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As a female, am I inherently bad at "top tier" maths/physics?

  1. Nov 21, 2015 #1
    Hi
    I'm in college (UK) and i'm currently studying for my A levels...Including the subjects: Maths,Further maths and Physics.I'm doing pretty well at school, and i spend a great deal of my free time studying maths/physics for pleasure.My "dream job" would be to work as a physicist in academia.I have intentions of studying physics at university, and i would like to attempt a career in the subject. I REALLY love physics and mathematics, but sometimes i feel as if i'm biologically "handicapped" due to being female, especially at higher tier/university levels. Sometimes I feel this is true so much so that I believe that attempting a career in science would almost be a waste of time. Even if i were to decide that i'm probably not up to high level mathematics..I cant imagine myself never studying it independently, as it gives me so much pleasure.

    Do you think it's "worth my time" to study maths/physics formally, considering the fact that i am female?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 21, 2015 #2

    fresh_42

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  4. Nov 21, 2015 #3
    If you're expecting that the world will contradict your doubts and tell you that females are competent in the sciences, you're going to be disappointed. I'm a female about to enter grad school in physics, and the field is far more sexist than most people will even admit. Just yesterday, I was at our fall section meeting for the APS presenting a talk. Afterwards, I overheard a professor in the audience saying to one of his students that he had a question for me but wouldn't ask because I was "just a girl still in undergrad" and wouldn't know the answer. My professors, who I love and respect dearly, also have put me down and discouraged me because of my gender more times than I can count.

    You have two options:

    1) Concede, not study physics, and spend the rest of your life wondering "what if?".
    2) Tell society to go %&@# itself, and prove the world wrong.

    If you're looking for a group of people to feed you compliments, then you've come to the wrong place. If you don't think you're capable of studying science, then you won't. If you do, then you will. But your motivation can't come from other people, because other people suck. It has to come from yourself. And that... well, we can't help you with that.
     
  5. Nov 21, 2015 #4

    fresh_42

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    Science has nothing to do with gender as great female scientist of all fields have proven. The fact that they don't appear in natural science to the same number as their male counterparts do is subject of many studies and certainly everybody here has his personal opinion on that - not necessarily the same! What you wrote about your passion is more than many of your fellow male students will come around with. And even more important: it is the key attitude to be successful. Curiosity and willing to - as I like to say - play with the stuff. Unless you are a genius - and the fewest of us are - there will be frustrating times ahead. As long as you don't give up and let them determine your passion it's all ok.

    So definitely: YES.
     
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2015
  6. Nov 21, 2015 #5

    strangerep

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    WHAT A LOAD OF RUBBISH. You are not intrinsically "handicapped" due to being female. Heh, I could say that I'm "intrinsically handicapped" because I'm not as smart as some of the other males.

    Maths+physics are nontrivial subjects to master, and one can get a bit depressed at times. That doesn't mean one should give up.

    You can always get a bit more help here at PF if you're having difficulty with some aspects of the subject.
     
  7. Nov 21, 2015 #6

    fresh_42

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    .... plus there are some very smart girls around here! Hopefully they won't read "handicapped".
     
  8. Nov 21, 2015 #7

    strangerep

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    ... it might help to inspire others if more of the smart girls would give a gender hint in their avatars. :oldbiggrin:
     
  9. Nov 21, 2015 #8

    jtbell

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  10. Nov 21, 2015 #9

    samalkhaiat

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    Emmy Noether was a female. I am a male physicist, but I wish to have just a fraction of Emmy Noether's reasoning power.
     
  11. Nov 21, 2015 #10

    FactChecker

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    If you love the subjects, you have nothing to worry about.
    The man is an imbecile.
     
  12. Nov 21, 2015 #11
    Emmy noether is my desktop background, haha. she is such an inspiration to me.
     
  13. Nov 21, 2015 #12

    FactChecker

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    Rings, fields, abstract algebra -- She is the cause of much of my misery in grad school.
     
  14. Nov 21, 2015 #13

    samalkhaiat

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    Then you are on the right track. Just carry on, theoretical physics is beautiful and hard at the same time. It requires commitment to hard work and a lot of patience. I used to spent my weekends studying knowing that all my friends were partying, and never regreted that.
     
  15. Nov 21, 2015 #14
    Do you think that being female will hold me back intellectually?
     
  16. Nov 21, 2015 #15

    samalkhaiat

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    Not at all. However, negative attitude would hold us (male and female) back intellectually. Hard work is all what we need.
     
  17. Nov 21, 2015 #16

    fresh_42

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    No! That's one of the beautiful things in science: Nobody cares about gender, religion, age, nationality or whatever. Neither does physics or math. And PF is a proof for this. I'm astonished every time again, when I debate or joke here with someone literally on the other side of the world. Although I must admit, living in your time zone (+1) it has its disadvantages talking live to someone on the US pacific coast or Australia's Gold coast ... But who cares sleep :wink:
     
  18. Nov 21, 2015 #17

    Bandersnatch

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    Being a female can act disadvantageously due to the stereotypes inherent in most societies. It has been shown that if you're told that you're expected to do worse in maths-and-physics because of your gender, you will. On the other hand, no actual gender differences have been found in mathematical/science competence.
    Have a thorough read through this paper:http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3057475/ and the papers cited within.
    It might shine a new light on the subject.
     
  19. Nov 22, 2015 #18
    Noether is very inspirational. But you undoubtly know what happened to her. She was one of the brightest minds on the planet and she didn't get a position because she was female. She is not the only example of this.

    Check out Sofia Kovalevskaya for another brilliant (but somehow less well known) female. And of course the recent fields medallist Maryam Mirzakhani.

    Anyway, are you intellectually inferior because you are female? No. I'm a professional mathematician and I have many male and female colleagues. The female colleagues do not seem to be any worse or any better than the female colleagues.

    What will probably happen though, is that there are some guys who think you're inferior because you're female. This can be annoying since those voices cannot always be ignored since they might be your professors or even your advisors. This will be your biggest issue.

    But you are definitely not biologically handicapped because you're female. Besides, even if females were generally not as smart as males (for which there is no evidence at all, the converse would actually be more likely), then it still wouldn't matter since hard work is way more important than raw intelligence anyway.
     
  20. Nov 22, 2015 #19
    This is amazing, i live in Chile, and as students of almost third year of Geophysics we are 30 fellas, I'd say 15 of them are woman, and men are as competent as them when solving physics and math problems, sometimes they even have a different approach (granted, i don't know any "advanced" or "top tier" mathematics, my knowledge goes up to Vector calculus and linear Partial Differential equations) in fact it was very interesting to study Calc III with them because most of them have a good understanding of how to draw and imagine a 2D surface over a 3D space, i really struggled in that course because of my complete inability to imagine certain things.
    There are loads of female teachers in my university, teaching and researching in a large variety of subjects(“Passive image interferometry for the observation of current tectonic and volcanic processes” would be one), and there's one thing they all have in common, they have a strong character, and that is a must when dealing with a "male" environment that physics and mathematics still is, they were able to form a position for themselves, now sadly you also have to prove yourself in the knowledge areas, the comment "just a girl still in undergrad" the girl part was uncalled for, but in this field, as you probably already noticed, the degrees are actually considered to be very important.
    Do you think it's "worth my time" to study maths/physics formally, considering the fact that i am female?
    Of course, in fact it doesn't even have to be "worth your time" (god it sounds so harsh) it has to be something that, if you like to do and want to do, it's a must that you do it, it is something that you devote your life to, and if you don't do it because "it's not worth your time" over "loving it" then you're going to live your life like that.
    Cheers and good luck
    -random undergrad student that probably doesn't know any better
     
  21. Nov 22, 2015 #20
    Who the hell told you that women are inherently bad at math? Whoever that was has not done their research: there is no difference in inherent or natural ability between men and women because no matter how you slice it math is not a natural skill.

    No, women are not inherently bad at math. Yes, it's absolutely worth your time to study. And the career field isn't going to get any less sexist as long as women keep buying into that claptrap and letting themselves be pushed out.
     
  22. Nov 22, 2015 #21
    I latched on to feminism early on in my life in response to how my sisters were treated at their universities when they were studying law and ecology. It's almost impossible not to be condescended to by people because you're a woman when you're in science, because that's how a lot of us have been programmed to respond to women. There's a lot of feminist literature out there that speaks to what you're feeling and it may empower you to know that most women who are successful in their lives have grown past this nonsense and gone on to make great contributions to everything you can think of (not the least of which is math and science). I would suggest reading "Men Explain Things to Me" by Rebecca Solnit since it's closely related to what Dishsoap was talking about with how men treat her in her field and what I've heard many women rage about when it comes to sexism in science.
     
  23. Nov 22, 2015 #22

    e.bar.goum

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    Thanks jtbell for the ping, I can't imagine why you'd think I'd like to respond to this thread. :rolleyes:

    There is nothing biological stopping you from performing at high levels in physics/maths. That's just complete and utter hokum. And it has been proved in about a dozen ways. Probably more.

    It is absolutely true, however, that as a woman in STEM, you will face additional challenges that your male counterparts will not. Some of these have been discussed in this thread. Women have fewer role models, and fewer mentorship opportunities. STEM is "coded male", insofar as qualities that are interpreted as "male" (also hokum) are valued over qualities that are interpreted as "female" (no matter whether or not you exhibit them personally). At the moment, in many places, men and women are represented at about 50/50 levels in undergrad and PhD's, but the level drops off rapidly after that. This is known as the "scissor diagram". This is for many structural reasons, including the lack of support for women who leave temporarily for caring reasons, and the fact that women are less likely to have bosses "tap friends on the shoulder" for jobs.

    I'm not telling you this to put you off, but to show you that, essentially, the reasons that women are underrepresented in sciences are structural and societal, not "intrinsic". You've got to decide whether or not doing physics/maths is worth the trouble, and that's only something you can do.

    Now, the good things about problems that are not intrinsic is that they can be fixed. And there is a lot of work going on right now to try to do just that. In the UK, there is a program called Athena Swan http://www.ecu.ac.uk/equality-charters/athena-swan/ , which is a big deal. These days, to get major medical research funding, you have to have an Athena Swan award that demonstrates work towards gender equity. Many things that were acceptable even a couple of years ago are now totally not ok (see the Tim Hunt scandal, "shirtgate" etc etc). I'm a proud member of my research school's first gender equity committee, and I'm excited for what we can do.

    I'm a woman in physics, and I'm lucky - I've had some fantastic female (and male) supervisors and mentors, and I've got hope for what we can do in the future. I hope you don't get put off of physics/maths by any ideas that you aren't good enough because you're a woman.

    ETA: I can't spell societal, apparently.
     
  24. Nov 22, 2015 #23

    jtbell

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    Actually, what inspired it was the post preceding mine about avatars. :biggrin: Then someone else came along and mentioned Emmy Noether.
     
  25. Nov 22, 2015 #24

    vela

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    I wish this were true, but I doubt it is. Scientists are people, and like everyone else, they bring along a lot of societal baggage. I can still recall how shocked I was back when I was starting grad school and heard about people trying to ban gay members from APS meetings. Granted, this was over 20 years ago, but I can't imagine that all bigotry has been purged from the ranks of the American Physical Society. I would hope that compared to the general public, scientists as a group are less bigoted, but I wouldn't be surprised if there were no significant difference.
     
  26. Nov 22, 2015 #25
    Yes, there will always be people that dislike you or someone for a variety of reasons. One should not care what others think. You have to get over the idea of everyone having to like you. Stem is a hard field, and I have doubts about your ability to acquire a degree in one of the stem fields, not because you are a woman (woman are intellectually equivalent to man). Rather I feel that your lack of mental strength will hamper your success, in other words, caring what small minded " macho man" have to say about you.

    Will you face discrimination, most likely, however it is how you deal with it is what is important. Less caring more studying. If you work hard, eventually you will have the respect of people around you that matter. It is a very noble idea to major in Stem. A field that requires sleepless nights and mental exhaustion to the brink of giving up. However, the knowledge you acquire is worth the effort.
     
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