Monday, January 14, 2008

Women in Science Link Roundup: January 14th Edition

This week's link roundup is longer than usual, since I'm cleaning up my saved links from the past couple of months:

The Gender Gap and Stereotypes

In the current issue of The Scientist Association for Women in Science president Phoebe Leboy takes a look at "Fixing the Leaky Pipeline". She documents several "leaks": between postdoc and tenure track faculty positions, from assistant to tenured professor, and grants and awards. What makes the article stand out is not only the statistics (36% of men, compared to only 8% of women, have spouses who stay at home!), but that she gives concrete recommendations for changing the status quo. The commenters add their own stories as well.

An article in the December 2007 Scientific American asks "Sex, Math and Scientific Achievement. Why do men dominate the fields of science, engineering and mathematics?" It covers the usual topics, including the relatively small differences between girls and boys in math aptitude. And, while boys seem to have both the highest and lowest scores on the SATs (while most girls were in the middle), there is this little tidbit I found interesting:

Although it has drawn little media coverage, dramatic changes have been occurring among these junior math wizards: the relative number of girls among them has been soaring. The ratio of boys to girls, first observed at 13 to 1 in the 1980s, has been dropping steadily and is now only about 3 to 1. During the same period the number of women in a few other scientific fields has surged. .
The one thing it does show, I think, is that the differences in test results between girls and boys is likely not one of biology. What the article concludes is that the reasons for the gender gap are "complex" and the "challenges are many", which isn't much of a conclusion at all.

At Sciencebase, David Bradley reprints one of his articles from the now-defunct HMSBeagle webzine titled "Is Your Trailing Spouse a Significant Other?" It looks at the difficulties faced by dual-career couples trying to find academic science positions. This is an issue that disproportionately affects female scientists:

FACT 43% of married female physicists are married to other physicists, whereas only 6% of married male physicists have a physicist spouse

FACT Some 38% of female chemists are married to other scientists, while just 21% of male chemists are married to a scientist, according to statistics reported by the American Chemical Society.

FemaleScienceProfessor talked about hearing self-confident women scientists criticized for being "aggressive" and an articulate woman scientist called "glib".

In the November 2007 issue of DNA and Cell Biology, Jo Handelsman and Robert Birgeneau wrote an editorial, "Women Advancing Science," inspired by the National Academy of Sciences report "Beyond Bias and Barriers." It can be read online at the Technology Review blog. They pull no punches, chalking up the lack of women in male-dominated fields to unconscious, inadvertent bias, and institutional barriers.
American science needs more talent and that talent is readily available in a legion of well-trained, but greatly underutilized scientists and engineers who happen to be women. The good news is that a few significant changes in the academic system could stem the loss of these women, thereby fortifying our scientific leadership.

In November, EMBO Reports published a study showing that traditional gender roles were a significant factor in the "leaky pipeline" in Europe.

Surveys of applicants found that traditional gender roles combined with a pervasive negative work culture appeared to be at the root of the lower success rate of women researchers versus men researchers. The traditional gender roles are manifested by the facts that women take substantially more parental leave and more often adjust their careers in preference to that of their male partners. As a result women publish less and are slower to advance in their careers because on average they spend less time at work and have a greater burden to carry outside of the lab than their male counterparts at the same stage of their careers. In the workplace, women scientists had fewer opportunities for mentoring, less supervisor support once they began to have families and there was a general lack of gender policy and monitoring in institutions.

The survey data was also published in Science (pdf).

GrrlScientist discusses the findings, and concludes:
I agree with the author's conclusions, but I think that being supportive of women in science goes beyond simply providing "family-friendly solutions"; in my experience, female scientists are routinely isolated socially and their experience and skills are either denigraded or completely dismissed by their male counterparts, especially by their PIs, who should be their most ardent supporters. Worse, women often are led to believe their work is less than stellar, and so they typically isolate themselves and their feelings of inadequacy from their colleagues. I think employment in the sciences will even out between the genders after these more subtle issues are recognized and dealt with productively.
In November, Dean of the Duke University School of Medicine Nancy Andrews wrote an editorial for the New England Journal of Medicine, "Climbing through Medicine's Glass Ceiling".
Earlier this year, I was named the first female dean of the Duke University School of Medicine, an event that National Public Radio summed up in the headline: "Andrews Makes History at Duke Med School." Why should the appointment of a woman dean still be big news in 2007? Perhaps because, with a few localized exceptions, there has been little change since the 1970s in the barriers to women's full participation in academic medicine.
[. . .]
If institutions are to accelerate the emergence of more female deans, then they will need to consider women who have not stepped on every rung of the traditional academic career ladder. Never having served as a division chief or a department chair, I was a somewhat atypical dean candidate. Interestingly, Duke has recently appointed a whole cadre of new deans who have had unusual careers — not only for its medical school, but also for its business school, its law school, and its Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences. I think that taking a creative view of leadership will enrich academic medicine.

Part of the answer for universities aiming to pursue such benefits is to work harder to identify and recognize women who are leaders. The Rosalind Franklin Society (of which I am a founding member) was recently created to draw attention to leading female scientists, on the premise that "there still exists a prevailing perception that women do not have the same talents and abilities as their male colleagues and that the contributions of women scientists are not as important."2 The goal of the group, made up of prominent scientists of both sexes, is to ensure that outstanding women are recognized in ways that its namesake, Rosalind Franklin, was not.

At Shakesville Melissa McEwan compared this year's offerings at the Discovery Channel Store in the "girls" and "boys" category. Boys offerings included radio controlled arthropods and a kit to "create your very own interactive world". While the top offerings for girls were a sewing machine and a fashion design studio. Even more egregious was the microscope offered to girls and the microscope marketed for boys - click over to the post and decide which one you'd rather play with.

Marine biologist Sheril Kirshenbaum "came out" at The Intersection.
Chris and I have more than a few bright, young female readers, and I really love receiving their occasional emails about science, math and yes, even boys. Yet somehow, even in the 21st century there's still this ridiculous misconception that gets popularized in middle school suggesting girls in academics are weird, unattractive, or nerdy. 'Beauty and the Geek' anyone? I can't fathom why the negative labels persist. Frankly, I'm having a blast growing up geek exploring the ivory towers and beyond. So what we collectively ought to be doing is finding the means to reinforce reality over 'reality' television! It's past the time we get the simple honest message out in a way that resonates that women can be successful, intelligent, hip, and most importantly--it's our choice how we define ourselves. I suspect that society and culture will catch up...eventually.
Cynthia Brossman, director of the Learning Resource Network at Boston University and former middle school math teacher won the 2007 Maria Mitchell Women in Science award.
Her nomination cited Brossman’s 15 years at Boston University creating and supporting educational outreach programs.

Growing up, Brossman did not have any role women scientist role models.“Since I’ve come to work at Boston University, I know just about all the women science, math, and engineering professors, and have come to admire the women I work with for their commitment to education,” said Brossman.

Natural Sciences

Biochemist Elizabeth Blackburn was named a "Scientist of the Year Notable" by Discover Magazine

In Texas, the state director of science curriculum Chris Comer was forced to resign for sending an e-mail announcing a lecture by Barbara Forrest, author of Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design. It's ridiculous that now, in the 21st century, a science educator could be forced out for simply supporting the teaching of science.

Physical Sciences

Christina at Christina's LIS Rant links to a nice summary of the leaky pipeline in science (ppt), which may have been presented at the American Association of Physics Teachers meeting.

Mathematics and Computer Science

The Chronicle of Higher Education links to a report by the National Center for Women & Information Technology .
According to the report, while women earned 60 percent of all college degrees in the United States in the 2005-6 academic year, a mere “11 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computer engineering and 15 percent in computer science went to women,” the reporter, David Nagel, notes. Those statistics are particularly grim when one considers that a higher percentage (36 percent) of women earned bachelor’s degrees in computer science back in 1983, he adds. So much for progress.
She's Such a Geek noted an article in which WWW inventor Tim Berners-Lee called for an end to the "stupid" male geek culture. He thinks women are part of the problem too.

According to Berners-Lee, a culture exists where women can be put off a career in technology both by “stupid” behaviour by some male “geeks”, and by the reactions of other women.

“It’s a complex problem — we find bias against women by women. There are bits of male geek culture and engineer culture that are stupid. They should realise that they could be alienating people who are smarter and better engineers,” said Berners-Lee.

ComputerWorldUK reported on a the Female FTSE Report 2007, an annual survey of female executives.
The report found the number of women on FTSE 100 executive committees has soared by 40% over the last year. However technology companies were among the worst represented and still lag behind other industries, "even when compared to the extremely low representation of females on other sector boards".
Their conclusion: "no chance for women in 'old boy's club' tech companies".

Geeky Mom explained why she stopped reading Wikinomics:
Then, the authors were writing about a successful female computer scientist/businesswoman, explaining her accomplishments and how much she was respected. But then, they said, ". . . and her looks didn't hurt either." And I closed the book and I'm not going to finish it.
Go read her rant.


The Wall Street Journal profiled Michelle Tortolani, president of the Society of Women Engineers and senior director, repeater engineering and operations at XM Satellite Radio.
She moved into management at XM Satellite four years ago, supervising a staff of seven men, and says some of her male underlings were reluctant to report to her at first -- in fact, she says, a few told her male supervisor they didn't want to work for her.
The work of University of California Merced engineering professor, Michelle Khine, was given a shout-out in a Wired Science post titled "Hack: Young Professor Makes Lab-on-a-Chip with Shrinky Dink and Toaster Oven". And that's what Khine did (the paper indicates a laser printer was involved as well). Khine was quoted by Wired:
"I am not a patient person, and being a new faculty member at a brand new university, I did not immediately have the cleanroom facilities I am accustomed to," says Khine, "And desperation is the mother of invention (or something like that). So as I was brainstorming solutions, I remembered my favorite childhood toy and decided to try it in my kitchen one night."
Not only men are "MacGyvers"!

Tags: , , , , , , , ,