Women and Genetics.....?

Linda S. Berris lberri1 at uic.edu
Sun Apr 7 11:37:44 EST 1996

I'm not sure about the seemingly strong attraction between women and genetics,
but I do have a perspective on the idea that there are more women techs and
masters students but a lower number at the PhD level.  I am a PhD student in
ecology, and in our group there are 2 women professors out of a total of
approximately 12 professors.  Of those 2 women professors, one is an assistant
professor (approaching tenure application), therefore "new", and the other just
recently officially retired ... so in a sense we have no active tenured female
professors, and since the woman who just retired was an associate professor (despite
abundant funding, publications, active research program, etc.), one might
say there is no female role model in our group who has reached full professorship
(although both women are terrific role models in their own right).  Interestingly,
the grad student population in our program is overwhelmingly female.

My point is that, at least in our group, an undergrad female making decisions
about her future might figure there is a low probability of being successful in
the sense of gaining a job,then once having gotten that job gaining
promotions, etc. There are, of course, many successful women scientists
in ecology, women who have abundant funding and publication records, who hold
office in professional societies, etc...but a young undergrad doesn't often get
as sense of that ... they see what they see in front of them:  a very low probability
of getting a job at the PhD level.  They also see the "Old Boys Club" attitude amongst
the men in the group ... no matter how progressive the male faculty think they are,
women are still not taken as seriously as men in science by a lot of people.  This
has absolutely nothing to do with ability ... it has everything to do with propaganda,
not-so-subtle sexual harrassment (we have a professor in our group who is blatant in
his commentary to female grads), with the low expectations of women in quantitative
areas ... and unfortunately, often the women grads live up to (down to?) these expectations
by not being competitive or aggressive in their science.

Whew!  Anyway, until there are more "successful" female role models in each 
department in each university (successful here being defined as aggressive,
well-funded, well-rewarded in terms of tenure and promotions, and treated as
an equal collaborator by males in the field), there will be a low number
of women attempting to put themselves through the painful process of acquiring
a PhD.  

> Is it a clash between maternity and science?  Perhaps having children 
> earlier is better?  One woman in our lab had two kids while she was an 
> undergrad.  She is now in her Ph.D. and doing it as a single MOM as 
> well.  
> Just a few thoughts to stir debate...
> G.

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