Perhaps you have noticed my lack of blogging lately, unfortunately I’ve been bogged down with final exams. I had an Organic Chemistry II exam on Monday and Neuroscience today, and my last exam is for Thermodynamics of Biomolecular Systems on Friday morning. In an effort to procrastinate, I was browsing today’s New York Times and saw an article called “Women in Science: The Battle Moves to the Trenches” by Cornelia Dean (the Times’s science editor.)
The article opens with:
“Since the 1970s, women have surged into science and engineering classes in larger and larger numbers, even at top-tier institutions like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where half the undergraduate science majors and more than a third of the engineering students are women. Half of the nation’s medical students are women, and for decades the numbers have been rising similarly in disciplines like biology and mathematics.”
It seems that MIT is increasingly cited as a paragon for the equal representation of women in science. When I casually mention to visitors and family friends that MIT has a 50:50 gender ratio, I am always met with looks of disbelief. People generally can’t seem to wrap their minds around this statistic, when it goes against everything they *think* they know about tech schools. I must admit that I rarely even stop and contemplate what it is like to be a “woman at MIT.” The only differences that I see between the male and female undergraduate experiences at MIT are very superficial, including the perks that women get access to the Women’s Lounge (a room with some couches, a kitchen, and beds to sleep in) and have the opportunity to live in McCormick Hall (an all-female dorm.) If you can think of anything else, let me know.
The article goes on to mention:
“Yet studies show that women in science still routinely receive less research support than their male colleagues, and they have not reached the top academic ranks in numbers anything like their growing presence would suggest.
For example, at top-tier institutions only about 15 percent of full professors in social, behavioral or life sciences are women, “and these are the only fields in science and engineering where the proportion of women reaches into the double digits,” an expert panel convened by the National Academy of Sciences reported in September. And at each step on the academic ladder, more women than men leave science and engineering.
So in government agencies, at scientific organizations and on university campuses, female scientists are asking why, and wondering what they can do about it. The Association for Women in Science, the National Science Foundation and the National Research Council are among the groups tackling these issues. In just the past two months, conferences have been held at Columbia University and the City University of New York graduate center. Harvard has a yearlong lecture series on “Women, Science and Society.”
And here’s what really intrigued me (referring to a speech by Madeline Heilman, a psychologist at New York University):
“The importance of mentors is another theme that runs through these sessions. In her keynote speech at the Rice conference, Deb Niemeier, a professor of civil engineering at the University of California at Davis, mentioned several occasions when timely intervention from a thesis adviser, department chairman or other mentor turned things around for her.
Joan Steitz, a professor of molecular biophysics at Yale and a member of the academy’s expert panel, said the same thing in one of the Harvard lectures this month. It is crucial to have “someone up your sleeve who will save you,” Dr. Steitz said.
If mentors don’t present themselves, women may have to create them, Dr. Steitz said.”
This issue of mentorship is one that MIT is particularly good at addressing. I think it’s extremely important for there to be female professors to serve as mentors. Luckily, I have more role-models than I can shake a stick at. My professors have found a way to solve the “two body problem,” which is explained in the article as the challenge of balancing work with family, and thus I have confidence that I can do the same. Admittedly, I would have far less faith in my ability to “do-it-all” if it was not for these brilliant examples of success.
I actually have a lot more that I could say on this topic…but I really need to study =( So, send your comments forth and I’ll try to write more when I’m confident that I know everything there is to know about Joule-Thompson expansions and the lattice model of Polymers. In the mean time, you can also read the entry I wrote last September about the task of “choosing between a career and motherhood”.