Monthly Archives: April 2013

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Here is Today

Here is Today

Another lovely visualisation of the ‘deep time’ concept.

Writing About Your Research

There’s a great piece up at one of the Scientific American blogs about why grad schools should require students to blog. The author argues that with blogging,

I have to distill multiple sources from multiple areas into a compelling, clear narrative. I have to build a case quickly and persuasively and learn to incorporate disparate voices into a coherent argument or conversation. I have to learn to get the gist of an argument quickly and be able to distill papers in a way that will be understandable even to someone who is totally unfamiliar with a topic. Most importantly, I need to create a quality end product: a piece of writing that someone will want to read. Otherwise, not only do I not get paid, but I will have failed at my job. And I have to do this over and over and over again, week after week and piece after piece.

What am I doing but honing my ability to think, research, analyze, and write—the core skills required to complete a dissertation? And I’m doing so, I would argue, in a far more effective fashion than I would ever be able to do were I to keep to a more traditional academia-only route.

This is probably obvious, but I agree 100% that pretty much all grad students would be well-served by blogging about their research or their fields. (Even unpaid blogging!) It helps put what you’re doing in perspective, it connects you to other researchers and interested non-researchers, and of course the practice of communicating and explaining ideas is critical to refining and improving ideas. I think even if one doesn’t find science communication inherently enjoyable (as Erin and I do!), it’s a really worthwhile skill to cultivate.

11 reasons we’re still not there yet: Women in science

It is not uncommon, when reading articles about the difficulties that women in science face, to come across comments citing that female enrolment in undergraduate and masters programs has skyrocketed in recent years and thus, it is posited, the problem really isn’t a problem any more. While it is true that the number of female students in tertiary institutions has grown faster than men that is only one part of the picture and certainly not an indicator that equality has been attained.

Below I will highlight all the ways in which women in science are not yet equal to men in science and link to appropriate studies and articles for proof.

1. Women in science only outnumber men in undergraduate and masters degrees enrolments. When you look at number of graduates produced, undergraduate figures are balanced between male and female. When you look beyond that, “men surpass women in virtually all countries at the highest levels of education, accounting for 56% of all PhD graduates and 71% of researchers.” (study above) That means the people actually doing science (that is, research beyond undergraduate/masters level) are still overwhelmingly male.

2. It’s not just academia, either. In commercial work female scientists are woefully underrepresented, with no more than 10% of Science Advisory Boards made up by women (and this figure has dropped as time went on, not risen).

3. It’s projected that there will not be a 50/50 split of female and male scientists in STEM fields within the 21st century, perhaps because (among other reasons):

4. Women receive patents 40% as often as men;

5. And they also receive far less funding when they launch a new business than their male counterparts.

6. In terms of compensation, in the EU female scientists earned on average between 25% and 40% less than male scientists in the public sector

Now, some may argue that the reason for these figures are that female scientists just aren’t doing work that’s as good as male scientists, and rather than engage with that statement as an offensive opinion (which it surely is), I instead offer the following figures:

7. Both male and female scientists were more likely to hire a male candidate for a laboratory manager position over a female candidate. They also offered the male candidate a higher starting salary and were more likely to offer mentoring to a male candidate – despite the fact that the CVs were identical save for the candidate names.

8. Male candidates were also more likely to be rated as having done adequate amounts of teaching, research, and service experience than an identical female candidate.

9. Male authors were rated as producing work with greater scientific quality than female authors, especially when their work was deemed to be ‘male-typed’.

I’m not suggesting that the majority of people involved in those studies (or in STEM fields as a whole) are actively discriminating against women, but it is undeniable that there is an unconscious bias by both men and women against women going into these fields. Although more anecdotal, it’s also worth pointing out:

10. A woman who runs a popular science blog on Facebook who ‘revealed’ her gender was overrun with a deluge of comments ranging from shocked to misogynistic* – when her gender was never the focus of the initial post in the first place.

11. Reporting on female scientists focuses heavily on their families and domestic achievements in a way that male scientists would never be subjected to; while it may be important to highlight the challenges they faced in their time in science, what does it matter that she made a mean beef stroganoff?

Maybe taken individually any one of these statistics or stories might be explainable – a blip in the system or a quirk of circumstance. Taken together, however, they illustrate that things are not equal yet, and we have a long way to go until they are. It will take more than quotas or laws to put things right; men and women alike need to examine their actions and the reasoning behind them and strive to be as unbiased and fair as possible. The resulting equality for women won’t just help them, but everybody involved.

*as any internet-based feminist will tell you, read the comments at your own risk (both on the Facebook post and the Guardian article).