Women and Genetics.....?

SL Forsburg susan_forsburg at qm.salk.edu
Sun Apr 7 15:49:20 EST 1996


Graham Dellaire wrote:
> 
> I have always wondered what was the great attraction for women to
> genetics, especially clinical or cytogenetics.  I have seen whole floors
> in medical genetics dept. that were all women (prof's and grad
> students). 

Genetics is a very abstract discipline, quite logical but often 
without much  "concrete" molecular-style data. Certainly I've noticed
a bias against genetics from a lot of "molecularly oriented" people.
Some of them think genetics is "soft" because it is abstract.
When was the last time you saw a pure genetics paper get play in
one of the big journals?  (Aside from the obvious identify-a-disease-
gene hype).  Of course, a lot of people arent really sure what 
genetics is.  I've known people who think expressing a heterologous
protein in a particular cell type is genetics because it involves
manipulating a gene.

Perhaps some women are more comfortable with the abstraction of
genetics than men who prefer the hands-on concrete molecular stuff,
something to show for it?  But it isnt hard and fast because there
are a lot of really good male geneticists too!

> I have also noticed a large number of women in masters
> programs or as lab tech's in almost every molecular biology related lab
> I have ever worked in.  But something happens to them all.  Very few
> make it to Ph.D. and even fewer to professorships.

Ah, there's a whole literature on the cracks in the pipeline.  Women
have made up nearly 50% of the graduate biology classes for years,
certainly since I was a student 10 years ago, but they arent moving
ahead. You'd think it should be improving
but when I look around at most institutions, it's not. Women arent
applying; perhaps some are less willing to put up with the garbage,
but some are self-selecting out because they don't see a supportive
environment ahead. (so are some men, just the sorts we need to 
stay in the system).  There arent many women on the ladder at top
insitutions.  The higher you go in this biz,  unwelcoming 
behaviours are more entrenched, and life is much less hospitable. 
But you have to get in to the system to change it.  

Speaking of which, it's time to go prepare those genetics lectures...

--susan
susan_forsburg at qm.salk.edu
http://flosun.salk.edu/~forsburg/



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