11/02/2006

wonderings

I've recently started reading Zuska's blog (which is pretty interesting, by the way) and found some of her posts regarding gender & race in STEM (science/technology/engineering/math) fields especially insightful. It isn't that this is a new issue to me. I'm just a little curious as to a few things I hadn't considered before.
There seem to be differences between different STEM-related disciplines. There are clearly fewer women in engineering and physics than in, say, chemistry or (especially) biology. I was a little surprised to find that, as I moved to higher level college classes, the ratio of women to men did not change appreciably. In high school, there were far more guys than girls in the advanced math/science classes, which always bothered me a little. But this isn't engineering or physics. I know the physics students here. The ratio of women to men in physics is a little inflated for the undergrads, since there are so few physics majors, and only ONE is female. (She is also a pretty awesome person.) Women engineers have it rough, but there are more of them, so at least others are around to commiserate. It does seem that most of the asshole men I run into on campus on a regular basis are engineers, though.
I have heard stories about some of the engineering professors here as well. Suffice it to say that I am angry on behalf of some of my friends and I am glad to have been able to avoid dealing with these people. It certainly doesn't seem that way in my department (unless you look at the percentage of profs who are women, which is somewhere between 5 and 20). Awful statistic aside, I've never even come close to having anything to complain about. Several of the men who teach here have espoused strongly feminist beliefs. It seems that all of the most brilliant students to come out of my current research group are women. The "most outstanding grad student" last year was a woman.
But then I've also spoken to the (few) female professors in the department. The general consensus was that there are a few problems that make the (academic?) scientific life generally harder on women than on men. Children, the two-body problem, late hours in the lab and sexual assault, and dealing with others' expectations seemed the most significant issues.

What I am wondering: Do things get worse as you progress? Does it vary from department to department? And how do women chemists fare compared to women in other (STEM) fields?

(Note to those who would disagree: "I haven't seen anything bad here" comments are fine. "Women do not have any more problems than men anywhere" comments will be deleted.)

5 comments:

Propter Doc said...

Hmmm, interesting. I had a similar experience up until PhD level - equal or greater numbers of women in chemistry classes. PhD and postdoc, more men. I was not taught by a single female academic (i.e. research and teaching and service) during my undergrad, my uni had no one like that on staff, and one of the unis that I am appling to has no females on staff other than teachers.
This is all chemistry. Someone once told me that the smart women were off doing other things, not academic!

Propter Doc said...

Incidently, I think men do get a bit of a short straw - with all the emphasise on increasing minorities such as women in science, men are getting kicked around a bit. The emphasis must always be on creating a 'genderless working environment' where it does not matter whether you are male or female, just that you are the best person for the job. Hey, I can dream, right?
Ah-ha, this is a subject very close to my heart!

jokerine said...

yup yup
women are rare in Sciences but engeneering is worse. One mid management engeneer once told me in a meeting the first thing she does is either tell her collegue to do something for her or order a coffee, so that she isn't confused with the secretary. In academia you have the added difficulty of everyone fighting for themselves anyway.

retired chemist said...

I am a woman chemist who sacrificed the possibilities of an academic career to follow my physicist husband. I ended up working in short term soft money projects the rest of my career. I say possibilities here because I am not sure whether I would have had the aggressivity that is needed to be "successful" in getting an academic position. I think this is one of the reasons why women chemists drop out on their way up- there is simply too much elbowing out there. Testosterone boosted guys accost you in all panels and no self doubt is tolerated. If things go wrong women often blame themselves and men blame others anyway. There are some very aggressive women chemists though and these end up as politicians (like Mrs.Thatcher).

Ψ*Ψ said...

Another woman chemist-turned-politician: Angela Merkel