Terra Sigillata

During the week, I got too tied up to mention that one of our posts on thinking about gender in science and medicine got picked up by Yami McMoots at Green Gabbro for the 13th edition of the Scientiae blog carnival.

Scientiae “is a blog carnival that compiles posts written about the broad topic of “women in STEM,” (STEM=science, technology, engineering and mathematics).” My good friend here at ScienceBlogs, Zuska, encouraged a few of us boys to submit something on the inner dialogue we have about gender in our profession. I continued to be bewildered that women continue to be treated quite poorly in many quarters of academia and my eyes were opened by reading other posts in this issue of Scientiae.

I encourage all readers, men and women, to go over to Yami’s and read this issue.

Speaking of women in science, I received this press release from NIH earlier in the week entitled, “Study Reveals Reasons for Women’s Departure from the Sciences.” From a report published in the Nov 2007 issue of EMBO Reports, the discussion is as follows:

Although women comprise nearly half of all undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral scientists nationwide, after committing 10 to 15 years to scientific training, many leave academic research during the career transition to faculty or tenured positions. For example, at the NIH, only 29 percent of the tenure-track principal investigators (PI) and 19 percent of tenured PIs — the NIH equivalent of assistant and full professors, respectively — are women. These figures have hardly changed over the last decade and mirror the disparities at most academic research institutions. [emphasis mine]…

…The study was conducted by the Second Task Force on the Status of NIH Intramural Women Scientists, established by Deputy Director for Intramural Research Michael Gottesman, M.D., and his assistant director, Joan Schwartz, Ph.D., in 2003 to investigate the causes of this ongoing gap…

…”Family considerations are a major, but not the only, deterrent to pursing an academic career,” said Orna Cohen-Fix, Ph.D., a corresponding author of the report and senior investigator at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases…

…Because women are more affected by family responsibilities, help during the transition from postdoc to tenured faculty — such as affordable, high-quality child care or the possibility to work more flexible hours — may encourage more women to stay in academic research, the study found.

Although men do play a greater role in family responsibilities than, say, my Dad’s generation, women do indeed get saddled with much of the child-rearing among the majority of professional couples.

But it only takes a quick read through the posts at the Scientiae carnival to realize that there are still a number of issues regarding the work environment and the attitudes of men about women in science and engineering that conspire to prevent women from remaining in the academic pipeline, or at least create an environment where no sane person would want to remain in the field.

I still have to read the primary report from this NIH survey but I will be interested to learn what other “deep-seated and numerous” problems exist that “cause women to fall off the tenure track.”

Comments

  1. #1 xyz
    November 3, 2007

    I am a woman scientist at NIH. Been there for more than 30 years. I love it there, but you are right – the number of professional scientists at NIH is much smaller than it should be.

    I do not know why this is. In my particular specialty, I see that ~50% of the participants at meetings are women. But it is clear that in certain research areas, women are more welcome than others. And the “hotter” the area, the fewer the women.

    I think one contributing factor is that it is difficult to take time off in science. Lost time is not easily made up as fields move ahead so fast.

    The child-rearing issue is not something specific to science – it is a problem for all professional women, and frankly, I think science offers a more flexible work environment for mothers than many other professions since experiments can easily be scheduled outside the usual 9-5 workday.

  2. #2 lindata
    November 4, 2007

    Prejudices are extremely difficult to ferret out. There are changes happening in most fields, but the real success story for women has been in symphony orchestras. It is difficult to reproduce the leveling effects of blind auditions in the laboratory.

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