Thursday, March 24, 2005


How's everyone doing?
Haven't seen a post in a while so thought I would drop by and say hi while I'm taking a break from lab stuff.
ok so for a discussion topic:
What do you all think of the whole women in science thing that has been brought up lately?
I've been thinking about it a lot recently. I'm a women in Electrical Engineering with a Ph.D. and I guess there aren't that many of us and sometimes I wonder why. While I was a student, I never felt like the male/female ratio thing was a big problem. However, lately as I start looking for an academic position, I am not so sure how I feel about it all...


Blogger acg said...

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3/24/2005 09:23:00 PM  
Blogger acg said...

Well, I've noticed that I don't exactly have a lot of female coworkers. Maybe there are two? Anyway, at every meeting I've gone to, I've been the only woman.

3/24/2005 09:23:00 PM  
Blogger finou said...

Yea... I took a biology class a couple of years ago where the male/female ratio was 50-50. On the first day, I was looking around thinking: "Why are there so many women?" I guess I was so used to being the one of the only girl sin the class that it kind of weirded me out! (especially when I counted up and realized that it wasn't that there were more girls than guys at all... it was really very near half and half...)

3/26/2005 12:39:00 PM  
Blogger Justin said...

Actually, one of the wierdest things about going to MIT was the lack of girls in most of my classes. In high school, all the AP classes were if not dominated by girls, at least 50/50. Guys were sort of the oddballs. It was actually a bit of a shock to discover that this wasn't normal. Given that Idaho isn't particularly progressive, I've always wondered about this...

One explanation I've heard for why women are so underrepresented in faculty positions is that there is a conflict (more in the US than in, say, France) between the demands of a tenure track position to publish a lot of material to get tenure and the desire of many women to have a family in their early 30's. Would there be more women professors if universities offered more child care and/or gave people more time before making a decision on tenure?

3/28/2005 11:50:00 AM  
Blogger Vincent said...

At the middle- and high-school levels, females generally outperform males academically. Yet at higher levels of education, women are often underrepresented. In few fields is this as pronounced as in the physical sciences.

There was an interesting colloquium talk at the NRAO a few months ago by an Australian woman who was speaking on the topic of the evolving gender balance and residual inequities in physics and astronomy. One of the more interesting statements she made was that historically, as a scientific subfield evolves from being male-dominated to gender-equal, the subfield loses some of its ivory-tower lustre and the average salary decreases.

3/28/2005 10:46:00 PM  
Blogger Vincent said...

The American Institute of Physics recently released a report (highlights) that shows where the "leak" in the academic pipeline is. Women who enter physics or astronomy at the college level do not drop out of the field at higher rates than men. The problem is that women are underrepresented in college physics programs by about a factor of two.

3/30/2005 08:17:00 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

I work in a large (~150 person) group of software developers. I'd estimate that under 10% of them are female. Somehow I thought the male/female ratio would get better after leaving MIT...

3/31/2005 09:33:00 AM  
Blogger Eric said...

Thanks for breaking the silence!

The American Astronomical Society is making what I consider a quite significant effort to understand the issue of women in Astronomy. Of course, our field is small enough that the statistics are not as definative as you would like. Nevertheless, I think they are making some progress on understanding what fraction of women are at the various stages of the "pipeline" and identifying stages where we should pay more attention.

When people try to think about issues such as "How can we make it easier for professors to juggle family and career obligations?" I think nearly everybody is supportive. When the discussion is framed as "How can we introduce one bias to "correct" for another bias?" it becomes much more controversial.

As for the Harvard flap, I think that it is important for people to be able to consider, discuss, evaluate, test, and reject all possible explanations for the observed data, even if they aren't the political correct explanations or the explanations that we'd like to be the truth. From what I heard it sounds like some of the people who walked out during a talk about some of these issues (e.g., Nancy Hopkins) acted immaturely and hurt their own credibility.

One final note, when traveling to different astronomy department, it's obvious that women are more significant in some departments than others. That does make one wonder why.

4/06/2005 04:50:00 AM  
Blogger finou said...

about the people walking out of the harvard guys speech being immature, did you actually read what he said? Originally, I was thinking that people had overreacted and then I actually read the transcript.
I guess I can kind of see what he was perhaps trying to say but boy did he phrase it badly. I can see why people would get seriously offended...
For example:
"To take a set of diverse examples, the data will, I am confident, reveal that Catholics are substantially underrepresented in investment banking, which is an enormously high-paying profession in our society; that white men are very substantially underrepresented in the National Basketball Association; and that Jews are very substantially underrepresented in farming and in agriculture."
I mean come on... I love the way he basically says that he hasn't really looked at the data but that's probably what it would say.

4/06/2005 04:45:00 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

No, I haven't read the whole transcript. My comments were based on a few excerpts. While I didn't see Summers' comments as making a significant contribution to the issue, I also didn't think they were so blatantly inappropriate as to merit walking out on.

The quote you cite is certainly not an example of a well researched arguement. But I didn't think that was the intent. If one of his guesses was wrong, then it would be perfectly reasonable for someone to bring that up afterwards. Still, it's not obvious to me how that would be particularly offensive.

4/07/2005 05:22:00 AM  

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