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Why fewer women in the realm of science and engineering?

  1. Jul 7, 2013 #1
    Actually, I wanted to ask "At what point a promising young female student would be discouraged from pursuing further enlightening in the path of science and engineering" but the title limits the characters inputted.

    When trying to apply for engineering schools or science academies, I suppose?

    On the other hand, medical schools' female students are substantially more numerous.

    Why is that? I don't believe sexism is that rampant in today's institutions for higher learnings.
     
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  3. Jul 7, 2013 #2
    I would guess that women are generally less interested in science and engineering. They seem to be more interested in humanities. Maybe this is because women are biologically programmed to be social and to take care of others. Or maybe it is because of the way society portrays science as being for men. I don't know.
     
  4. Jul 7, 2013 #3
    It is still socially acceptable for women to be less ambitious in their careers, hence nobody challenges them too much if they pick an impractical college degree.

    I have heard the argument that back in the day (50's-60's), colleges were for women a place mainly for meeting an ideal husband with a high earning potential. Don't know if that's true.
     
  5. Jul 7, 2013 #4

    Monique

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    I'd say a lack of role models.
     
  6. Jul 7, 2013 #5

    Astronuc

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    I think this and the lack of encouragement from parents/teachers or the lack of suitable mentors are most significant reasons.

    I'm pretty sure I'm as biologically programmed to be social and care for others as any woman. My father was a very nuturing person, as were my grandfathers. Perhaps I just had excellent role models.
     
  7. Jul 7, 2013 #6

    HayleySarg

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    I was never really raised as a "this gender does this". For all my parents flaws, they did well in encouraging all forms of learning. My father took me to the zoo but didn't skip the reptiles. I had a telescope to look at the stars and lots of slides for my microscope.

    I also had role models. I had Janeway in a leadership position, Jadzia as a fun loving but very smart science officer, Samantha Carter in the military and science. I just figured it was normal.

    And I grew up watching two shows that did well to put women on equal terms in that regard with men. I watched quite a bit of Voyager and Stargate. I never learned that women play with dolls and boys play with cars.

    I guess I didn't realize that girls didn't do science until I got to college. I had to drop a physics course and the professor actually urgently emailed me regarding the matter:

    "I was sad to notice that you had withdrawn from PY 203. I would like to talk with you about this if you can spare some time to come in on a Monday or Wednesday before or after class. You were an excellent student: motivated, intelligent, collaborative. You had the highest grade in the class. I'm concerned that your withdrawal indicates a (probably major) flaw in how I teach.


    I promise not to probe into your motivations if you don't want to tell me. But I do want to let you know what my concerns are so that you can at least be aware of them as you move forward in physics/engineering.


    Let me know if you'd be willing to talk with me."

    Turns out he was worried he dropped because I was the only girl and felt the class wasn't being taught properly to me, or that he was being sexist. I actually had to drop for financial reasons of taking on more than 60hrs a week to pay my bills. Hah!

    I had never thought about it until then. Me? The only girl? Nah! No way! There's other girls *looks around* ...oh.

    I don't really notice gender unless I'm searching with a motive.

    Cheers
     
  8. Jul 7, 2013 #7
    Are role models for getting educational achievements really that important? Neither of my parents had a college degree. I never had a family member or role model even remotely involved in science. My decision to go into Physics was my own, and was actually done against the recommendation of some of my family members.
     
  9. Jul 7, 2013 #8

    Astronuc

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    Role models may have an effect early on - e.g., during elementary and junior high school.

    I was inspired by mathematicians and scientists, and others. I excelled in math and science since the earliest years, and I received a lot of encouragement from my parents and teachers. But my academic programs were pretty much directed by myself.
     
  10. Jul 7, 2013 #9

    Dale

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    Anectdotally, I can tell you that the percentage of female students is relatively high in biomedical engineering.
     
  11. Jul 7, 2013 #10

    ZapperZ

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    I had been involved with Argonne's "Science Careers In Search of Women" program for 6 straight years. It was a whole-day program to introduce high school girls to various aspects of science and engineering careers, and they spend the whole day at the lab, visiting facilities and talking to various scientists and engineers, both men and women.

    One of the things we get to do is sit down with them in small groups during lunch. Usually, we get 5-6 students at the table, and there are 2 scientists/engineers at each table. We get to talk quite a bit, and the question I always ask to the girls during our conversation is how important is it for them to see a woman in a particular career, and whether that influences their decision in pursuing that career path. My personal experience in all those years getting responses from them is that only about 1/3 told me that it might affect their decision. The other 2/3 told me that it isn't relevant to them if there is a woman that is already in that career path.

    So that observation is certainly consistent with your sentiment, and what I've read so far. Certainly, girls in high school nowadays feel a lot more empowered to pursue any career they want to, and are less influenced by role models in a particular career path.

    Zz.
     
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2013
  12. Jul 7, 2013 #11

    HayleySarg

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    I think the role models don't have to be in science, nor do they have to be close to you. What it takes is someone that embodies your flaws and has somehow overcome them. I think those are the most powerful role-models of all.

    For example, I was a wuss when it came to injuries in gymnastics. After I saw Kerri Strugg vault on her injured leg, it completely changed the way I viewed myself. (In a lot more than gymnastics)



    Something like this changes lives. We see how strong people can be, and we are inspired.

    We won gold that year because of her efforts, even on extremely severely sprained ankle.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  13. Jul 7, 2013 #12
    Marie Curie was an amazing scientist. Much better role models than women who burn underwear.
     
  14. Jul 7, 2013 #13
    This is actually quite interesting. I took an intro evolutionary/ecology biology course and the professor was a middle age caucasian males. We were often shown pictures of notable ecologist and evolutionary biologists who were also (surprise, surprise) middle age caucasian males. At the end of the course he told us [the majority of class being Asian, and myself being self-defined as "brown (of indian descent)"] that even though we were exposed to many caucasian scientist in the field of Evolutionary and Ecological biology, he assured us that the field was welcoming to both males and females and more notably towards non-caucasians.

    I suppose this professor is more in line with the physics professor mentioned above who may feel a sense of responsibility to ensuring diversity in the field or to a smaller extent their department.

    I myself didn't even notice or register that his presentation of evolutionary and ecological biology may have been skewed towards a middle age male caucasian majority (which is probably no longer as true as it was at the time these pictures of the ecologists were taken)
     
  15. Jul 8, 2013 #14

    Monique

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    My interest for science came from a high-school chemistry teacher, he was my role model.

    Consciously they may feel that way, but how about unconsciously? If there are no women in a profession, it does send a warning message (because why aren't they there?).

    Incidentally I do quote her on one of the first pages of my thesis. A role model for me however would be someone in real life that sets an example. The image of a professor is still an old guy with a long beard. I'm glad that's changing though.
     
  16. Jul 8, 2013 #15
    Well I wonder what would happen if you had a real figure as your role model:

    Grace Hopper
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_Hopper

    Like other women, she also "squeezed" one out, but it's COBOL, first machine-independent language.
     
  17. Jul 8, 2013 #16
    Yea I mean Carl Sagan's father, if I remembered correctly, is a pizza shop worker?
     
  18. Jul 8, 2013 #17

    HayleySarg

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    I'm familiar with these women but I was about 4 when I decided I wanted to be an "astrophysicist" .

    If I had to pick the biggest influence on my scientific thought it'd be Feynman. *Shrugs*

    I see the point, but I don't think of science in any regards to gender.

    Cheers
     
  19. Jul 8, 2013 #18

    Monique

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    With all respect, but isn't it a problem that the name that comes to mind is someone who made a significant discovery over a century ago? Or was that the point of your comment, to display the lack of role models?
     
  20. Jul 8, 2013 #19
    Oh Feynman, that girl that
    *wiki up Feynman*
    I mean that wonderful guy that works on those fancy quantum stuff, yea, I know that.
     
  21. Jul 8, 2013 #20

    HayleySarg

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  22. Jul 8, 2013 #21

    ZapperZ

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    That's open for debate AND open for speculation. I'm not willing to make that speculation. Are you?

    I would give quite a bit of weight to what I've gathered from them, because there is such an overwhelming number, rather than just, say, even 50%. However, these numbers can easily be skewered because the girls who participated were already interested in a science/engineering career, and certainly one can question whether at that stage, a female role-model was necessary anymore for them to decide what they want to do, versus when they were just starting out to figure what they want to do.

    Zz.
     
  23. Jul 8, 2013 #22

    HayleySarg

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    I think it probably has a lot of factors. I don't truly care to speculate, but for me personally, I never really saw the difference in a woman studying science versus a man. It was never taught/learned that girls don't do science. I guess I figured that women didn't find it as interesting as other fields of science. That was my personal reasoning at an early age.

    I'd say that there must be a slight bias since they were already interested in science. I tutor math for the college and I find that most girls think that math is useless and so is science, so they have no interest in it. It's "stupid to study something that won't lead to a profitable career" is generally the thoughts I gather from them. When I mention engineering they often retort that it doesn't interest them, or that it's so competitive that it's intimidating.

    *shrugs*
     
  24. Jul 8, 2013 #23

    ZapperZ

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    There certainly have been a lot of studies to investigate the progression of interests for girls in school. Many studies have noted that boys and girls perform equally well at the elementary level in both math and science. It is only later on, whether at the end of high school or during their undergraduate years, that girls seem to move away from physics and engineering.

    This is a study published last year on a world-wide survey of women in physics, and tells a very compelling picture of the struggle that women had to face in balancing between a career and family obligation.

    http://www.physicstoday.org/resource/1/phtoad/v65/i2/p47_s1?bypassSSO=1 [Broken]

    Since nurturing and taking care of a family often falls onto the shoulders of women, especially in developing countries, this is the extra burden of responsibility that many men often do not have. Men can often be gone for days to attend a conference or to conduct experiments at another location. However, women can't if they are the primary caretaker of a family, and might be culturally frowned upon if she does that. Such limitation often can stunt a career, especially in physics.

    I would also point out a very interesting, first-hand-experience paper published very recently of a female physicist doctoral experience, that essentially re-enforced what was said above.

    http://prst-per.aps.org/abstract/PRSTPER/v9/i1/e010115

    And if anyone needs any more example of women role-model, outside of the already-famous Lisa Randall, try Mildred Dresselhaus

    http://www.boston.com/news/globe/he...n_physicist_cited_for_her_research_mentoring/

    I would also add Lene Hau, Kathy Moler, and Deborah Jin to that list.

    Zz.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  25. Jul 8, 2013 #24

    HayleySarg

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  26. Jul 8, 2013 #25

    Monique

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    All the comments in this thread are based on speculation. As is your personal encounter with female science students, which you recognize are biased in their perception.

    March this year Nature had a special issue on the role of women in science. Just to back up my comment, read the following news feature :smile:

    Oh, and to add to that I found out I am also being underpaid compared to a male peer. For a grant application the hospital put me in a certain salary scale, I did not agree and actively pursued to be put in a higher scale. Now with the recent grant application I found out that a peer, who is three years behind the academic track from me (he just graduated) is going to get the same as my current salary that I negotiated. If I didn't negotiate he would have earned more, while I have three years of extra experience.

    I don't know how that's possible, should I confront the administrators why he's getting paid more? *stumped*
     
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2013
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