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.

1 comment for “Women in science, or just young scientists?

  1. beckyws
    October 14, 2008 at 13:52

    I don’t know about women being less ‘favoured’ than men in terms of undergrad/postdocs. I think for post-docs, the quality of supervision is far more important than gender, although this isn’t saying that there aren’t sexist professors out there (either male or female!).

    But I totally agree about the frightening aspect of academic life. Research is what I really want to do, and after 8 years building up to it (3 years undergrad, 1 year masters, 4 years phd), the idea of having to scratch out a different kind of job, away from the field that I love is very unappealing. But I feel the same about the ‘over-committed’ aspect: I know people who have academic partners in cities hours apart with children, and I just could not do that.
    My partner is not in academia, but it still levaes problems of who moves to the jobs, me or him, and who in the end has to compromise. And wondering what a happy life is made of!

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