# Being female in physics is ridiculous.

Dishsoap
Affirmative action has gone way too far. Last year, my university gave me $1000 for the "Women in Physics Scholarship". After applying for several REUs, the forums here seem to indicate that a lot of the spaces are reserved for women and minorities. When applying for the Goldwater scholarship, my recommenders were told to use the pronoun "she" whenever possible in my recommendations. My freshman year, I was first author on a paper that I was definitely not the driving force behind, because being able to list that a girl did that on an NSF proposal makes it more likely that my research group will get funding. Two years ago, my university hired an incompetent female for a physics professor for the sake of diversit.This nonsense is ridiculous. I get that women are pretty rare in physics. In most of my classes, I'm the only one. But why is that a problem? It's not that we are discouraged from being a physicist. We may have been discriminated against in the past, but I really don't think it's a problem any longer. I've heard other people complain about this, but seriously, what do we do? Do you think it's best to mark "prefer not to respond" when applications ask for your gender, so that you are considered based on your ability? But then, you are probably less likely to get it, since you are probably not a minority. There really is no way to be fair. What are your thoughts? Last edited by a moderator: ## Answers and Replies Gold Member I guess things have not changed much in over 40 years. When I entered engineering school, there were 5 females out of more than 300 students. I guess I would try to be neutral WRT to gender, if possible. If you can get get accepted on your abilities, you may feel better about yourself. If it makes any difference, I am proud of you for even posing this question. ModusPwnd I remember very clearly at the start of both undergrad and grad school (two different schools) we were all collected together and lectured/talked down too about being too white and too male. It was very ridiculous and very offensive, but that is the way the politically correct environment of the school works. I also remember one of the girls in my freshman undergrad classes started hating physics and was going to change her major. The professors tried hard to convince her. They talked with her, they helped her, they wanted her to like physics even though she didn't. How ridiculous! Some people seem to think that having women in physics is an end unto itself rather than a means to an end. edit - My wife studied psychology and is a mental health counselor. Her field is the opposite. Men are subsidized and encouraged over women as though having more men in the field is an end unto itself. Its really silly. jbrussell93 Although I am not a female, I am a Hispanic male pursuing physics. I have similar feelings when being chosen for REUs scholarships, etc... Am I simply chosen to help them fulfill their hidden agendas? Will I ever actually be chosen due to my abilities and hard work? In my case, my father is Caucasian and my mother from Mexico with Spanish ancestors, so I basically look white and have a typical "white name". For this round of REU applications I also considered marking the "white Caucasian" box just to see if things turned out differently. This being said, I suspect the best way to deal with this type of thing is to be yourself and try to forget about the fact that you might be a "rarity" in your field. There is really nothing you can do about this fact, and things probably won't be changing for a long while. It's just one of those weird situations where you feel superior and inferior all at once... Sentin3l That's the current political climate for you. As a white male from a middle class family, it can definitely suck sometimes (try looking for scholarships that aren't for minorities... hint: there are none). However it's not completely unfounded, when I was a kid, it was a common (erroneous) belief that men were good at math/science and women were good at the humanities. This has (and this is a statistical fact) led to the massive gender gaps in the sciences. My university is a top tier engineering school and we are roughly 60% women, 40% men for enrollment, but the sciences are closer to 92% men to 8% women (not counting -insert STEM field here- education, but they are not many of them). Nationwide stats reinforce this and many people are starting to pay more attention to it. What you're noticing is the ugly side of trying to fix the gender gap, people who are exploiting the political climate to gain an advantage (at your expense unfortunately). I can certainly imagine how insulting it is to be considered not to due to hard work or competence, but simply based on your gender or racial background. Modern day political correctness is pretty unforgiving for most organizations and such, it's a death sentence if someone or another organization accuses you of being prejudiced. So instead of changing the climate to stop reinforcing gender roles that led to the issue, they are trying to fix it late in one's education and career decision process, and it's not working very well. Similar issues arise for other minorities as well, so you're not alone in this. Staff Emeritus Science Advisor Gold Member OP, it sounds like you haven't run into a lot of problems that were common to women breaking into a new fields as 'pioneers', not too long ago. That's great - it shows there has been progress! jesse73 OP, it sounds like you haven't run into a lot of problems that were common to women breaking into a new fields as 'pioneers', not too long ago. That's great - it shows there has been progress! Oh god so true. Same goes for middle class URM who complain about a similar situation. It should be more socio economic disadvantages because most URM scholarships go to the same middle class students who have the benefits afforded to them from a middle class upbringing furthering wealth inequality. Anyone who doesnt realize that a middle or upper class upbringing doesnt afford you advantages academically has not done private tutoring. Last edited: jesse73 My university is a top tier engineering school and we are roughly 60% women, 40% men for enrollment, but the sciences are closer to 92% men to 8% women (not counting -insert STEM field here- education, but they are not many of them). This school does not exist at least not in the USA. MIT has one of the most balanced ratios for an engineering school in the country and they are 45% women and 55% men. I am assuming by engineering school you dont just mean college. Mentor This school does not exist at least not in the USA. MIT has one of the most balanced ratios for an engineering school in the country and they are 45% women and 55% men. I am assuming by engineering school you dont just mean college. Just remember that this is the internet and people make things up. Sad but true. Enigman It just may have been a typo though, mixing up 'men' and 'women', that's what the phrasing seems to indicate to me (the line about massive gender gaps and nonchalant jump to 92-8 ratio of opposite.) Enigman Name https://upworthy-production.s3.amazonaws.com/nugget/4fc5db090dcd2f0003000434/attachments/celia.jpg, anyone? P.S. Can anyone blackmail Greg into fixing the permalink? Not being able to reference posts sucks. Gold Member Post that in the enigma thread and I'll answer it. Staff Emeritus Science Advisor Gold Member Affirmative action has gone way too far.... Things used to be different. My mother’s mother said that her first girl to finish grade eight had to stay home to help with her large depression-era family. My mother excelled at and loved school, and she skipped a grade. She had a sister a year older than her, but her sister had to repeat a failed grade, so my mother ended up a grade ahead of her sister. My grandmother did not make an exception, so, effectively, my mother was punished for doing well at school. Gold Member Affirmative action has gone way too far. Perhaps. But there is also ample evidence that women still face discrimination either in the recognition of their work or in university hiring practices. I will focus on mathematics, since that is where my familiarity lies, but the situation in physics is largely the same. Something like 1/4 mathematics PhDs are women, yet when you examine the gender distribution of senior faculty (especially at top research universities), men are grossly overrepresented. Take the mathematics department at Harvard, for example, where 1/24 senior faculty members are female. Or the University of Chicago where the ratio is 2/32 now, but was something like 0/32 just two years ago. There is still a lot of room for progress. Mentor Perhaps. But there is also ample evidence that women still face discrimination either in the recognition of their work or in university hiring practices. I will focus on mathematics, since that is where my familiarity lies, but the situation in physics is largely the same. Something like 1/4 mathematics PhDs are women, yet when you examine the gender distribution of senior faculty (especially at top research universities), men are grossly overrepresented. Take the mathematics department at Harvard, for example, where 1/24 senior faculty members are female. Or the University of Chicago where the ratio is 2/32 now, but was something like 0/32 just two years ago. There is still a lot of room for progress. Don't tenured professors have to retire to make room? They don't just get laid off or fired, making room for those more qualified. What is the ratio of hiring women to women in a position to be hired in the last 20 years? Yes, women are still fighting the "good ol' boy" network, and it will be a long time, if ever, that the discrimination no longer exists. It wasn't that long ago that women couldn't even attend these universities. The first women to knock at Harvard’s doors came from the middle class, typically schoolteachers looking for extra instruction in the sciences. But they were merely “thrown crumbs,” such as access to lectures or labs, said Horowitz. When a group of powerful women, including Elizabeth Cary Agassiz, widow of the famous Harvard scientist Louis Agassiz, founded the Women’s Education Association of Boston, in 1872, and sought to gain the entrance of women into Harvard, it was met with steady resistance. “We were told not to disturb the present system of education which is the result of the experience and wisdom of the past,” read Horowitz from the group’s records. She noted that at the time both Harvard President Charles William Eliot and the Harvard Corporation were “deeply opposed” to allowing women into Harvard. http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2012/04/hard-earned-gains-for-women-at-harvard/ Gold Member I should mention that my mother spoke no English when her parents came to the US, and she graduated High School at the top of her class. Her family lived in a downtrodden neighborhood and were not well-regarded because they were poor and recent immigrants. She got tossed into elementary school knowing no English. Her younger sister managed to social-climb a bit because she did maid service for a couple of the more affluent families in town. That didn't take her far. Last edited: Science Advisor Affirmative action has gone way too far. Last year, my university gave me$1000 for the "Women in Physics Scholarship". After applying for several REUs, the forums here seem to indicate that a lot of the spaces are reserved for women and minorities. When applying for the Goldwater scholarship, my recommenders were told to use the pronoun "she" whenever possible in my recommendations. My freshman year, I was first author on a paper that I was definitely not the driving force behind, because being able to list that a girl did that on an NSF proposal makes it more likely that my research group will get funding. Two years ago, my university hired an incompetent female for a physics professor for the sake of diversit.This nonsense is ridiculous.

Such injustice...I mean how dare they? Is there no good left in the world?

Mentor
I should mention that my mother spoke no English when her parents came to the US, and she graduated High School at the top of her class. Her family lived in a downtrodden neighborhood and were not well-regarded because they were poor and recent immigrants. She got tossed into elementary school knowing no English.

Her younger sister managed to social-climb a bit because she did maid service for a couple of the more affluent families in town. That didn't take her far.
What does this have to do with the topic?

Gold Member
Such injustice...I mean how dare they? Is there no good left in the world?

It is injustice to those of equal ability but of opposite gender.

To the OP :
As a middle-class white male who earned payed his own way through undergrad (well, im still paying), and got a decent school for PhD, and a decent postdoc, let me tell you this:

There were always be a large chunk of your "value" based on anything BUT your ability. Its highly competitive out there, and almost everyone is willing to play an income/race/sex/almuni/frat/etc card to get what they want. For you not to take advantage of it would be a disservice to yourself in the name of a principle that you have no chance of making an impact on with your dissidence.

It would be like not naming your undergraduate school in graduate school applications, but only listing grades. No, if you went to Harvard, you tell employers you went there, you drop that name every chance you get, because everyone else will. Your competition is using everything they can to get ahead, and those that don't will fall out of the field.

Hopefully one day in your career you will get a job because you know your employer from a few conferences and they liked you. You will realize that there are better candidates out there, but you got the job because you knew someone, and you WON'T feel guilty about it.

In principle you should feel its wrong, but that doesn't mean you should stop.

Rick21383
It is injustice to those of equal ability but of opposite gender.

It sure it, and it's not just an issue with physics either....or women.

It's the same way with Law school, Med school, etc. Some of the applicant's numbers that get accepted into these programs are absolutely ridiculous. You can get accepted into YLS for example, the top law school in the country, with numbers that wouldn't get most into ANY top tier school. But if you're of another race, you're good. I've seen people with LSATs in the 160 range admitted because they have different colored skin....

Same with med school which is why (as racist as it may seem) you should be concerned with this when choosing a doctor.

Tobias Funke
Aren't there studies that show that if women make up something like 30% of a group, men (maybe women too) think there's parity? And if women speak some small fraction of the time, they're remembered as dominating the conversation?

I suspect that most of these stories are got second hand--or made up--and I think it's just assumed that that black guy couldn't have possibly got a similar score as a middle class white man.

It is injustice to those of equal ability but of opposite gender.

You'll have to forgive me, for a second there I forgot first-world problems were still being passed around. I should stop reading news stories about women in third world countries with truly dire issues.

Sentin3l
This school does not exist at least not in the USA. MIT has one of the most balanced ratios for an engineering school in the country and they are 45% women and 55% men.

I am assuming by engineering school you dont just mean college.

My estimation was off but my point remains (This is for 2012, but being a student here things haven't changed much):

http://www.udel.edu/IR/fnf/gendr.html

I go to UD currently (55th overall engineering, 11th chemical engineering according to us news online. I call that top tier, although your opinion may differ): 57% female to 43% male by enrollment. College of engineering is 79% male to 21% female, a similar gender gap for the pure sciences (although they don't have a breakdown by major, so there is no way to give statistics for just the science majors, as the college of arts and sciences also contains the humanities). I can make a fair judgement on that since I'm enrolled in two of the sciences and am well-acquainted with the other departments. I do not appreciate you calling me a liar.

Just remember that this is the internet and people make things up. Sad but true.

See above

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Gold Member
You'll have to forgive me, for a second there I forgot first-world problems were still being passed around. I should stop reading news stories about women in third world countries with truly dire issues.

Yes, because only the worst injustices in the world are the only ones worth discussing. You can redirect any argument or discussion this way and its not helpful. I mean, who cares about cancer when starvation and undernutrition leads to 10 times as many deaths each year. Pssh, "cancer", the first-world problem.

Funny.

While this problem is obviously not as serious as even the under representation of women in the field, it is still a problem and worth discussing.

Rick21383
You'll have to forgive me, for a second there I forgot first-world problems were still being passed around. I should stop reading news stories about women in third world countries with truly dire issues.

Let's just ignore problems within the US because there are third world countries that have it worse than us.

Brilliant.

Let's just ignore problems within the US because there are third world countries that have it worse than us.

Brilliant.

Yes, because only the worst injustices in the world are the only ones worth discussing. You can redirect any argument or discussion this way and its not helpful. I mean, who cares about cancer when starvation and undernutrition leads to 10 times as many deaths each year. Pssh, "cancer", the first-world problem.

Funny.

While this problem is obviously not as serious as even the under representation of women in the field, it is still a problem and worth discussing.

I apologized, what more do you want? Obviously being able to go to a university, getting a \$1000 scholarship, and first-name authorship in a publication are at the forefront of women's equality issues. If it sounds like I'm being sarcastic I apologize for that too. In reality I'm just laughing at the trivial nature of the "problem". Well if you'll excuse me I have to get back to my physics class-I'm one of the few non-white people there so I better come up with some "problems" that I can complain about.

Tosh5457
Affirmative action is discrimination, there will always be over-representation of one sex over another in any given job: healthcare will always have more women and engineering-related courses will have more men. Me being a man, if there was AA where I live, I'd just go to medicine with a much lower entrance grade than the girls, just because there are more women than men in medicine. And yes that would be very unfair, independently of the women:men ratio in medicine.

Gold Member
Affirmative action is discrimination

Unfortunately this often becomes the case, but the principle itself is not misguided in my opinion. In the sciences women face barriers, societal and otherwise, that men usually do not. These societal barriers appear in the form of discouraging young girls from pursuing careers in the sciences and special scholarships for women are a reasonable first step in combating this issue. Aside from the male/female sex imbalance in graduating PhDs, this discrepancy is exacerbated even further in the breakdown of senior faculty (see post #14), which is indicative of discrimination in either the recognition and/or hiring of women. So even without affirmative action policies, discrimination is still rampant, just in the other direction. Which of these is worse depends largely on your perspective I suppose, but the point is that while there are legitimate criticisms of affirmative action, pretending there are no issues to be fixed is ludicrous.

there will always be over-representation of one sex over another in any given job

Why should this be the case?

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Gold Member
Don't tenured professors have to retire to make room? They don't just get laid off or fired, making room for those more qualified.

There is some truth to this. Universities have more opportunities for hiring new faculty, however, than one might think. While retirement rates are fairly low, faculty move between universities with considerably more frequency. By my (rough) estimation, something between 1/2 and 3/4 of the senior faculty at UChicago were hired within the last 10-15 years, and this completely ignores the faculty that came and left during this period.

There is some truth to this. Universities have more opportunities for hiring new faculty, however, than one might think. While retirement rates are fairly low, faculty move between universities with considerably more frequency. By my (rough) estimation, something between 1/2 and 3/4 of the senior faculty at UChicago were hired within the last 10-15 years, and this completely ignores the faculty that came and left during this period.

I am wondering if the 1/2 to 3/4 of the senior faculty at UChicago who were hired within the last 10-15 years (according to your rough estimation) spread out across all disciplines or concentrated in specific disciplines.

I ask this because it may well be the case that in the STEM fields there may be less hiring of tenure-track faculty overall because of limited openings, and thus there may not be much opportunity to correct the gender disparity that exists within science departments (many of the senior faculty being hired when there were both fewer women pursuing PhDs and which women faced far more barriers to higher education and employment).

Gold Member
I am wondering if the 1/2 to 3/4 of the senior faculty at UChicago who were hired within the last 10-15 years (according to your rough estimation) spread out across all disciplines or concentrated in specific disciplines.

That estimation was for the mathematics department specifically. Sorry if that was unclear.

I ask this because it may well be the case that in the STEM fields there may be less hiring of tenure-track faculty overall because of limited openings, and thus there may not be much opportunity to correct the gender disparity that exists within science departments (many of the senior faculty being hired when there were both fewer women pursuing PhDs and which women faced far more barriers to higher education and employment).

It is possible my estimation is substantially off (although I think this unlikely) and hiring new faculty is a complicated process. Whether there is an overt preference for male candidates or simply a flaw in the process that selects disproportionately for male candidates, however, the result is still de facto discrimination.

jesse73
The system seems incredibly robust because as others have pointed out there are more male faculty than female faculty. Women and URM gets payed less on the dollar for the same job and are less likely to get hired in the first place. Networking is a huge part of getting a job and networking involves getting connected to the current power structure which is predominately white and male.

Psychological research has shown time and time again that we tend to favor and help people that look like us in a conscious and subconscious manner so how do you think this plays out in the real world where many of the positions of power are already held by white males.

GTOM
"Women and URM gets payed less on the dollar for the same job"

Just recently i saw statistics (i could send an image, although the captions are hungarian) that says that this only applies to the most well paid jobs, top managers etc.
(It is another thing, that many underpaid jobs are done mainly by women, but teaching in elementary school isnt the same job as driving trains for example.)
And it can be explained by many other ways, overtime working, etc.

jesse73
"Women and URM gets payed less on the dollar for the same job"

Just recently i saw statistics (i could send an image, although the captions are hungarian) that says that this only applies to the most well paid jobs, top managers etc.
I think everyone knows that minimum wage jobs are egalitarian.

And it can be explained by many other ways, overtime working, etc.

So the implicit assumption is that white male workers work harder or females and URMs are lazy.

Dishsoap
OP, it sounds like you haven't run into a lot of problems that were common to women breaking into a new fields as 'pioneers', not too long ago. That's great - it shows there has been progress!

The same problems, no. Similar problems, yes. For instance, back then people regarded women as less intelligent/capable. Now, if they see a woman with the same qualifications/awards as a man, they may assume she got those awards because she's a woman. So is it really a different issue?