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.