Congratulations to Isha Jain, Janelle Schlossberger, and Amanda Marinoff, this year’s prize winners at the prestigious Siemens competitions for high school science research. Jain won the individual competition and was awarded a $100,000 scholarship. Schlossberger and Marinoff will share another $100,000 scholarship for their team research, while Alicia Darnell took home the second place individual prize, a $50,000 scholarship.

That’s awesome with no qualifiers. These students are being rewarded for thousands of hours of effort and research that is graduate-level and publication quality. I’ve got a certain fondness for science fair competitions and their winners, and I wish these women every success as they go forward in college and beyond. I hope that they will continue to find supportive mentors and have adequate resources for research. I hope that, if they choose, they will continue to do research, publish, and maybe someday join me in academia.

But I also hope that someday these sort of headlines (“Girls dominate the Siemens competition“, “Science Contest Glass Ceiling Shattered“, “Go Girl Geeks! Technology prize has all female winners“) will be unnecessary, and can simply read something like “Sixteen year old high school senior wins science competition.”

The headlines are screaming because this is the first time in the 9-year old competition that girls have taken top honors. More than half of this year’s finalists were women. Again, that’s great. But I’d like to see the day when it won’t take almost a decade for a girl to win a science contest. In fact, it will be so commonplace that headline writers won’t even need to mention the winner’s gender. Everyone will take for granted that girls can be good at science.

At least below their exclamatory headline (“Girls Make History by Sweeping Top Honors at a Science Contest.“) the New York Times provides some balance:

The three girls’ victories is “wonderful news, but I can’t honestly say it’s shocking,” said Nancy Hopkins, a biologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. …
“Why do people think girls can’t do science?” Dr. Hopkins said yesterday. “Where did this crazy idea ever come from?”

Now if we could only convince the headline writers, the competition judges, the chauvinist men, the parents, the boys, and sometimes even the girls themselves of this fact, we’ll be well on way to gender-free science headlines.


  1. #1 ScienceMama
    December 5, 2007

    Cheers to that!

  2. #2 ecogeofemme
    December 5, 2007

    Excellent point!

  3. #3 geobabe
    December 5, 2007

    i didn’t think it was possible, but she just keeps gettin’ cuter!

  4. #4 Field Notes
    December 5, 2007

    You are so right! You set a great example for reporters and headline writers. I am paying attention because that is what I will be doing soon (I finally landed a job copy editing part time) yahoo. As always, you are the source for all things science.

  5. #5 R
    December 6, 2007

    I’m equivocal on this. It’s great to have some positive role models to counteract the trogoldyte view.

    So yay for the headlines – great to make sure that “women can be great at science” is in the face of anyone who thought otherwise.

    But one day it will be so obvious it goes without saying that women can do anything… day.

  6. #6 agnostic
    December 6, 2007

    First you say you hope to see the day when…, and then you say it will be that way — if only the universe answered all of our hopes! These will continue to be newsworthy for quite some time, I bet.

    Re: Nancy Hopkins, please, nobody says girls can’t do science — everyone knows Marie Curie’s name.

    “Can” isn’t the whole issue, since you can do lots of things, but only end up doing one or a small number of them. And the smarter you are, the more options you have (to turn down). So in their case, the question isn’t about can:

    Do girls want to do science, do they obsess over solving an unsolved problem, etc. “Can do” gets you into a halfway decent graduate school, but all of that other “will do” stuff is necessary to become an accomplished scientist.

    Hey, I hope these girls choose science over investment banking, but like I said, the world doesn’t care about my hopes!

  7. #7 Tatarize
    December 6, 2007

    Yes I am sick of these headlines. Why can’t men win anything?

  8. #8 Ex Patriot
    December 6, 2007

    congratulations to the women. I was very hapopy to read this as there are some neanderthals in the world who only believe women should stay home and cook and drop babies. I consider this to complete bull crap, again congratulations to the winners and may they have long and successful careers in science.

    P.S my apologies to the Neanderthals

  9. #9 Jennie
    December 6, 2007

    Our society is still in a sad state when it comes to gender bias. I don’t watch much TV, except for that online and I saw two adds this morning. One by Tonka Toys for some type of car toy that was marketed towards making your baby into a big boy, among the things this toy wiill help your child do, walking! Yep that’s something I only want to see male childern accomplish. Second commerical, a bunch of board gams. They show the young boy winning at Monopoly and the young girls are all playing Life they highlite the girl who gets to get married. Give me a break. *Sigh* I’m happy I don’t have a TV but I think watching things like this, and hearing about the story on your blog helps to light a fire and remind me that life is far from equal for the two “genders” not to even mention the people that fall between these genders.
    Oh yeah, all the children on these adds were white skinned.

  10. #10 rpsms
    December 6, 2007

    “and sometimes even the girls themselves of this fact”

    This is a much bigger problem than you make it out to be. You should have listed this first.

  11. #11 Tatarize
    December 6, 2007

    As far as commercials go, I watch those on during the Republican Debate. One was about terrorism insurance (I forget what they called it but I’m fairly sure that’s what it was) and the second was about a home protection system. Which I thought was classic because usually that same commercial has the wife and children and an intruder and the alarm scares the intruder off saving your loving family while you’re away. This one however had the father at home protecting his family but the home protection system was there for backup as the wife dutifully tells the operator that there was an intruder her husband scared off.

    As for sexism, somebody should take a good listen to some Home Depot radio commercials. They all depict women as conniving to get the house painted with lies and deceit etc. Having marked up the walls with paint and blaming it on the child. But, the child is one! Oh, that conniving woman!

  12. #12 b
    December 7, 2007

    I wholeheartedly agree with you!

  13. #13 bets
    December 8, 2007

    At first glance, I’m 100% behind getting rid of gender stereotypes in academics. There is, however, a little sliver of me that makes me think that somehow these headlines are rubbing it in the faces of those who think girls can’t do science- that has to feel a little good.

  14. #14 6degrees
    December 8, 2007

    First, congrats to each of these young women on a job very well done! I am actually even more interested in the fact that Schlossberger and Marinoff are graduates of JFK-Plainview HS on Long Island. I myself am a graduate of the other JFK HS located on Long Island (Bellmore ’82).

    Regarding the issue of women in science (as a man in science), I welcome and encourage everyone (man or woman) with a passion and interest to understand the universe in which we live to pursue it relentlessly. As a graduate student in the late-80s I had the good fortune to work on a research project with a noted female astronomer. Our genders were never an issue. She was the mentor. I was the student. I learned much of what it means to be a professional scientist from her as well as others.

    I too will welcome the day when headlines on stories like these no longer need to emphasize what a person is (gender, race, ethnicity, religion, etc.) but rather who they are and what they accomplished.

  15. #15 TS
    December 8, 2007

    Anyone notice that there hasn’t been much about this whole thing on either radio or TV? Seems kind of strange given past years, especially given its clear “headline grabbing” nature – isn’t it? Maybe tomorrow there’ll be more.

  16. #16 rlammann
    December 11, 2007

    If these headlines are going to specify gender what they should really comment or focus on is that there are finally judges who are no longer blinded by the bias that boys are automatically better at science than girls and that there are teachers who are encouraging girls to pursue their interests in science. To me that’s the real news and a step towards gender being left out of these headlines. Instead these headlines make it sound like “Wow, there are actually girls who are capable of doing science. Who would have thought”.

  17. #17 gex
    December 26, 2007

    “Where did this crazy idea ever come from?”

    From the guy who used to be in charge of Harvard.

  18. #18 TS
    January 15, 2008

    Still NO radio and TV coverage of this ‘breakthrough’ event for women! Why not? Did something go wrong with this competition as it appears happened in 2004? In the past this competition has always gotten (and expected?) LOTS of free coverage. Too bad for Siemens…especially given their terrible PR problems with admitted corruption around the world and the firing of many of their top executives and ongoing investigations.

  19. #19 Anon
    April 19, 2008

    I’d like to know what REALLY goes on in deciding the winners and losers in this “competition”.

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