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Being female in physics is ridiculous.

  1. Feb 4, 2014 #1
    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: Feb 4, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 4, 2014 #2


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    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.
  4. Feb 4, 2014 #3
    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.
  5. Feb 4, 2014 #4
    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...
  6. Feb 4, 2014 #5
    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.
  7. Feb 4, 2014 #6


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    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!
  8. Feb 4, 2014 #7
    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: Feb 4, 2014
  9. Feb 4, 2014 #8
    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.
  10. Feb 4, 2014 #9


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    Just remember that this is the internet and people make things up. Sad but true.
  11. Feb 4, 2014 #10
    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.)
  12. Feb 4, 2014 #11
    Name her, anyone?
    P.S. Can anyone blackmail Greg into fixing the permalink? Not being able to reference posts sucks.
  13. Feb 4, 2014 #12


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    Post that in the enigma thread and I'll answer it. :biggrin:
  14. Feb 4, 2014 #13

    George Jones

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    Things used to be different.

  15. Feb 4, 2014 #14


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    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.
  16. Feb 4, 2014 #15


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    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.

  17. Feb 5, 2014 #16


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    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: Feb 5, 2014
  18. Feb 5, 2014 #17


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    Such injustice...I mean how dare they? Is there no good left in the world?
  19. Feb 5, 2014 #18


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    What does this have to do with the topic?
  20. Feb 5, 2014 #19


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    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.
  21. Feb 5, 2014 #20
    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.
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