Gender and Academia

Although not of global significance in the “Climate change is a global problem” sense, the following certainly pertains to the struggle of social injustice and discrimination.

For many years, women in academia have received the short end of the stick – although the undergraduate population in many institutions around the world has equal numbers of men and women, fewer faculty positions are held by women. For example, in Europe the ratio of men to women full professorships is 5.5:1, compared to a 1:1 undergraduate population.

Europe isn’t alone in all this. MIT has received a ton of flack over gender discrimination during the past decade (just check out this Google News search).

So what gives?

Recently, two studies have recently been published to explain these disparate numbers:

The lack of role models problem can be viewed as the egg….or the chicken…to the lack of women (and visible minorities) in the upper echelons of academia:

A cycle is perpetuated. Minorities are less likely to enter and remain in science and engineering when they lack mentors and role models. In most science and engineering disciplines, the percentage of URMs among faculty recently hired is not comparable to that of recent minority Ph.D.s. and is far below that of recent BS recipients. This results in fewer minority faculty to act as role models for minority students….If minority professors are not hired, treated fairly, and retained, minority students perceive that they will experience the same. This will not encourage them to persist in that discipline.

The latter reason was just published by the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) and, “investigated various aspects of how a scientist’s gender influences selection processes and careers” with respect to long-term fellowships.

Basically, men published more often than women – now the question is why?

Could the small gap between men and women with regard to their publications at the end of their PhD period be the consequence of a similar social/family arrangement as revealed above by the survey of the former LTF applicants? We investigated this possibility with a questionnaire sent to the applicants of the EMBO fellowships programme from autumn 2006. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we found similar trends in the working habits of these young scientists, although not as pronounced as with the older group. Again, we found that more female applicants had moved to suit their partners’ careers, tended to work fewer hours than their partners, even at the PhD stage, and provided the smaller percentage of the family income (Table 3). In other words, even at the PhD level, women already balance career and family commitments, and this presumably affects their research.

Any thoughts from Terry social scientists?

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Dave Semeniuk spends hours locked up in his office, thinking about the role the oceans play in controlling global climate, and unique ways of studying it. He'd also like to shamelessly plug his art practice: