months.  you only get paid if you have vacation days saved up and you can get some workmen's comp.  this applies to both the mother and the father.

this was part of the Family and Medical Leave Act passed under President Clinton and was supposed to destroy capitalism as we know it.

turns out, it took Enron and Fannie Mae to destroy capitalism as we know it.  ironic no?

by the mollusk 2008-07-18 07:36AM | 0 recs

in canada, its a year paid up to a percentage of your salary (from the govt).  your employer must also hold your job got you for this time.  this is also applicable to mother maternal and paternal benefits - known as parental benefits.

some companies also 'top up' so that you get 100% of your salary for the full year.

sadly - my company is not one of them ;(

by canadian gal 2008-07-18 07:49AM | 0 recs
Re: great diary!

You can 2 options: Fam & Med Leave, or state disability.

State disability applies, even if you have not held your psition for 3 months (as was the case for my wife), but it does not pay all that much.

But yes, the options here suck.  I have a friend who just moved to London...because she was offered a whole 6 months off, for her baby due later this year.

by SevenStrings 2008-07-18 07:54AM | 0 recs
Re: great diary!

you know, I'm surrounded at work by women in their late thirties and early forties who are just coming to the realization that they probably won't have kids.  Not that there's anything wrong with making that choice, but I think a lot of them didn't realize that was the choice they were making when they got into science.

It can be done, of course, but it adds a whole layer of complexity and uncertainty in a career that is already complex and uncertain.

by the mollusk 2008-07-18 08:00AM | 0 recs
Re: My Experience related to Gender in Academic

Actually what you say about tenure deferral is not true of all universities.  There are a number of universities throughout the United States that do offer such deferrals for both men and women who have newborn children.  I know as a friend of mine applied for one and received it.  Nonetheless, both men and women with young children are at a tremendous disadvantage in the tenure system.  People think that college professors sit around doing nothing because they generally only teach two or three classes a semester.  What they don't realize is that between research and publication we are generally working 80 hours a week.  This is especially true at the pre-tenure phase of one's career, and I suspect is even worse for people in the humanities who do far more writing and presenting.  You really give up your life when joining academia.

by Philoguy 2008-07-18 06:36AM | 0 recs
I agree

I do think the one year tenure-track "pause" is fairy common [my school has it], but I doubt very much it is fully adequate.  If anyone reading this doesn't have it at their school, they should raise it to the faculty union for negotiation.  Better maternity leave probably should be on the agenda at every school.

But, at best this helps when the woman has a child while an assistant professor.  But obviously the grad school years and the postdoc years it's no help at all.  This means someone who has children in their twenties, will almost certainly be applying for faculty jobs with fewer papers; perhaps she will have more years since the PhD or have taken longer to get it.  The application committee may not even realize that they are biased against her when they look at any statistical measure of performance.  It's a terrible problem.  

by John DE 2008-07-18 07:21AM | 0 recs
Great Diary

It has been a while since I was a Grad Student/Post Doc, but things were not that different back then from what you described.

Some groups had a lot of men, some groups had a lot of women.  Groups that had a lot of men generally had a lot of trouble recruiting women.  We talked about this (ours was a very small school, so we were forced to talk), and decided that the underlying reasons was not gender discrimination (well, it was .. because gender discrimination means making a distinction based on sex, but it was not gender discrimination in the bad sense).

Rather, it was that even within the sciences and engineering fields, women like certain areas... and flocked to those areas, while men liked a different set of areas... and flocked to those areas.

by SevenStrings 2008-07-18 07:08AM | 0 recs
It is a sign of improvement that we can

talk about the finer points.  In my own short life I have seen us go from "the first female in XYZ science class" to "a man to woman ratio of around 3/2".  40% is certainly an improvement over 0.001%...

You touch on a point that was well discussed in Redstocking's "Can a Feminist be a Mysogynist?" diary.  One of the things that we need to understand if we are going to erode the remaining discriminatory walls is that not only is anyone capable of doing anything (such as girls doing science), but that everyone is capable of being discriminatory.  Significant sexism may have been a primarily male trait when I was born, but today it may be fair to say that women are equal in that regard, for better or worse.  

I venture to suggest that women may have surpassed men in many areas of gender discrimination, and that it is today easier for a female to join a "male group" than for a male to join a "female group".  I have never or almost never (can't think of one) heard anyone say "what is she doing here?" when a female is in an otherwise male group I've been part of, but having often been the only male in a group I've had lots of jokes or outright (and rarely rebutted) derision directed at me from women in those groups.

But I know we can move past all of that, and that these things are not unexpected artifacts of our self-correcting system.

What will be interesting as the pedulum's swing dampens is if we will see - and be able to rationally discuss - any real statistical gender-demographic differences.  Our co-mammals display a consistent significant gender difference, and while our cognitive abilities allow us to develop beyond those things we are nonetheless not far removed from our pre-human past (about 20,000 generations, or in other words you could fit all of your mother's mothers in a small stadium).  An interesting SciAm article in the last year or two argues that the explicit division of social roles in early homo sapiens was a key factor in out-competing with homo-neaderthalis.

We have three kids, who show us both the inherent differences and the blurring between them.  Damien has always had strong interest in technical stuff, but loves art and is perhaps the most empathetic person I know.  Roxanne is a broad-spectrum genius for whom maths are no more a challenge than anything else and who has to know how every single thing works.  Christine is a compulsive creative artist, as girly as the day is long, and will only pay attention to learning anything but art inasmuch as I can show her how it is a creative exercise.  All of these traits we can trace back to their newborn attitudes, so while Nurture may be an inextricable factor, there seems little doubt that Nature played a hand as well.

More rambling, I'm afraid, and as likely as not to earn me a righteous flaming.  It is a bigger topic than it used to be (when the main point was "women should be allowed to vote!"), though, and that in itself is a good thing.


by chrisblask 2008-07-18 07:09AM | 0 recs
Re: It is a sign of improvement that we can

I have noticed that female scientists are harder on other females relative to how hard they push or judge their male coworkers.  I am not sure if they feel more open to express their real opinions or if they feel it is important to push each other.

by CAchemist 2008-07-18 07:33AM | 0 recs
Re: It is a sign of improvement that we can

It's because they know that the women need to be better than the men to get equal respect.

Also, smart and educated women have little tolerance for women who want to get by on their girlish charms or looks. They also don't want any women around acting like "dumb girls" because they know people will extend guilt-by-association to the other women in the workplace.

by LakersFan 2008-07-18 10:18AM | 0 recs
"guilt by association"

There is no doubt some of that and maybe it is even well-placed, though I would think (or at least hope) that this is a dated view of the real situation.  I know from my own experience that it is not always true that "women need to be better than the men to get equal respect" - myself and any group I've had a hand in don't give a flea's hair tonic if yo uare male or female, just do the damn job.

Certainly the counter argument could be made: are all men brushed with the paint of the knuckle-dragging-brutish-men?

I suppose the answer could well be "most certainly", and it could be argued that since the gender-power balance has not yet equalized that this does not always cause harm to a man's career (though sometimes it does).

At any rate, to remove the existing barriers imho all parties need to stand down from determining how they treat others based on their gender.


by chrisblask 2008-07-18 12:51PM | 0 recs
Re: "guilt by association"

There is no doubt some of that and maybe it is even well-placed, though I would think (or at least hope) that this is a dated view of the real situation.

I wish it were a dated view, but it's a very current reality in every place I've ever worked. Someday all of the sexist managers, CEOs and bosses will retire, but unfortunately, they will probably pass along their "corporate culture" to the next generation of CEOs, managers and bosses they train.

Certainly the counter argument could be made: are all men brushed with the paint of the knuckle-dragging-brutish-men?

Sure. Except there doesn't seem to be anything about being a knuckle-dragging brute that prevents one from getting ahead in their profession. On the other hand, if someone is sensitive, or emotional, or wants to have a baby, that can be a serious detriment to one's career.

by LakersFan 2008-07-18 05:27PM | 0 recs
Women in science

I am a female PhD student in the Biological/Medical sciences.  My mother is a scientist and a professor.  She completed her PhD in the early seventies and has had an extremely successful research career.

One of the things I've noted is that every female scientist from her generation seems to have a story about the colleague who tried to steal her work when she was a young scientist.  I can't tell if this speaks to a history of scientists taking advantage of their female colleagues, younger colleagues, or just taking advantage of their colleagues in general.

I'm in an area of research that is moving towards being dominated by women. Female students outnumber male students, and I imagine that in 10 years, there will be more female faculty than male  faculty in my department.  The university is slowly implementing tenure policies and other policies that favor scientists with families.

I'm very interested to observe changes in the sciences over the next few decades.  I predict that we will see many more women going into computer-related fields in the next decade, and this will change the field over time.

by GreenHills 2008-07-18 07:29AM | 0 recs
Re: Women in science

I can't comment on your mom's generation but in mine the assholes willing to steal research and/or ideas don't show gender bias.  They just steal from everyone.  

by CAchemist 2008-07-18 07:36AM | 0 recs
I don't have any statistics, but I've seen women

who are born in a family where parents are scientists or engineering professionals seem to gravitate towards these professions than who are not born in such families. I think this has to do with the fact that you see in front of you a successful woman scientist. Now this maybe purely anecdotal but my own reflection in a limited way.

by louisprandtl 2008-07-18 08:01AM | 0 recs
Re: I don't have any statistics, but I've seen wom

This makes sense.  I remember my mother reading scientific journals at home (such as Science) and I would pester her and get her to explain what the cover was about. I thought the covers were cool because there were lots of bright colors and strange shapes and such.

by GreenHills 2008-07-18 08:09AM | 0 recs
Re: My Experience related to Gender in Academic Sc

Grad school is really a difficult environment to get a handle on what drives people.  You mention a colleague that won't ask questions because she fears being labeled a dumb girl.  I believe this person exists and that she may have said that.  She may even honestly feel this way.  

But science is full to the gills with people who won't ask questions for fear of looking stupid.  A friend and colleague of mine in graduate school was seemingly fearless in this regard and he always seemed to ask the obvious questions that the rest of us wanted to ask, but it seemed too simplistic.  He added a great deal to most discussions and really helped me (a male) break out of this poker face most scientists put on.

There is an expectation in science that we know all the answers.  A lot of it is bluster and facade.  We are highly trained and most of us are quite intelligent, but it isn't reasonable to expect all of us to have our bases covered in all of the fields we encounter.

So I guess I'm saying your colleague may have been reluctant to ask questions just because all of us are reluctant to ask questions.  It's unfortunate that she brings a gender-based perspective to it, but that's hardly the fault of the modern scientific culture.

Thanks for the great diary.

by the mollusk 2008-07-18 07:32AM | 0 recs
Re: My Experience related to Gender in Academic Sc

I made the example because it was definitely related to gender.  There are plenty of other grad students who don't ask questions so as to not look stupid, but I have not spoken to them about rationale.

One thing that I have seen is that the fear of looking stupid diminishes the longer you have been in grad school.  I am much more willing to ask a simple question now than I was when I first got here.

by CAchemist 2008-07-18 07:49AM | 0 recs
Re: My Experience related to Gender in Academic Sc

There are plenty of other grad students who don't ask questions so as to not look stupid, but I have not spoken to them about rationale.

You probably wouldn't get a straight answer anyhow.

by the mollusk 2008-07-18 07:56AM | 0 recs
Re: My Experience related to Gender in Academic Sc

congratulations, CaChemist.  you discovered the grad student contigent at mydd.  it's pretty sizable, as it turns out.

by the mollusk 2008-07-18 07:41AM | 0 recs
Re: My Experience related to Gender in Academic Sc

Yeah, it seems like their are a lot of us here.  We should have a thread on how to eat cheaply, sleep little, and write resumes.

by CAchemist 2008-07-18 07:51AM | 0 recs
Re: My Experience related to Gender in Academic Sc

Do you know the comic strip  Someone at work posts them on his door.  Most of them are pretty dead-on.

by the mollusk 2008-07-18 07:57AM | 0 recs
Sex change mentioned in the other diary

The other diary, which you refused to comment in and didn't even link to, mentioned the fascinating example of (Barbara?) Barnes, who was in science in academia, and underwent a sex change to become (Ben?) Barnes. Ben noticed a stark difference being a man. He was interrupted less frequently and one colleague even said "He is much smarter than his sister Barbara."

by catfish2 2008-07-18 08:19AM | 0 recs
Re: Sex change mentioned in the other diary

The Barnes example is a good one and I am surprised I had not heard about it until yesterday.  

Sexism is an ugly thing, but I think discussing it in the open and explaining how each of us sees and interprets it, makes the community stronger.

I also think open discussion increases the odds that my generation will be the last to see such open discrimination.

by CAchemist 2008-07-18 08:25AM | 0 recs
Re: My Experience related to Gender in Academic

Thanks for the diary. I was curious about your experiences after seeing your post in the other diary, so I'm glad you followed up on it so the rest of us can hear about them.

I'm curious: Why don't FMLA and ADA apply to graduate school? I'm not sure why graduate students wouldn't have the same protections that other working women in this country have when they have children. It's hard to believe that the pre-tenure time period isn't extended for medical disability.

American women have fairly limited job protection and disability pay to have children compared to other countries, but plenty of women in plenty of fields manage to do it, so I'm not sure why this would affect graduate students more than women in general.

by LakersFan 2008-07-18 09:51AM | 0 recs


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