Dr. Mom, My Adventures as a Mommy-Scientist

Discussion of my journey from grad school to postdoc to tenure with two kids, a husband, (and a bit of breast cancer) in tow.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Where are all the geek chicks?

I saw this excellent article in a redirect from the NSF newsletter (also some interesting comments on the NSF Advance program to increase women in science and engineering).

Basically, it is another look at the low numbers of women entering STEM professions, followed by a few inspiring stories. [At least the stories are inspiring, but for inspiring stories I would really recommend "She's such a geek" which I think some of you contributed to :)]

I am getting really tired of the sad stories about how women don't want to go into STEM, and how the environment is really unsupportive, and the calls for change that never comes. Last week I represented R1U at the Society for Women Engineers national meeting. One of the good things about this meeting was that I attended with two other young women faculty. Unfortunately, one of them has struggled and the tales of her difficulties were a little disheartening to me. I am in a field which has good (well, relatively) historical #s of women. She is not. My department could not be more supportive. I am included in large multi-PI proposals, my outgoing proposals are read by at least 2-3 faculty in the department, I have established collaborations with my colleagues, my department is quick to nominate me for young investigator awards, and my chair is flexible and fair. I have had great mentorship. She, on the other hand, has not, and has been left to float in a sea of uncertainty. I think mentorship does go a long way toward solving some of the problems. But, there is no easy answer here.

I think that the problem with women and STEM is really one of culture, and until we get more women involved in the upper echelons it will persist. I've said before that it can be unnerving to walk into a seminar and realize that you are one of maybe a handful of women out of say a hundred people in a room. I think that it is also in the way that we talk to each other. One of the problems that my friend cited and that I have also experienced is that sometimes men (and yes I am generalizing here) seem to be motivated by negative feedback, whereas women can be devastated by it. I remember many afternoons spent in male advisors office where I regaled him with tales of how poorly our experiments were working. Rather than a reassuring pat on the back, I got sort of griped out about how I needed to spend more time in the lab, definitely not a motivating moment.

But most importantly in all this discussion, is that I am tired of hearing about it, and instead want to see some change. Maybe we could have a month of inspiring, how things have gone really well for me as a women in STEM stories? Perhaps an inspiring women in STEM carnival?


At 12:38 PM , Blogger Janus Professor said...

One note that struck me, is the sense of overwhelming anxiety when one steps into a (conference, meeting, class) room that is mostly men. After being more seasoned in my STEM area, that feeling is completely gone. Men don't feel that way when they walk into the room, why should I?

My field has a good (though still too low) number of women and a respectable number of minorities. This may possibly attributed to the fact that my field is less than 100 years old. Examples of young fields that seem to be more diverse are bio-, nano- and environmental. As a general observations, old fields (i.e. physics, chemistry, math) seem to be populated with "old-school" thinking people.

At 2:52 PM , Blogger Jane said...

janus professor said: "As a general observations, old fields (i.e. physics, chemistry, math) seem to be populated with "old-school" thinking people." True. Unfortunately, computer science (a very, very young field) has that old-school mentality, too. Although, ironically, it used to be much more diverse than it is now---a very sad turn of events.

And Dr. Mom, your suggestion for "a month of inspiring stories" would be a *great* topic for Scientiae! Maybe you should suggest it...

At 2:44 AM , Anonymous Flicka Mawa said...

Hm. I was going to mention things that I thought you ignored about our field (if I remember correctly what I read of you from an earlier post of yours), but then I decided wait, you were sick of hearing bad things.

So instead I second Jane - suggest it as a Scientiae carnival!

At 2:51 AM , Anonymous Flicka Mawa said...

Actually, I know you're uber busy, but if you get a chance, can you e-mail me? It's not urgent but I'd love to talk to you over e-mail at some point. Flickamawa@gmail.com

At 5:07 PM , Blogger Field Notes said...

Yes, an inspiring STEM carnival would be great!

My field (primatology/evolution/ psychology) has a good number of women in it, and in many ways primatology has been dominated by women, yet psychology has it's own share of problems - especially if you're trying to fit in as a feminist evolutionary psychologist - like I am.

It is hard to find inspiring role models who have fought the system and found a place.

At 3:07 PM , Anonymous far away said...

A small positive point:
I have recently left academia to a small company. Surprisingly, it is full, top to bottom, with women. The atmosphere is great, and the research is cutting edge.


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