Women in science, or just young scientists?

Sciencewoman (it’s like a superhero name!) writes about a recent study of young men and women in the sciences, and their interactions with mixed gender faculty. The study notes that even if professors try and treat all students in a similar fashion, that male students and female students may take these interactions differently in the end. Sciencewoman goes on to note:

Here’s what I wonder. Is it that professors are still subconsciously favoring men and doing a better job of encouraging them to move forward in their careers? Or is it that women students who spend time with faculty get a picture of what a busy, over-committed professional life is like and decide that they want no part in it?

For undergraduates, I bet it’s predominantly the former ((sub)concious male favoritism) but by the time these women reach graduate school, I wonder if it isn’t the latter (stressful careers) that adds the lethal punch and reinforces stereotypical gender roles.

From my anecdotal experience, I did not find the first situation to be true. I went to a small liberal arts college and found that I and fellow women did lead the charge in group activities in our little physics world, and also, I think, performed just as well as men academically. I was especially encouraged by my professors to move ahead in science. Maybe I was just lucky.

Now, as a grad student, I’m feeling the effects of the second point, as also noted in SW’s comments. I see these young parent-professors who struggle to juggle it all, and other professors who seem to dedicate everything to just research. I want to have it all, too, but the juggling act is quite terrifying. I don’t know how that feeling is shared between genders, however. For one, I know that my post-doc-significant-other is similarly worried about such things, and he also wants to “do it all.” Be a researcher, a good teacher, have a family and hobbies and a life. So through him, I’ve seen this more as a “young scientist” or “parent-scientist” issue and not strictly a women’s issue in science. But maybe there’s a selection effect there, since I’m likely to choose someone with goals such as mine! However, my lucky high school and college upbringing, without a negative gender bias, could also hold significance.

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