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Where did all the physics ladies go?

  1. Oct 17, 2014 #1
    First of all, I'd like to clarify my title by pointing out it is NOT a dodgy pick-up line. I am a female myself and have noticed that pretty much every woman who enrolled at my university in physics is going on, or plans to go into the field of astrophysics, myself included.

    I am wondering if this is a freak trend at my university (possibly due to the eventual SKA being partially built in my country and state), or if this is common? Are there more women in astrophysics than nuclear physics, for example?

    Physics is still a male-dominated field, and I realise how wonderfully hard my department has worked to get an above-average percentage of women into it, but is it easier for us to attract the ladies than other physics fields? Why did I choose astro over other areas? Do we accept when our girls say "astronomy" because it's easy to romanticise, or we think they said "astrology"? Did my fellow students and I watch too much "Stargate SG1" and "Contact" growing up, with lead female astronomers? Are there even any movies/tv shows with lead females in another field of physics?

    I'd like to know your thoughts on this, and any trends you have noticed.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 17, 2014 #2

    symbolipoint

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    Only the ladies can answer those questions. They listen to what is said. They look for the written information they want to find. They figure out who to ask about subjects and jobs. They decide what or how they feel and what they want to do, and then they make their choices. You ask, why do the ladies in physics show a trend toward astronomy and astrophysics. Only the individual ladies themselves can answer this.
     
  4. Oct 17, 2014 #3

    ShayanJ

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    This is its climax!!!
    Anyway, I think we should accept that there are some differences between the two genders besides the physical ones.
     
  5. Oct 17, 2014 #4
    One theory: Women like to go where other women are, so advancement into new areas will tend to clump around (semi-random) subjects and physical locations.
     
  6. Oct 17, 2014 #5
    Probably because astronomy/astrophysics/cosmology is what is most emphasized in popular science media.
     
  7. Oct 17, 2014 #6

    PeroK

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    Perhaps the answer is written in the stars?
     
  8. Oct 17, 2014 #7

    Evo

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    You failed to tell us why. Why don't you begin by explaining your choices?
     
  9. Oct 17, 2014 #8
    Fair point. I went into astrophysics because of an assignment I did when I was 10 on black holes. I don't remember why I chose black holes (I suspect Stargate SG1), but I remember as I was finding information for the assignment I just thought that nothing in the universe could possibly be more interesting. I loved the idea that we didn't understand what happened within the event horizon, and that our understanding of physics meant that we might never. It caught my imagination and I decided I wanted to be the one to solve the riddle of the black hole. That enthusiasm never died, instead it extended to many other areas of astronomy, cosmology, and high energy astrophysics.

    Before I did that assignment I had wanted to be a mathematician, because maths has always been my favourite subject. Astronomy kind of focuses that love of maths into a specific field, I certainly don't feel like I chose astro over maths.

    My reasoning for choosing astro seems very specific to me, as does everyones story for their choice. But I have definitely noticed a trend, which may suggest some cultural swing towards women choosing astro, even though for each individual woman, myself included, our choice seems completely unrelated to outside influences. I was just wondering if anyone else had noticed it too and finds it interesting?

    That is also a good point. Is the percentage of women in astro fairly normal, but astro is just a large field of physics? The director for my department is conscious of creating gender equality, maybe because of that, and the higher numbers of people to choose from, there are just more women in my department than average?

    I must admit I am guilty of this. In my search for possible PhD projects, there have been a few sites with photos of the people in the department. I tend not to really want to get involved in a department where there are no women, it is quite off-putting. I have also had other people, both men and women, agree that being the first woman into a department might not be particularly fun, as there is the possibility that everyone has to get used to the idea of gender equality, and some may have to seriously change their world views.
     
  10. Oct 17, 2014 #9

    ShayanJ

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    No reaction to this one! Was it a bad thing to say?
     
  11. Oct 18, 2014 #10
    In real life I only know one female physicist, and she is a geophysicist.
     
  12. Oct 18, 2014 #11
    I personally don't see any gender barrier to ladies in science around my campus. They're free to do whatever they want. The few female colleagues I work with, and I have to admit they are few, are very professional and driven researchers.
     
  13. Oct 18, 2014 #12

    Evo

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    I entered a males only field of data way before the internet. Never gave it a second thought. Never had any problems from the men, I pulled my weight and even took over tasks they wouldn't do. I think this male/female drama is a bit overthought.
     
  14. Oct 18, 2014 #13

    symbolipoint

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    Is the answer complicated or simple? Trend as I have seen, more females in Biology and Chemistry than in Physics or Engineering. Not enough observations on my part to know about how this relates to astrophysics or astronomy.
     
  15. Oct 18, 2014 #14
    That makes little sense. The problem lays in the first few women. They can't go by what other women have done, because they are the first, so they will of had a general interest in astrophysics. So your statement only has a restricted range in which it can be true.
     
  16. Oct 21, 2014 #15
    You have posted a really dangerous thread nSlavingblair :) . This is going to be one of the most political incorrect threads in the forum ( Don't take me wrong I don't care but it is funny :) )...
     
  17. Oct 21, 2014 #16
    I don't think there's anything wrong with bringing it up. I think it might seem like a taboo subject just because we are talking about a field that usually is viewed to have a lot of "smart people" in it, so subconsciously people might think you're talking about an intelligence difference when you really said no such thing.

    It's probably more just an issue of what we find interesting, and it's no secret that although interests overlap men and women do, for the most part, find different things interesting.
    I'm no psychologist or anything, but it could even be something funny like men tending to have more control issues than women and so the idea of being able to predict and control the world around them is more instinctually motivating, leading to a passion for learning physics.
     
  18. Oct 21, 2014 #17

    ShayanJ

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    Oh...yeah. Of course I didn't mean women are not smart enough. I meant something like your explanations.
    Its just like physics. Experimental data show some kind of a trend but that's statistical anyway and so there can be an underlying law giving a probability distribution accompanied by some statistical fluctuations. I just mentioned the possibility of the existence of such a theory but said nothing about how it looks like. I'm not a psychologist too!
     
  19. Oct 22, 2014 #18
    Teaching kids in school
     
  20. Oct 22, 2014 #19
    I have noticed that Astrophysics/Astronomy does seem to attract women more than other Physics fields. I honestly don't know why, though I could venture some guesses.

    It seems like Cosmology/Astronomy is one of the most celebrated Physics fields in the media. It makes it readily available to a lot of people who might not consider Physics otherwise. If this plays a substantial role in why women chose Astrophysics, I would theorize that you should also see more minorities in the field, when compared to other Physics fields.

    Because more women have been in Astrophysics, teachers and mentors of young children are more likely to know of a female Astrophysicist. Young girls may have better chances of seeing themselves as a future Astrophysicist because they hear about women in the field and identify with them. Some girls are bothered by being the only girl, and it may be that Astrophysics retains more women because there are more women to begin with.

    It may also be that boys and girls considering a Physics major are equally interested in Astrophysics, but that boys/men are being subtly pushed into other Physics fields at a higher rate than girls are.
     
  21. Oct 22, 2014 #20
    Women are romantic in general. And all those beautiful stars in a mysterious night... Well, you got an idea, they must love it;)
     
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