Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Why no woman in science?

Recently some baybs have complained that the bayblab is too male-centric, and doesn't devote enough exposure to woman scientist. Part of the problem is that there isn't many of them out there. Now I'm not saying they lack the capacity for a successful career in science, in fact judging from my experience, it's just the opposite. Many assume that woman choose to get out of science because it is incompatible with family life. In fact, I think it's deeper than that. I think they avoid science as a career because they are smarter, better planners, and more likely to admit mistakes, and less likely to become obsessed about their career than man. I'm not saying saying science isn't a viable career, I'm simply saying it's not a very rational choice. Not just on an economic sense, but also in a quality of life sense.

I suggest you read this essay. Here is a sample question that explains the male-female dichotomy in science:

"From Geoff B: Perhaps men have a greater buffer of time to recover from career mistakes. I actually know a couple of guys who got PhD's, then went to MBA or JD degrees. While they may have enjoyed their PhD programs (heh), from an earning standpoint they probably wasted a good 5-7 years. But they can just pretend that those 5-7 years never existed. A 40 year old man can get married to a 31-year-old woman, and just pretend he's 31. Happens all the time. It's harder for women to pull this off. So maybe math and science PhD's are just another incarnation of the recklessness of youth - something men have historically been able to indulge in, without the consequences women would experience.

From me (responding to someone who asked how I would change the incentives so that more women would be attracted to science): What's my idea for changing the incentives? I don't have any. I'm not one of the people who complains that there aren't enough women working as professors, janitors, or whatever. For whatever reason we've decided that science in America should be done by low-paid immigrants. They seem to be doing a good job. They are cheap. They are mostly guys, like other immigrant populations. If smart American women choose to go to medical, business, and law school instead of doing science, and have fabulous careers, I certainly am not going to discourage them. Imagine if one of those kind souls that Summers was speaking to had taken Condoleezza Rice aside and told her not to waste time with political science because physics was so much more challenging. Just think how far she might have gone..."


Bayman said...

I agree. We don't need to create any more incentives for anyone to get into science. If curiosity or a desire to contribute to human knowledge is not enough for you, there are plenty of other "incentive"-driven fields out there for you. Good science cannot be done by those driven primarily by material incentive.

Aside from that, I don't think there's any less opportunity today for interested young women to do science than there is for interested young men. I appreciate that this was once the case, but we have come a long way so let's get over the past. Women have the same rights in society, and equal, if not greater access to scholarships and funding in science.

Balancing the responsibility of raising children with the intense demands of a career in research will always be tough - for parents of either sex. Obviously having children initially puts unique demands on females for physical reasons, however we live in a society that acknowledges this and offers support for this unique challenge. Of any profession, science probably offers the most flexibility in allowing parents to spend time with their kids. And just because women give birth does not mean that men in science, or any career, don't also face challenges in balancing career and family. Raising each kid require a good deal of sustained effort over at least 10-20 years by both parents, and isn't just limited to a few months of labor and breast-feeding by mom.

I don't mean to say men and women are the same or in any way demean individual challenges. But in this day and age, I think it's demeaning to members of either sex to continue to spread the out-dated myth that unique biology is a serious obstacle to intelligent women doing good science.

The Doc said...

I also think we need to place a historical reference on this, Bayman. You mention that home-making was once the domain of the woman, and now is not so, but we sometimes fail to see, in our generation, how recent a change that is.
Heck, women only got the vote ~100 years ago (more recently than that in Canada, longer than that in other places). I would argue that mainstream women-professionals only took off in the late-70's early-80's. Of course, there were professional women before then, but they were relatively rare.

The fact that we have ANY female nobel prize winners, not to mention some back in Curie's day and age, is a small miracle, and testament to the determination of those women researchers.

Bayman said...

Yeah it's pretty amazing. I don't know how they did it. Pictures like this one pretty much say it all...

The Doc said...

I bet the after-party (to that picture) was exciting. They all look like such party animals.

Incidentally, there are a LOT more famous people in that picture than are marked. Heisenberg, Schrodinger, Rutherford, Pauli, Dirac, Planck... just running from the ones I can immediately pick.

While there's only one girl, she gets good odds at that after-party.

Bayman said...

I don't know picking up, but I bet there were a lot of cigars involved.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes a Cigar is Only a Cigar (Freud)

Bayman said...

How ironical. Is that Freud in the front row, or Colonel Sanders?