Monday, March 29, 2010

STEM Research Careers: Not Very Family Friendly

"In an era when women are increasingly prominent in medicine, law and business, why are there so few women scientists and engineers? A new research report by AAUW presents compelling evidence that can help to explain this puzzle. Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics presents in-depth yet accessible profiles of eight key research findings that point to environmental and social barriers – including stereotypes, gender bias and the climate of science and engineering departments in colleges and universities – that continue to block women’s participation and progress in science, technology, engineering, and math."

Diane Auer Jones responds in today's
Chronicle of Higher Education:

"What are the reasons for this persistent gap? According to the report, social and environmental factors are to blame. Shocking. Sadly, this report serves only to regurgitate age-old accusations and assumptions, and to make worn-out recommendations that we've heard so many times before—none of which have proven terribly effective in closing the gap in certain fields.

Research careers are highly competitive. No matter how long you've been at it, to be a successful researcher means competing against a growing group of applicants for a shrinking supply of grant and contract resources. As federal spending on interest and entitlement programs grow, the competition is only going to increase. Peer reviewers and contracting officials are compelled to give priority to those with the strongest track record and the highest likelihood of success, which generally means that the rewards are greatest for those who devote the most time and energy to their work.

This isn't gender bias. It is reality. There are rare exceptions among a few scientists who can focus intensely—or farm the work out to enough graduate students—that they get the job done with breathtaking efficiency. But for the most part, no dean or tenure policy in the world can change the fact that research careers are demanding and not very family friendly, because in general, being smart isn't nearly as important as being persistent, and persistence requires time. Designing better experiments is good, but being there to repeat them over and over again, in every possible iteration, is even better."


At 3/30/2010 2:10 AM, Anonymous Ian Random said...

I remember while flunking out of the university, wishing I was a education major. The reason, the teacher math class before me was 99% female, while engineering was 99% male.

At 3/30/2010 6:59 AM, Anonymous geoih said...

Research is the professional sports of science. Only the very best make it to the big leagues. Having children and a family does not improve your game.

At 3/30/2010 9:31 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

A 40 years female math PHD or scientist, if still single, will have much less chance to be married than a male counterpart. The reason for fewer professional female scientist and professors is most likely caused by gender inequality in the society.

At 3/31/2010 4:44 AM, Anonymous geoih said...

Quote from Eric:" The reason for fewer professional female scientist and professors is most likely caused by gender inequality in the society."

You'll need to show some cause and effect. Correlation is not causation.

At 3/31/2010 7:39 AM, Blogger GirlProf said...

I am a female professor who has been in academia for 20 years - I am part of a very small minority, male OR female (6 of 80+ faculty), who has small children at home. It is a challenge to juggle research, teaching, service on campus and maintain a healthy home life -- something always has to give. In my life, my children are a priority so I am not a research chair, an associate dean or list hundreds of publications. I do have two well balanced children in sports, a happy marriage and some teaching awards, some publications, two modest research grants, and edit a peer reviewed journal. Having a family does slow down a career, but I would argue that my children have made me a better teacher and researcher in that I am a sharper observer, extremely well organized (I have to be) and I have a deep well of empathy that I may have lacked when I was a single graduate student who worked 16 hours a day.


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