Monday, August 20, 2007

Women in Science News Roundup: North America 08-20-07

Here is some of the news about women in science from around the US and Canada from the past week or so:

Profiles of Young Women in Science

At A Blog Around The Clock, Coturnix has a video of a talk by 17-year-old molecular biology prodigy Eva Vertes. From her TED profile:

Her discovery, at age 17, of a compound that stops fruit-fly brain cells from dying was regarded as a step toward curing Alzheimer's. Now she aims to find better ways to treat -- and avoid -- cancer.
Wow, when I was 17, I was still learning the basics .

The Intel ISEF blog has video of New Mexico contestant Kristina Dahm explaining her project about hot springs.

Closing the Gender Gap

Zuska writes about the disparity in bathroom facilities for men and women in old science buildings. It makes me feel like I need to pee just reading about it.

The Wall Street Journal asks "With Labor Crunch in IT on the Horizon, Why are Careers Failing to Lure Women?" Unfortunately it's behind a subscription/pay wall, so I don't know the answer they came up with.

Pat at Fairer Science points to the American Physical Society's Committee on the Status of Women in Physics (CSWP)'s project: Female Friendly Physics Graduate Programs survey. Department chairs were asked to answer the following questions:
  1. How many tenure-track or tenured faculty -- male/female?
  2. How many graduate students ? -- male/female?
  3. Is there a family leave policy for graduate students? If so, describe.
  4. Is there family health insurance available for graduate students? Is it included in the stipend?
  5. In a paragraph, please describe why someone applying to graduate school who is interested in a female-friendly department should choose your institution.
Check out your department or the University you are interested in attending.

The Chicago Tribune reports that Harvard University has made little progress in increasing the proportion of women and minorities in tenure-track faculty positions.
Including the affiliates, women make up less than 25 percent of tenured professors in 10 of 13 faculty groups, according to the report, issued last month. Minorities hold fewer than 15 percent of tenured spots on 11 of 13 faculties.
You can read the full end of 2007 report yourself (pdf).

The Edmonton Journal reports that women are underrepresented in engineering and computer science at the University of Alberta. They have developed a summer program for high school students - WISEST - to "encourage women to enter non-traditional science fields."

"They have the interest, but often they don't see other women in science and engineering because it's seen as a non-traditional career for women," Powley said.

But there is hope for a change, Ennis said.

WISEST had the highest number of applications in its history, with more than 180 Grade 11 students applying from across Canada this year. The program also accepted more out-of-province students than ever, making up about half of the 60 students taking part in the initiative.

At a Spoonful of Medicine University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center to recruit and retain female faculty members.
I must say it all sounds promising. I particularly like Travis' comments that all past efforts focused on helping women navigate the system. Rather than "fixing the women," she says, "we need to focus on fixing the academic environment instead."

Geoscience Academics in the Northeast (GAIN) is a program co-founded by geoscientist Suzanne O'Connell, inspired, in part by a meeting she attended last year at which she was the only woman.
From July 29 to Aug. 3, 18 women from Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New York, New Jersey and even Illinois, gathered for the first GAIN writing retreat near Boston, which offered camaraderie and a focused environment for writing. The women were offered professional writing guidance from Anne Greene, director of writing programs at Wesleyan. They also shared feedback and left with a paper or grant proposal ready for submission.

“Our goal is to help women from all academic levels take part in a community that stresses professional development in the geosciences,” O’Connell explains. “Through GAIN, we hope to increase the retention of women in geosciences programs here in New England, and eventually spread throughout the country.”

The Pasadena Star News editorializes about the record number of women set to enroll at Caltech.
While the new numbers show clear and welcome progress for women in the sciences, why has it been so hard to achieve parity? Because, perhaps, women's brains are wired differently and the delicate flowers can't quite figure out this particular algorithm?

Nonsense. That's the kind of muddy, unscientific thinking that quite properly got a Harvard president forced out from his post.

No, at a place like Caltech, part of the problem has been that "the ratio," as students have for years referred to the situation, actually feeds on itself.

A young woman with the grades, test scores and savvy to get into Caltech can also choose to attend Harvey Mudd in Claremont, MIT or any one of the handful of colleges with similar excellence in engineering and science.

When she pays a campus visit and sees that women have been so much in the minority that they can be a kind of oddity, some have simply chosen to go where it's more comfortable.

The MidWeek News reported that Northern Illinois University geography professor Leslie Rigg recently spoke about the factors that turn women away from science, including lack of childcare, lack of female role models and stereotypes about scientists.
Rigg said several female college students do not view themselves as becoming scientists. She said, during one of her classes, she asked the students to describe what they feel a scientist should look like. She said most of the students described a scientist as an older, white male. Rigg said 35 out of the 50 students in the class were women.

“Half of them are science majors, yet they still don't see themselves as scientists,” Rigg said. “When they hear scientist, they picture some guy with bubbly test tubes.”
Microsoft runs an annual DigiGirlz camp, a week-long technology camp for girls.

The Maui News writes about the Hawaiian Telecom Women in Technology internship mentor Sheri-Ann Tihada and her mentee (if that's a word) Audrey Chihara.

At Providence College in Rhode Island, Chihara said she did not encounter the kind of stereotyping Tihada experienced. Then she said she completed a physics class that turned into an eye-opening revelatory experience.

“It’s math in the world,” Chihara said. “It just really explains a lot for me. How a ball bounces. Why it bounces high.”

She said people shouldn’t think it’s so uncommon for girls to get into science and technology. In her college, engineering and technology studies are “more popular with guys,” but she also encourages more women to consider careers in science and engineering.

The Orange County Register reports on local girls who attended Tech Camp at the University of California, San Diego.

"(At Tech Camp) we lived in suite that I shared with six other girls and one dorm mom," Gillian said. "I chose physiology as my core subject. We studied organ systems and we learned our blood type. Mine is O positive. We did a lot of dissections, a sheep's heart and brain and a small shark, but we didn't have to study all the time. We had tons of fun."
[. . .]
Gillian said that professional women were invited to talk to the girls in the evenings. "Every woman said she loves her job and she wouldn't change it," she said. "A female family doctor was one of the speakers who visited us. In all the different science things I've done, that interested me. I might want to be a family doctor.

The Earth Times has an article about the 10-week summer program at Williams College to introduce undergraduate students to hands-on research.
The program adds another dimension as well; an opportunity to work with female instructors within an academic arena once dominated by male professors. As a University of Washington graduate student, Hutson didn't encounter women role models to emulate within the sciences.

"There were no female faculty members in my department," she said. "It really was an old boys network at that time."

The Williams biology department currently hosts a faculty that is about 50 percent women, said Hutson. Mutual respect among instructors and students is an important factor during the academic cultivation of future scientists, she said. Hands-on research coupled with dedicated instructor mentoring may be just the formula for an invigorated interest in scientific pursuits.
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