Why aren’t more girls going into science?

| 48 Comments

By Brianne Fagan.

This column by Brianne Fagan, a senior majoring in chemical engineering at the Colorado School of Mines, is a response to a recent New York Times column on women in science. It was prepared as part of a class on Explorations in Science, Technology, and Society. The class is co-taught by physics professor Lincoln Carr and Toni Lefton of the Liberal Arts and International Studies department. The course is offered through the McBride Honors Program.

During a class presentation about Kate Kirby, one of my peers brought up some statistics about girls in math and science while sharing her own motivations for pursing environmental engineering. During a related discussion, the two female Physics students both discussed their mostly positive experiences as women in the Physics Department at the Colorado School of Mines. The question always seems to remain, though: Why do so few girls pursue degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields?

Well, I was perusing the articles on my New York Times app this morning, and what did I find?

Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science?

So of course I read it! It’s a bit long, so I’ll give you my short take-aways:

1. There are very few mentors out there encouraging women to go into science.

2. There is still so much unconscious bias within the minds of both males and females towards their female science students.

3. Culturally we start teaching children that scientists look/act a certain way (think TV show The Big Bang Theory).

And here is a great quote to sum up the piece:

As so many studies have demonstrated, success in math and the hard sciences, far from being a matter of gender, is almost entirely dependent on culture - a culture that teaches girls math isn’t cool and no one will date them if they excel in physics; a culture in which professors rarely encourage their female students to continue on for advanced degrees; a culture in which success in graduate school is a matter of isolation, competition and ridiculously long hours in the lab; a culture in which female scientists are hired less frequently than men, earn less money and are allotted fewer resources.

I agree with a lot of the conclusions brought up by this article. Our society doesn’t operate in a way that encourages females to get involved in math or science. I don’t know if you’ve heard of the books by Danica McKellar that try to get girl involved with math. These enrage my stats major roommate; she is appalled that we have to sell math as “quizzes and boy drama” in order to get girls to like math. I have to agree. We don’t make math books into sports magazines to get boys to invest in math.

My seventh grade science teacher decided that teaching meant writing a transparency of notes that he put up and made us copy down every day. That doesn’t get any kid excited. I honestly don’t remember a damn thing we were supposed to learn that year (but I can recall 6th and 8th grade science well because my teachers were awesome!). My middle school students had a math teacher for algebra who was kind of mean. He was a good teacher, but his strategy involved teasing them a lot. I know that only some of us were thirteen year old girls once, but there is nothing worse than being picked on and teased when you feel like the biggest pile of awkward in the world (trust me, my lovely male friends, female puberty sucks).

I believe (warning, Teacher Brianne is coming out) that the key to getting all students more into math and science is to start encouraging them in their math and science classes from an early age. You need to preform experiments with the kids and you need to give them positive feedback when they’re doing well. We need teachers at every level of education that look at the students and think about what that person needs to succeed. For some that is a joking attitude and telling them all the things they need to do better, and for other this is a sympathetic attitude and telling them all the things they did well.

I feel fortunate that my math and science teachers were kind and encouraging to me. I wouldn’t be at Mines if I had someone constantly reminding me about how much I screwed up. I feel fortunate that although Mines is emotionally challenging a lot of the time, it’s not trying to discourage any one gender more than the other. I feel fortunate that I’ve had bosses in my technical internships that choose me based on my skills, and still respected me as a human being. I don’t think every corner of STEM fields is riddled with gender bias/discrimination, but I do know that a lot of those corners need some work.

48 Comments

“a culture in which professors rarely encourage their female students to continue on for advanced degrees”

I discourage ALL my students from getting advanced degrees. I point out that getting an MBA from anyplace other than a top name school is not value for money- this has been empirically demonstrated. I recognize an MBA isn’t STEM, but my point is an advanced degree does not necessarily translate into a good career. Get a masters in certain fields and all you are good for is being a lab technician.

I also tell ‘em that getting a PhD means knocking yourself out for a number of years (varies by country and discipline) to not get a job when you graduate. Then, when you get a job, you have to win the lottery (publish enough) or you’ll be fired in 6 years. I will contend this is true for the majority of PhDs. I do recognize some PhDs go into research labs or the like. For a woman, its worse, because things like getting pregnant can happen. And if you believe in the “your tenure clock will be delayed for one year” thing that some universities have, I have a bridge to sell you.

I guess what I object to in the article you are reporting about is whether women are discouraged by “social pressure” or whether they legitimately assess that going into certain occupations is high risk for low return and rationally steer away from those occupations.

There are useful, money making advanced degrees like a masters in computer science. But not all advanced degrees are worth the money, time, and effort from a financial perspective.

The reason women have not gone into the more intellectual subjects is because of motivation. not because of intellectual failure as many people would quietly suspect from things I’ve read or heard in my life. These subjects ask for interest in things either very demanding on personal interest or in a interest in high intellectual things as they are perceived. I don;’t think math is of the same status as ‘science “ subjects and is case in point of people intersted in a almost useless thing in its higher study. Save a few who get paid to do high math. I bet few high math achievers have dreams of using high math for their job. I’ve heard even high physics students never seek or get jobs in these subjects. Women are simply less motivated then men and its a unnatural recent femenist thing that has tried to create ambition in young women. The bible says women were to be helpmate wives to their husbands and I see this as almost in their DNA. The need for more attention in these obscure subjects just reveals this tendency. Women with ambition all want to be high paid shrinks. One is never wrong and always helping. Its just part of a spectrum that identity matters in who aims at certain subjects in the worl. Women no more want to do science then play drums, poker, or football. Its about motivation profoundly affected by identity. I bet most women in these subjects come from identites and families in these subjects.

By the way . Why be opposed to male prominence or dominance?? Who’s counting and deciding what is the right answer?? Why the thumbs down to boys? Why are people looking at identity and not the person/soul? If its fair and square why not even nurture the boys more? I don’t think women ever will equal men in subjects demanding lots of energy demanding motivation. I wish well for girls in anything but only from agreement to live with each other equally. In reality women should support their husbands ambitions and destiny and not their own unless both could be done at the same time. anyways creationist welcome and have excellent creationist women.

By the way Darwin insisted women were biologically intellectually inferior to men. He was wrong and would be surprised at womens contributions in modern science but evolutionists should point out Darwin was wrong. If they think he was of coarse.

I am one of the geezers who have lived through many of the changes that have brought more women into what have been traditionally male-dominated areas of work. I can recite some pretty horrific comments and that revealed some rather nasty attitudes that males had toward women in engineering, physics, and the various technical fields.

I have seen these things directly in academia, industry, and in the military. Given the barriers that have already been broken down, and seeing so many successful women now making up at least half of many of the formerly male-dominated professions, I would suggest that women have made remarkable progress. They are good students – better organized than males in high school – and they are better collaborators in areas that require multidisciplinary efforts. The female undergraduate and graduate students I mentored in industry were excellent.

Engineering has come around much faster; contrary to what I would have thought, from my experiences with engineers’ attitudes way back then, that it was the most hostile and least likely to admit women.

Unfortunately two of the areas I am very familiar with - physics and submarines - are still pretty much male-dominated. Although women now are crew members and captains of may surface vessels in the Navy, the first women officers are just now qualifying on submarines. Enlisted women will eventually be allowed, but this requires not only redesign of submarine facilities and berthing areas, it requires enormous changes in male attitudes.

The resistance to women on submarines is a little more understandable; although male submariner attitudes, especially among the old guys, are not.

Physics is a bit more puzzling.

I had the enormous good fortune to have had a dream job fall in my lap very late in my career. I was about to retire but had an opportunity to teach in a very selective program (ethnic and gender blind selection) at a math/science center for bright high school students. I did that for ten years and had a ball.

Some of my best students were the young women; and those are now PhDs at places like Cal Tech, the Perimeter Institute, and a number of other prestigious research facilities. They all had physics based degrees. These include a cosmologist; a planetary physicist studying extra solar planets, a biophysicist, and a Mars probe explorer. There was no question about their determination to go into physics at that early age. In fact, the father of one of the young women forbid her to go into physics and said she must enroll in engineering instead; which she did. But when she got to the university, she promptly switched into physics and was one of their top undergraduates. She went on for her PhD work in biophysics at Stanford.

However, of all the students at that math/science center that went into the sciences or engineering –male and female alike – most went into biology related fields such as medicine or biomedicine. The next larger group went into engineering. Physics and chemistry brought up the rear.

I have some insight as to why; and this came primarily from the female students. They, as a group, seemed to be savvier about where the interesting research and jobs were. They also already had more experience with biology because they started with biology earlier. All students were given access to outside mentors for research; and there were far more medical doctors as well as a pharmaceutical company that were willing to take on young students for research opportunities and mentorship.

We routinely placed a number of students each year with local physicists and engineers at a nearby university or with a number of local engineering corporations, including a major company that makes medical equipment; and that worked out well. Many students were able to become coauthors of research papers as a result; some having several publications before they graduated.

Overall, I suspect that the female students were already more aware of where the interesting developments in research were going to be taking place; and most saw that happening in the biology related areas. Physics often looks like too much of a long shot these days compared to other areas of science. The perception is that there are more opportunities for collaboration in other areas of science if one really wants to do science.

When students think of engineering, they don’t usually think of physics being just as good or better if they want to be able to adapt to rapidly changing technology and be able to cross disciplinary lines.

P.S.: Byers is a complete wacko. He knows nothing, as usual.

Women have so much going for them. In short: They are superior to men.

I believe the reason has much to do with evolution: the female gender is crucial not only for propagation but also for the survival of the species. Wasn’t that the reason Elaine Morgan called her first book “The Descent of Woman”?

The sexes are different but on many counts the women come out on top. Man’s contribution to a certain degree may make life a little easier but it seems women are quite capable on their own as well.

It is a pity so much of the world still view women mostly as breeders, housekeepers and a sex toy.

Josephine Cochran in America :)

Can we call them women in science instead of girls?

My perception (sans any real data) is that things have changed dramatically since I was in graduate school in the late 70s & early 80s. There were very few women in the biology program & many of those finished with a MS. Today the small program I teach in has above 50% female grad students.

[quote]a culture in which female scientists are hired less frequently than men, earn less money and are allotted fewer resources.[/quote]

Are there data to support these conclusions. Is a statistically significant smaller percentage of new Ph.D. women hired than new Ph.D. men? Does a beginning female Ph.D. earn less than a beginning male Ph.D. in comparable positions? Once hired, are women scientists allotted fewer resources?

Maybe. But I’d like to see the data.

My perception (sans any real data) is that things have changed dramatically since I was in graduate school in the late 70s & early 80s. There were very few women in the biology program & many of those finished with a MS. Today the small program I teach in has above 50% female grad students.

[quote]a culture in which female scientists are hired less frequently than men, earn less money and are allotted fewer resources.[/quote]

Are there data to support these conclusions. Is a statistically significant smaller percentage of new Ph.D. women hired than new Ph.D. men? Does a beginning female Ph.D. earn less than a beginning male Ph.D. in comparable positions? Once hired, are women scientists allotted fewer resources?

Maybe. But I’d like to see the data.

Sorry for the double post!

In the photo, is that Einstein in the middle of the front row?

Paul Burnett said:

In the photo, is that Einstein in the middle of the front row?

Yes, it is.

There’s a copy of the photo on the Wikipedia “Solvay Conference” page. If you stick the mouse cursor up someone’s nose, it’ll pop up their name.

Is that Madam Curie to Einsteins right?

Thanks to everyone for not responding to the Byers troll. I may be getting soft in the head, but I will let him have his 1 nonsensical comment. This time.

My research lab held a talk on this topic on 2010. The title was “Gender Roles in Science and Math; Balancing Work and Personal Life”. Unfortunately, I did not record the name of the speaker, but I did take notes. A couple of points jumped out at me:

1. Gender bias is present in women and men. That’s clear from the data. We cannot blame the gender difference on chauvinist men alone.

2. The STEM pipeline leaks. And it leaks faster for women than for men. As many girls as boys enter the STEM career track in middle school. Years and schools go by. By the PhD level, more women have left the track for various reasons.

If anyone can verify these points or provide citations, please comment.

About those submarines: Most science meetings and talks I attend here seem to have about as many women as men in attendance. Our Human Resources department keeps track of those numbers closely. But about 5 years ago I attended a conference in Los Angeles that was about the military applications of geosciences. There were a lot of defense contractors. It was a different world! The conference room had about 95 men and 5 women. Very strange.

I did not want to preface Ms. Fagan’s article with this thought, but I am frankly more concerned with the pay gap between men and women, and between fields that are seen as men’s fields and women’s fields. I frankly do not care as much whether women go into physics as whether women who enter teaching or social work are paid as much as engineers or electricians with similar educations and experience.

Interesting coincidence. My wife just sent me a link that led to this press release from the Weizmann Institute of Science (where I was once a Visiting Scientist):

REHOVOT, ISRAEL—March 3, 2013—In honor of International Women’s Day, the city of Barcelona will present the 27th Maria Aurèlia Capmany award on March 4 to the Weizmann Institute of Science for its commitment to advancing young women in science. …

The Weizmann Institute was chosen for its national program for advancing women in science, founded at the Institute in 2007 to address the need to increase the numbers of women who choose science as a career and the percentages of women in top academic faculty positions. The program is meant to help young women through the main bottleneck that prevents many of them from continuing on to academic science positions in Israel: the need to conduct postdoctoral research abroad in the world’s leading labs. By the time they have completed their PhDs, many women have spouses and young children, and the expense of moving the entire family abroad for several years can be prohibitive. To combat this problem, each year the Weizmann Institute gives special awards to 10 outstanding young women who have completed their doctorates in the natural or exact sciences in one of Israel’s academic institutions, and who have been accepted to postdoctoral positions abroad. These grants — $20,000 a year for two years — are given on top of the fellowships awarded by the host institutes or other sources, and are specifically intended to help the women bring their families along. …

To date, 64 young women have received these awards. Of these, 17 are now on the faculty of Israeli research institutes, two are in information-based industries, another two have accepted positions abroad, two have left the program, and the rest are still pursuing their postdoctoral training. In addition, since 2006, the Weizmann Institute has given biennial awards of $25,000 to women scientists of international stature. While this prize is given in recognition of groundbreaking achievements, its goal is also to encourage positive role models and provide inspiration for female students and young researchers.

On September 16, 2013, I listened to NPR’s “Fresh Air with Terry Gross” in which Terry interviewed Barnard President, Debora L. Spar about her book “Wonder Women.” Spar has some insights as to why women may have been expecting too much of themselves to want a career as well as a family.

One of the interesting facets of Spar’s career is that she always had some backup in the way of parents to help take care of children.

I don’t know how prevalent this issue is.

aehchua said:

“a culture in which professors rarely encourage their female students to continue on for advanced degrees”

I discourage ALL my students from getting advanced degrees. I point out that getting an MBA from anyplace other than a top name school is not value for money- this has been empirically demonstrated. I recognize an MBA isn’t STEM, but my point is an advanced degree does not necessarily translate into a good career. Get a masters in certain fields and all you are good for is being a lab technician.

I also tell ‘em that getting a PhD means knocking yourself out for a number of years (varies by country and discipline) to not get a job when you graduate. Then, when you get a job, you have to win the lottery (publish enough) or you’ll be fired in 6 years. I will contend this is true for the majority of PhDs. I do recognize some PhDs go into research labs or the like. For a woman, its worse, because things like getting pregnant can happen. And if you believe in the “your tenure clock will be delayed for one year” thing that some universities have, I have a bridge to sell you.

I guess what I object to in the article you are reporting about is whether women are discouraged by “social pressure” or whether they legitimately assess that going into certain occupations is high risk for low return and rationally steer away from those occupations.

There are useful, money making advanced degrees like a masters in computer science. But not all advanced degrees are worth the money, time, and effort from a financial perspective.

You sound bitter.

I tell earth science undergrads that they should not expect to find jobs in earth science. None the less, its a fascinating field to study. What every undergraduate in a technical field should do is make sure they get a solid background in mathematics and computer programming.

But to tell people they shouldn’t study what they find interesting is poor advice IMHO. Rather, they should be made to understand that they need to pick up marketable skills along the way.

As for myself I have a Ph.D. in Geophysics. Do I feel cheated? No, it was a thrill ride. I have worked as an EE (following my undergraduate degree in geophysics), and on Wall Street and for Uncle Sam.

Matt Young:

You should care that there are so few women going into STEM careers. While I’m not disputing your point that pay grades ought to be a lot fairer than they are now*, the fact remains that there is no good reason why there should be more men than women going into STEM. And if there is no good reason for something that is demonstrably occurring, then there must be bad reasons behind it.

*(Are the awful pay and conditions for STEM post-docs any worse than being a social worker or a teacher? I doubt it.)

You should care that there are so few women going into STEM careers. While I’m not disputing your point that pay grades ought to be a lot fairer than they are now*, the fact remains that there is no good reason why there should be more men than women going into STEM.

As a biological determinist (sort of), I can see no reason why boys cannot be more interested in the “hard” sciences and girls in psych, nursing, or social work. Thus, my main concern is with equal pay rather than numbers of women in science.

Postdocs (and grad students) are indeed voluntarily poor, but most people with science or engineering degrees never become postdocs (or grad students).

bigdakine said:

aehchua said:

“a culture in which professors rarely encourage their female students to continue on for advanced degrees”

I discourage ALL my students from getting advanced degrees. I point out that getting an MBA from anyplace other than a top name school is not value for money- this has been empirically demonstrated. I recognize an MBA isn’t STEM, but my point is an advanced degree does not necessarily translate into a good career. Get a masters in certain fields and all you are good for is being a lab technician.

I also tell ‘em that getting a PhD means knocking yourself out for a number of years (varies by country and discipline) to not get a job when you graduate. Then, when you get a job, you have to win the lottery (publish enough) or you’ll be fired in 6 years. I will contend this is true for the majority of PhDs. I do recognize some PhDs go into research labs or the like. For a woman, its worse, because things like getting pregnant can happen. And if you believe in the “your tenure clock will be delayed for one year” thing that some universities have, I have a bridge to sell you.

I guess what I object to in the article you are reporting about is whether women are discouraged by “social pressure” or whether they legitimately assess that going into certain occupations is high risk for low return and rationally steer away from those occupations.

There are useful, money making advanced degrees like a masters in computer science. But not all advanced degrees are worth the money, time, and effort from a financial perspective.

You sound bitter.

I tell earth science undergrads that they should not expect to find jobs in earth science. None the less, its a fascinating field to study. What every undergraduate in a technical field should do is make sure they get a solid background in mathematics and computer programming.

But to tell people they shouldn’t study what they find interesting is poor advice IMHO. Rather, they should be made to understand that they need to pick up marketable skills along the way.

As for myself I have a Ph.D. in Geophysics. Do I feel cheated? No, it was a thrill ride. I have worked as an EE (following my undergraduate degree in geophysics), and on Wall Street and for Uncle Sam.

I very strongly agree that people should study what they find interesting, especially at the undergraduate level.

I would, however, give similar counsel as aechua, to any American student considering a Masters or PhD program in biomedical science.

I would suggest that unless you are assured of working in a very elite lab and being supported by an established “celebrity” PI, which means unless you are coming out of a super-elite university, you should forget about it.

I was going to point out that one obvious reason that women don’t go into STEM degrees is because US society has been making a mockery of science as a career for the last thirty years or so.

I’m a nerd, but I did at least split the difference. I’m a pathologist (MD). Health care professionals are somewhat mocked by US society as well. I know off the top of my head of two non-profit academic hospitals with business education CEO’s who make over $5M per year. But the mockery is less when you make a decent living for your education level.

US post-docs in biomedical science are to an astounding degree international medical graduates. The proportion who are biding time waiting for a chance to get a residency slot is massive. Post-doc position ads blatantly make it clear that a technician, not a developing colleague, is desired. They ask for people familiar with certain techniques. They often don’t even mention the lab’s actual area of research. The system is used by international medical graduates to work their way into a medical practice in the US. I don’t blame them. In fact I have plenty of personal friends who did this. Hell, I’d probably do the same thing to get from China to the US myself. They don’t make the system.

It’s been like this for decades. Your chances of establishing yourself as a PI at a US research university are literally near zero. I’m not “bitter”. This doesn’t even affect me. It’s just reality.

Getting back to STEM - I’m not denying that engineers make pretty good money for someone with a bachelor’s degree. That’s also true of accountants, nurses, and clinical lab technologists of course. Pathology assistants make very similar salaries to the best paid engineers; the degree is more or less bachelor’s level. Of course, not everyone can handle “grossing” human body parts.

I’m also not denying that most people with a “management” degree don’t do very well.

However, that’s because of selection. The undergraduate business degree was, until the current recession, the logical choice of the most slothful, or of those who wanted to dedicate themselves to an occupation or passion other than academic but get a degree. Until recently it led to retail management jobs and similar things.

However, people who take the energy and talent it takes to get a STEM degree and apply it to corporate management make far more than they would if they applied it to electrical engineering. The engineers who make real money are the ones who jump to management and finance.

Of course it’s true that you have to learn programming to get a PhD in physics so some guy with a PhD in physics can probably get a job doing programming and make okay money. I’m sure trying to become an actual physics professor is akin to trying to become a biochemistry professor.

Basically, when we tell women to go into STEM degrees, we’re telling them to break down historic barriers and confront historic stereotypes, so that they can work harder, be treated less nicely, and make less money, than if they put the same energy into doing whatever undergraduate degree and an MBA or law degree. That may or may not be marginally less true since the onset of the recession, but it’s been true for many years.

I have not seen a woman STEM scientist going on about women in STEM. I see a lot of fluff journalists saying that other people should be women in STEM.

American society did not always have a corporate management class that made massively more money than anyone else. The existence of such is not a rational outcome of market capitalism, it’s the result of bizarre social engineering. The gilded age robber barons, whatever their ethics, built their own productive businesses. Rockefeller cared whether or not Standard Oil made money; he may have been a bastard but he didn’t have a golden parachute deal to manage someone else’s business, that made him too rich to care about the business except for ego reasons as soon as the ink dried, the way the modern executive aristocracy does. Hospitals once didn’t even have CEO’s. Once upon a time paying someone $6M per year for a job that may not need to exist, and could blazingly obviously be filled by an equally talented person if a twelfth as much were offered, would have been correctly perceived as irrational. Once upon a time, a typical corporate manager did not make more than a brain surgeon, professor jobs were plentiful, and a professor’s salary would buy a comfortable home and life in any city in America.

Those days are long gone, and asking women to butt their heads to pretend that they aren’t makes no sense.

I’m not bitter. I survived the process and have a steady academic job. I also am not a woman. But sadly, many (if not most) of my colleagues (including women) did not. I know many brilliant, but bitter people who were denied tenure. Why would a smart person want to bang their head against a wall for 4-6 years (getting a PhD), then get insulted for another 6 years (getting rejection letters), before being fired (denied tenure). It just boggles the mind what life we put junior academics through. In some universities, I swear the administrators use the HR revolving door as a fan, cause there are so many junior academics going in and out.

We’ve got this ridiculous pipeline where we recruit slaves (PhD students), use them (training them at the same time), and then send ‘em to the unemployment line or into careers they could have gotten without starving for so long.

I find this negativity about graduate school in STEM fields very frustrating! Some people (male and female) truly like science! We should be encouraged to continue studying and working in science!

Yes, we need practical advice about how to get where we’d like to be. Yes, it’s important to discuss employment probabilities. Yes, it’s important to encourage students to find ways to go to graduate school without taking out student loans. Yes, it’s important to encourage people to get potentially paying skills and certifications, including teacher certification. Do all that but also encourage interested students to pursue science!

I say this as a woman who decided in second grade that I would be a biologist and now, over five decades later, works as a professional biologist. Working toward my graduate degrees in minimally practical fields was very worthwhile to me as a person. And I’m now a partner in a tiny consulting firm that gets paid to do projects that I find fascinating (as well as relative boring projects – no job is perfect). True, I’m badly paid for a person with 14 years of post-high-school education, but I’m paid enough to survive and even pay for health insurance, and I do work I love. That is worth a lot! Surely, others will get the opportunity to do that too.

aehchua said:

I’m not bitter. I survived the process and have a steady academic job. I also am not a woman. But sadly, many (if not most) of my colleagues (including women) did not. I know many brilliant, but bitter people who were denied tenure. Why would a smart person want to bang their head against a wall for 4-6 years (getting a PhD), then get insulted for another 6 years (getting rejection letters), before being fired (denied tenure). It just boggles the mind what life we put junior academics through. In some universities, I swear the administrators use the HR revolving door as a fan, cause there are so many junior academics going in and out.

We’ve got this ridiculous pipeline where we recruit slaves (PhD students), use them (training them at the same time), and then send ‘em to the unemployment line or into careers they could have gotten without starving for so long.

This is part of the problem among many academics; they can’t imagine a rewarding career in their fields outside academia. Somehow, work outside a college or university is “degrading,” or insufficiently “pure,” or less prestigious.

Because of such attitudes I was hearing from those in the academic world, I was initially uneasy about not going into an academic position after my PhD; but I wasn’t interested in fulltime teaching at the time; only some occasional part time teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Now I consider myself to have been extremely lucky NOT to have taken a fulltime teaching position until very late in my career when I got a chance to work with some very bright and highly motivated high school students.

I got to work and publish in a number of different areas; and I was able to come up to speed and generate new ideas relatively quickly with each change. The net result was that I got a much broader perspective on both pure and applied research. Even the stuff that the military swooped in and classified, much to my dismay at the time, no longer bothers me. As far as I can tell, it is still classified and that is probably for the better.

I am now retired and finding that I can still branch out into new areas. Now I have lots of different hobbies and things I can do while some of the people I knew in academia are bored out of their minds in retirement. They got too narrow in their careers and didn’t branch out and learn completely different things.

So there are many advantages to getting out into private industry, government labs, as well as taking up and developing interests outside of science altogether.

There can’t possibly be enough positions for everyone in just academia. Only a small percentage will get academic jobs; but that in no way suggests that there aren’t rewarding careers outside of academia as well. Imagination and ability are valued outside academia as well. And some industries can be just as hellacious as academia is at times.

There were many memorable pieces of advice my father gave me; but two stand out now more than ever.

Once when I was worrying – unnecessarily as it turned out - about being too old after completing my PhD, my father asked, “How old will you be if you don’t complete your PhD?”

The other piece of advice was to never become a one-trick pony; expand your horizons and learn to do as many things as you can find time for. Life is short and you only go around once.

There is also evidence that broadening one’s interests keeps the mind sharp as one gets older.

Bobsie asked “Is that Madam Curie to Einsteins right?”

Yes, it is. Go to the Wikipedia “Solvay Conference” article - Planck, Bohr, Heisenberg, Pauli are there, along with other luminaries.

Mike Elzinga said:

Once when I was worrying – unnecessarily as it turned out - about being too old after completing my PhD, my father asked, “How old will you be if you don’t complete your PhD?”

I really like that quote. 10 years ago I was thinking about going back to school to make a big life and career change. Sadly I didn’t do it, probably the biggest hesitation was worrying along the lines of “this will take 4-5 years and I will be so old afterwards”. Well, I’m 10 years older now, a 5-6 younger me seems pretty young to me now…

Some thoughts re: many of the comments above:

I have a sister with PhD and postdoc this and that in biology, she doesn’t work in Academia, but she has a career which directly uses her PhD specialty.

It IS about equal pay for equal work/qualifications. In one of the studies in the article, they sent an identical resume to many research labs etc some as “John” and some as “Jenny”, not only were the male resumes more likely to be considered for hiring, they were also being offered more money than the offers for the female resume.

I think men and women should be encouraged to study what they are passionate about, especially if it’s science. Careers be damned!

Yes, corporate executive pay particularly in the US is absolutely disgusting.

aehchua said: I discourage ALL my students from getting advanced degrees. I point out that getting an MBA from anyplace other than a top name school is not value for money- this has been empirically demonstrated.

Its not just about earning potential, though. Some jobs you just won’t get accepted for unless you have the letters. Academic ones are the obvious example, but there are many many private sector jobs that will also have academic qualifications as a requirement.

“Should I get an advanced degree” is probably the wrong starting question for most people. “What do I want to do?” is much better. Then let that guide your choice of whether to get an advanced degree or not. If your dream job requires a Ph.D. in Hoopjumping, then go get that Ph.D. in Hoopjumping.

Yes, OtherJob might pay as well or better than DreamJob, and not have it’s degree requirements. That is something a student should definitely consider. But ultimately, if you don’t want to be doing OtherJob for the rest of your life, the fact that it pays a lot of money without requiring a Hoopjumping degree is somewhat irrelevant.

When one is talking about careers in science, one must be careful to have the facts at hand. Although we are overproducing graduates when matched against the job market in virtually every sub-area of STEM (taken as computer/information science; life and physical science; engineering and engr. tech; mathematics), we are underproducing in computer science by almost a factor of three.

And we have very low rates of women and minority participation in computing; we are in essence short by a factor of three in graduates but drawing nearly all our graduates from only 30% of the total population. I think we can all recognize the mathematical problem here.

And the pay is very, very good. Why aren’t more women going into computing? I don’t know. One reason, I think, is the undue assumption that computing is not science but rather has some resemblance to engineering. Since the numbers of women in engineering are lower than in science (even outside the life sciences), one might surmise there was a connection in the perception of computing.

There are lots of jobs in STEM. It’s just that three out of five are in computing, and yet that doesn’t seem to be appreciated.

There is another factor - beginning in the 1990s after the Berlin Wall came down - that contributed to the downturn in hiring of US graduates. The US government, in order to prevent former Soviet scientists from heading off to other countries with their knowledge of nuclear physics and other fields related to military defense, started clearing the way for these scientists to be hired immediately in the US.

There was such a large influx of well-qualified Soviet scientists at the time that they flooded the market for physicists, as well as other scientists, in the US for quite a few years after the fall of the Soviet Union.

The effect on the job market lead to a lot of US PhD theoretical physicists heading off to Wall Street and pulling down six figure starting salaries right out of graduate school. I knew a couple of such PhDs who told me that they had earned back their entire first year’s salary for the financial companies they worked for in the first three months of their employment.

Given the effect of some of the “mathematical tricks” with derivatives and other predictive models physicists generated, we got a lot of hubris in the financial markets that resulted in the meltdown in 2008. Maybe these guys (it was guys) should have been kept in physics research instead.

Matt Young said:

As a biological determinist (sort of), I can see no reason why boys cannot be more interested in the “hard” sciences and girls in psych, nursing, or social work. Thus, my main concern is with equal pay rather than numbers of women in science.

Matt, with due respect I disagree with your thinking here and I hope I’ve misread you. Firstly I agree that there *could* be biological reasons why women don’t go into STEM careers as often as men, but this is really no different to saying there *could* be genetic reasons why blacks don’t go to university as often as white/Asians. Yes it’s true that there *could* be biological differences that have an impact there, but IMHO it’s not a good idea to float it as a possible explanation when we know without a shadow of a doubt that there are powerful social and cultural factors that discriminate against women and black/Hispanic people. If you go asking women who have a career in science, you will find that most of them will report horrendous discrimination/putdowns/lack of access to career paths that lesser-credentialed males have been given. You can’t blame this on women being biologically less interested in STEM because even amongst women who are interested enough in STEM to pursue a career in it, they face significant career barriers.

And the flip side of your argument is no better. Women are more attracted to nursing, psych, etc., than men. We know this because of the numbers taking university places. But you’ve selected out the “soft” sciences unfairly. Medicine is as “hard” as subject as you can get, and currently most Western universities have 50% female medical students, sometimes slightly more. My experience from teaching medical students is that the women are just as intellectually good at and interested in the hard stuff like biochemistry, statistics, and pathology.

In the “softer” fields like nursing, it’s interesting to see that a lot of the positions of power such professors, union leaders, and so on are held by men in much greater proportion to their representation in the field. Here’s an interesting paper: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/art[…]/PMC3206719/ Even though men make up only 10% of the nursing workforce in the UK, they make up 30% of first authors on published papers. I just don’t buy the argument that men are 3x as good at science as women because of their biological superiority. Even if there is some biological component (for which I remind you there is not a shred of positive evidence), it will be tiny compared to the overwhelming force of cultural/social norms, and I can’t agree with brushing aside attempts to make women feel more comfortable pursuing STEM careers, especially if the argument refers to hidden biological variables as an explanation. I do agree with you on fair pay, though.

https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/[…]SbzI5vP9KHPE said:

I find this negativity about graduate school in STEM fields very frustrating! Some people (male and female) truly like science! We should be encouraged to continue studying and working in science!

Yes, we need practical advice about how to get where we’d like to be. Yes, it’s important to discuss employment probabilities. Yes, it’s important to encourage students to find ways to go to graduate school without taking out student loans. Yes, it’s important to encourage people to get potentially paying skills and certifications, including teacher certification. Do all that but also encourage interested students to pursue science!

I say this as a woman who decided in second grade that I would be a biologist and now, over five decades later, works as a professional biologist. Working toward my graduate degrees in minimally practical fields was very worthwhile to me as a person. And I’m now a partner in a tiny consulting firm that gets paid to do projects that I find fascinating (as well as relative boring projects – no job is perfect). True, I’m badly paid for a person with 14 years of post-high-school education, but I’m paid enough to survive and even pay for health insurance, and I do work I love. That is worth a lot! Surely, others will get the opportunity to do that too.

I’m not sure why you changed the subject, but you did.

The question being addressed was not “Should people who know they want a science career be discouraged from pursuing it?” Anyone would agree that the answer to that question is “No”. They certainly should be realistic about the odds of getting and keeping an actual tenure track faculty position. They should be aware that they will probably use some of their skills whatever they do, but may end up doing something quite different from their ideal area of pure research. They should be aware of the enormous advantage those with an elite background possess (either to be aware that they possess this advantage, or the opposite). They should be aware of other fields of endeavor, and the fact that something else may pay more. But no-one said that people who know they are committed should be talked out of STEM careers.

The quite different question was “Why aren’t more ‘girls’ (AKA women) going into science”. That is, why are they choosing other fields to begin with?

Chris Lawson said:

Matt Young said:

As a biological determinist (sort of), I can see no reason why boys cannot be more interested in the “hard” sciences and girls in psych, nursing, or social work. Thus, my main concern is with equal pay rather than numbers of women in science.

Matt, with due respect I disagree with your thinking here and I hope I’ve misread you. Firstly I agree that there *could* be biological reasons why women don’t go into STEM careers as often as men, but this is really no different to saying there *could* be genetic reasons why blacks don’t go to university as often as white/Asians. Yes it’s true that there *could* be biological differences that have an impact there, but IMHO it’s not a good idea to float it as a possible explanation when we know without a shadow of a doubt that there are powerful social and cultural factors that discriminate against women and black/Hispanic people. If you go asking women who have a career in science, you will find that most of them will report horrendous discrimination/putdowns/lack of access to career paths that lesser-credentialed males have been given. You can’t blame this on women being biologically less interested in STEM because even amongst women who are interested enough in STEM to pursue a career in it, they face significant career barriers.

And the flip side of your argument is no better. Women are more attracted to nursing, psych, etc., than men. We know this because of the numbers taking university places. But you’ve selected out the “soft” sciences unfairly. Medicine is as “hard” as subject as you can get, and currently most Western universities have 50% female medical students, sometimes slightly more. My experience from teaching medical students is that the women are just as intellectually good at and interested in the hard stuff like biochemistry, statistics, and pathology.

In the “softer” fields like nursing, it’s interesting to see that a lot of the positions of power such professors, union leaders, and so on are held by men in much greater proportion to their representation in the field. Here’s an interesting paper: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/art[…]/PMC3206719/ Even though men make up only 10% of the nursing workforce in the UK, they make up 30% of first authors on published papers. I just don’t buy the argument that men are 3x as good at science as women because of their biological superiority. Even if there is some biological component (for which I remind you there is not a shred of positive evidence), it will be tiny compared to the overwhelming force of cultural/social norms, and I can’t agree with brushing aside attempts to make women feel more comfortable pursuing STEM careers, especially if the argument refers to hidden biological variables as an explanation. I do agree with you on fair pay, though.

I’d like to emphasize a point that you allude to but don’t quite make outright.

In modern pre-civil rights era US society, people who were discriminated against were, in fact, given “niches” that were reserved for them. The problem is, obviously, that these “consolation prizes” were of low status and came as part of a system the denied full opportunity.

Certain types of jobs were once largely reserved for African-American men. Many others would have been happy to have some of those jobs. For example, during the depression, with millions of desperate unemployed men (and women), African-American men still dominated in certain jobs, like railway conductor and other “service” jobs, some of which earned a decent living. This does NOT at all argue against the extremely obvious fact of massive discrimination against African-Americans. But the discrimination system did include some concessions to the discriminated against.

Irish-Americans were once discriminated against but implicitly given priority by many police forces and fire departments (urban police forces outside of the south also often had a limited number of positions that were “reserved” for African-Americans, who made up a tiny proportion of the force and could not be highly promoted, but who were hired).

Women have been intensely discriminated against but also traditionally had certain “niche” occupations reserved largely for working educated women. Nursing, elementary school teaching, and office clerical work. The latter two were actually once male dominated, but women successfully competed for them.

Most of these unofficial “reservations” of jobs for a limited demographic have broken down, but the reservation of these three careers for women have not.

An irony of today’s economy is that, while legally required and legally tolerated discrimination no longer exist, unofficial discrimination and unofficial deprivation of educational opportunity run amok. Certain demographics of the population are literally far more likely to be in prison and far less likely to have decent paying jobs or own a home, than during the period of enforced discrimination. Ironically, the forces that oppose equal opportunity could not succeed by trying to defend blatant policies like segregation and overt discrimination, but have successfully used regressive economic policy, and coded allusions to discrimination and bigotry, to maintain and even worsen the status quo.

First, I think we should float as many plausible arguments as possible and then evaluate them. Second, I did not mean to single out the “soft” sciences vs. the “hard” sciences but rather to distinguish between professions that work with people vs. professions that work with things (yes, yes, oversimplification, but you get my point). Next, past discrimination against other groups does not necessarily undermine the argument that women (or young girls) do not in general prefer different subjects than men (or young boys); women are more different from men than Irish from earlier American immigrants. (Even A.S. Neill of the Summerhill School ultimately had to admit that girls in general chose different toys from boys.) Finally, I have noted that women are indeed discriminated against, but I am more concerned with pay discrimination; I do not care what field a woman chooses, as long as she is paid fairly.

The world needs talented people. The number of talented people should not be halved by invidious discrimination. Each of us is harmed by that, in addition to the harm done to the people who are not encouraged to develop their talent.

Matt Young said:

First, I think we should float as many plausible arguments as possible and then evaluate them.

Sure, but you should not treat different hypotheses equally when the evidence supporting them is not equal. This is not my area, but AIUI there is pretty good evdince of social discrimination, and essentially no evidence of a biologically-based preference. So when floating these two plausible arguments, you should weight the the likelihood of the social one much higher than the biological one.

You’ve got a signal here and you’re trying to determine the cause. Turning one knob definitely causes the signal to change. You can’t turn a second knob (yet) - you have no good data on what it does. Its plausible the second knob contributes, yes. But there is absolutely no good reason to think that the second knob is the controlling factor when you’ve got that first knob data staring you in the face.

Duncan Buell said:

When one is talking about careers in science, one must be careful to have the facts at hand. Although we are overproducing graduates when matched against the job market in virtually every sub-area of STEM (taken as computer/information science; life and physical science; engineering and engr. tech; mathematics), we are underproducing in computer science by almost a factor of three.

And we have very low rates of women and minority participation in computing; we are in essence short by a factor of three in graduates but drawing nearly all our graduates from only 30% of the total population. I think we can all recognize the mathematical problem here.

And the pay is very, very good. Why aren’t more women going into computing? I don’t know. One reason, I think, is the undue assumption that computing is not science but rather has some resemblance to engineering. Since the numbers of women in engineering are lower than in science (even outside the life sciences), one might surmise there was a connection in the perception of computing.

There are lots of jobs in STEM. It’s just that three out of five are in computing, and yet that doesn’t seem to be appreciated.

I’m middle aged, come from a low income background, but am culturally middle class and educated. My brother and I experience a huge disconnect between our experience and that of other culturally middle class people in our cohort. The experience of having parents who are not only comfortable and secure, but able to help adult children, is nearly universal among our culturally middle class friends. We are quite unique, among our associates, in having had to fend for ourselves, and in fact having had to help a poor parent, yet having achieved somewhat stable middle class status.

However, that’s changing for younger cohorts. The money saved up by baby boomers and WWII generation members is being entirely spent on a single generation of children lost in today’s economy. When Mom and Dad are very well off but not super-wealthy, and Junior is an unpaid intern, with mid-six figures educational debt, living in a thousands-per-month apartment in Brooklyn, waiting for an unlikely big break into a glamour career, that means that Junior Junior (and those babies are being born) will have an experience more like mine. Grandparent’s savings will have been spent on parents, and the grandchildren will have to make it to a greater degree on their own. And in some ways it will be tougher because education, health insurance, and housing in areas of economic opportunity are all relatively more expensive than they were when I was young. Younger people will have to worry about debt and “career”, because if you can’t pay for your own housing, and no-one else is paying for it either, we call that “being homeless”.

Therefore, let me note the Computer Science should be on my list of bachelor’s degrees that can get you a middle class job, along with nursing, accounting, most branches of engineering, and a number of health care technology jobs.

However, Comp Sci is not a golden ticket. Some jobs pay very well but the field is always changing and a lot can be outsourced to India. Jobs tend to demand very precise requirements. The initial screening of resumes tends to be done by human resources personnel who have no clue about programming, so if the job wants “five years experience with Python programming” and your resume says four years, it’s likely to go in the garbage can before an actual programmer can get a look at it.

But if you enjoy it, it is one of the undergraduate majors that can directly qualify you for a job.

When I did my undergraduate degree, I enjoyed the archaic programming language required for my biology degree, and considered doing comp sci as a minor. I decided, correctly at the time, that it didn’t really make sense. However, if I were in college today, I would definitely strongly consider a degree that combined biology with extra computer programming. It’s become a very useful skill to maintain.

On the other hand, I can remember being advised (by someone who will remain nameless) to hunt for ex-Soviet scientists instead of paying for local graduate students on the basis that the foreign scientists coming in on H1-B visas would be more than willing to work for very low wages that no American would accept. There may well have been some significant salaries, but there was also the strong incentive to defraud the visa system.

I have to disagree with harold. The students I teach do not go out into worlds that ask for narrow niche skills. They go out into a world that is desperate for talent, asks for niche skills, and settles for well-educated computer scientists who can rapidly retrain. Me? I have taught first semester computer science in seven different programming languages, and expect to be learning a new one before I retire.

One of the issues that has not been dealt with properly in computer science is the gap between the entry level jobs that stay entry level and the higher level jobs that lead to career advancement. In a world desperate for talent, the number of jobs at the low end sometimes dominates the statistics of what employers are looking for. If looking to satisfy this quarter’s requirements, then specific skills are needed. If looking to groom management for 5 to 10 years out, then a solid education is needed and the employers absolutely know this.

Duncan Buell said:

And the pay is very, very good. Why aren’t more women going into computing? I don’t know. One reason, I think, is the undue assumption that computing is not science but rather has some resemblance to engineering. Since the numbers of women in engineering are lower than in science (even outside the life sciences), one might surmise there was a connection in the perception of computing.

First of all, every computing job I’ve known over my 35 year career as an engineer, are engineering jobs. I can’t think of a pure science computing job that doesn’t require deep knowledge in some cutting edge field where you are developing the requirements for the program as well as the code itself. Other than that, the jobs are all “implement a spec”. This is what goes in, this is what comes out. You write the stuff in the middle. It can be almost indistinguishable from digital integrated circuit design. If you are talking about advancing the science of computing, good luck finding a job.

Second, what is wrong with being an engineer? There is a massive shortage in the U.S. It is very rare that we hire a native born engineer. Not because we can get foreigners cheaper, but because good ones are impossible to find. Fifty years ago, a bachelors degree was sufficient to be a good electrical engineer. I’ve even known trade school grads that learned on the job and became capable engineers. Now, if you want to design electronics, you need a Masters degree. To work in digital signal processing as a system engineer, a PhD is highly prized. Kids in this country today would rather play with their Xbox than do the work required to achieve this level of education.

Engineering is a good career.

I earned a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering with an emphasis on Computer Science. I like writing code - actually I have four years of work experience in Python, not five. ;-) With that interest, my job title has been Software Engineer all my career, rather than a hardware engineer.

The problem with being a computer programmer for decades is that one’s career tends to run out of steam at about the 20-year mark. As mentioned by others, there is a constant stream of new technologies and programming languages to learn, and this rapid rate of change tends to reduce the professional advantage I have over new graduates. And software development can get outsourced to India or somewhere else.

But I do love science, and since about second grade I have wanted to be a scientist (maybe even with a white lab coat). After bouncing from one start-up to another during the dot-bomb era about ten years ago, I tried hard and long and found a job with the scientific research lab where I am now. My employer paid for my tuition and 5 hours/week to go to graduate school. But - gosh! - it was going to take me five years to get a Master’s degree taking one class at a time. I’ll be 49 years old then! I was definitely motivated by the idea that in five years I’ll be 49 even if I don’t go to grad school.

I earned a Master’s degree in Atmospheric and Oceanic sciences. I am more valuable at my employer because I know about the science here. I get to conduct original research and publish peer-reviewed papers. When I shovel mud out of a flooded house, I observe the Hjulström relationship in the grain size. My career has been recharged, and so has my enthusiasm for work - I hope that the remaining time until I retire will be enough to complete all the research I intend to do.

Here is my advice for you, young woman or young man, considering a productive career in STEM:

  1. Learn to make computers do what you need them to do.
  2. If you take the Software Engineer track, consider going to graduate school at some point to learn the specifics of your application area. Be more than just a code jockey looking for the next gig.

There is a massive shortage in the U.S. It is very rare that we hire a native born engineer. Not because we can get foreigners cheaper, but because good ones are impossible to find.

Actually, it is probably both.

The US imports a very substantial proportion of its scientific and technical work force. About 20-25% of medical residency openings are filled by true international grads (not US citizens who went to medical school somewhere else), and virtually all of them stay here and practice.

While this describes many of my closest friends and I have nothing but respect for their contributions and drive, and while I think we should have some proportion of international graduates, they themselves sometimes note that this means that their own nation’s tax payers pay to educate US professionals, and that some otherwise qualified US students are denied entry into medical school, even though US medical school graduates are insufficient to fill a substantial proportion of residency slots.

International graduates are nearly always debt free.

In engineering, the plethora of international graduates, who are also typically debt free, has surely been a consideration for US students. Yes, engineering is a good career, but until recently, accounting, law, and corporate management careers have tended to be at least as good, and few international graduates compete in those areas.

Engineering programs in the US sometimes have a culture of negative reinforcement, to the point of encouraging dropout.

If there was a shortage of scientifically educated people in the US, the answer for the last several decades has been to import large numbers of such professionals rapidly.

These international graduates have a number of significant advantages. There is no reciprocity; they can come here for a job, but US graduates cannot move to the countries they came from for a job. The international graduates lack debt, which is a major factor. It would be naive to doubt that international graduates from the same region are prone to feel companionship with one another at hiring time.

Whether our implied policy in this regard was “right” or “wrong” I cannot say. To generate more internal science and technology graduates would have required a very substantial investment. The decades-long US-only trend of massive increase in corporate management salaries and power - at the expense not only of shareholders and general labor, but also, at least comparatively, of technical and engineering salaries - has also been a substantial confounding trend. After all, even if engineering pay has held steady, in 1960 the engineer was an almost equally paid professional colleague to the executive, while today, although engineers are decently paid compared to uneducated people, relative to executives, engineers who work as engineers are paid little, and also respected rather little. Scot Adams may be a jerk and a science denier, but everyone knows that “Dilbert” expresses reality to some degree.

So, to answer the original question, why aren’t women choosing STEM careers - these factors may play a role - 1) We load our own STEM graduates with world-record high student debt, but then demand that they compete with large numbers of debt-free international graduates; international graduates who have a freedom of movement that US graduates don’t share, and 2) We have spent decades making corporate management jobs pay massively more than actual STEM work; of course you can do a STEM degree and then try to be a corporate manager, but there is little reason to bother with the STEM degree for that goal.

I’m not saying that computer programming or engineering aren’t great jobs; they potentially are. I’m answering the original question - what forces might be keeping women out of them? Sexism, yes, but also other trends.

Duncan Buell said:

The students I teach do not go out into worlds that ask for narrow niche skills. They go out into a world that is desperate for talent, asks for niche skills, and settles for well-educated computer scientists who can rapidly retrain.

As a mechanical engineer with more than 10 years in the “heavy duty” automotive industry, I have to agree with this statement, too. My (fortune 350) company always seems to be short certain engineering skillsets. We often hire people who meet the general requirements, and then spend three to six months or more training the specific skillsets. Experienced Modeling and Simulation engineers (FEA, CFD, Adams, etc) and Materials Engineers seem in shortest supply.

My director and I discussed Women in STEM a few weeks ago, and I don’t see our comments mentioned here: women’s brains are physiologically different than men’s. It harkens back to when men were the hunters and women were the gatherers. As a result, women tend to make connections between concepts better, and men tend to be better with spacial concepts. Science Channel had a couple episodes last summer highlighting this (Brain Games, I think).

To answer Matt’s concern, at least where I work, HR sticks everyone into strictly defined pay grades, so women and men with the same title are paid approximately the same. I think this propensity exists all the way to the executive level (I’ll note the CEO apparently made less in 2012 than some of his subordinates).

As an aside, for anyone with a young daughter showing an interest in building things, I strongly suggest checking out a startup called GoldieBlox. My six-year-old, who is thus far following in her Dad’s footsteps, loves it.

MarckusB said:

Duncan Buell said:

The students I teach do not go out into worlds that ask for narrow niche skills. They go out into a world that is desperate for talent, asks for niche skills, and settles for well-educated computer scientists who can rapidly retrain.

As a mechanical engineer with more than 10 years in the “heavy duty” automotive industry, I have to agree with this statement, too. My (fortune 350) company always seems to be short certain engineering skillsets. We often hire people who meet the general requirements, and then spend three to six months or more training the specific skillsets. Experienced Modeling and Simulation engineers (FEA, CFD, Adams, etc) and Materials Engineers seem in shortest supply.

My director and I discussed Women in STEM a few weeks ago, and I don’t see our comments mentioned here: women’s brains are physiologically different than men’s. It harkens back to when men were the hunters and women were the gatherers. As a result, women tend to make connections between concepts better, and men tend to be better with spacial concepts. Science Channel had a couple episodes last summer highlighting this (Brain Games, I think).

To answer Matt’s concern, at least where I work, HR sticks everyone into strictly defined pay grades, so women and men with the same title are paid approximately the same. I think this propensity exists all the way to the executive level (I’ll note the CEO apparently made less in 2012 than some of his subordinates).

As an aside, for anyone with a young daughter showing an interest in building things, I strongly suggest checking out a startup called GoldieBlox. My six-year-old, who is thus far following in her Dad’s footsteps, loves it.

This thread seems to be dead.

I want to add that I do NOT agree that “women are bad at spatial reasoning” is a valid explanation for lack of women in engineering.

I offer the following points -

1) Other fields that involve spatial reasoning, as in the arts or medicine, do not lack women to the same degree. There are plenty of woman radiologists, for example.

2) Fields that might actually favor characteristics that are unequivocally more represented in males do not lack women. For example, in law enforcement, stereotypically male traits are encouraged (for better or for worse). Yet women are far more represented in law enforcement than in engineering.

3) It is controversial whether tests detect differences in spatial reasoning between men and women, let alone whether such differences are genetic and can be explained by simplistic, stereotyped conjecture about paleolithic lifestyles. To the extent that such differences may be valid, they are nowhere near significant enough to explain the extreme absence of women in engineering. The 5% of engineers with lowest testable spatial reasoning are not superior to almost all women on that metric.

4) Logically, this conjecture does not even address the situation. The situation is not that women sign up for engineering and then fail because they lack spatial reasoning. It is that they don’t sign up in the first place. (And the conjecture that they do not sign up because they know they would fail is also illogical - women attempt all kinds of other things that they fail at, and enthusiastically participate in all kinds of activities where they have a clear “biological disadvantage” - activities where muscle mass and height are important.)

I may be getting soft in the head, but I will let him have his 1 nonsensical comment. This time.

why?

there is no benefit in doing so. You really have to reach hard to contrive one.

why not just delete his posts automatically? eventually, he will get bored and go away.

seriously. NOBODY benefits from his posts, including Byers himself.

women’s brains are physiologically different than men’s. It harkens back to when men were the hunters and women were the gatherers.

absolute utter bullshit and comprised of nothing but armchair conjectures and cherry picking of specific histories by really poor evolutionary psychologists who haven’t published a decent paper in their entire lives.

there’s a reason nobody is discussing what you and your director discussed:

It’s nothing but hooey.

Science Channel had a couple episodes last summer highlighting this (Brain Games, I think).

this is why American science television is now failing. It used to be the case that scientists themselves contributed to things like this, and drove what you saw. Now, it’s just driven by people like Rupert Murdoch who decide for themselves what they think you should see.

I stopped watching when all the American “science” channels started having shows about investigating the “research” behind bigfoot and Nessie, or how the Egyptians and Mayans must have somehow been connected because “pyramids”!

yeah, you want to understand sexual dimorphism in human behavior and physiology? don’t fucking watch TV, go straight to the primary literature and research it yourself. no excuse not to any more, given that you can use something as simple as Google Scholar to track subjects from anywhere.

I just would like to start out by saying that it was really fascinating to see where this conversation went based on what I wrote for a class blog, so thank you.

I would like to bring the conversation back to the original topic; why are there so few females in STEM? There were some comments made about the biological differences between men and women. We can try to find the biology link all we want, but it comes down to psychology so much more than it ever comes down to biology. We are culturing our children to believe that women are good at some things and men are good at others. It’s a cultural problem.

We teach our children from the time that they are born about what gender they should be. We gender our children to think that “boys can’t cry” and girls must be nurturing. Boys are raised to be independent and assertive while girls are raised to be communal and passive. Science and math are taught to our elementary and middle school children as independent activities where the students must be somewhat assertive about their education. We’re teaching science and math to the people that think “like boys.” It’s taught to the children who like to learn and work more independently and who are more proactive with their learning. And we’re gendering our girls unintentionally to not be such independent thinkers and learners. The problem is that we’re teaching math and science to one type of thinker. Girls are getting bored with math and science as children because it’s not a community activity at all. This is a real shame because out in universities and industry, science and engineering is work done in conjunction with a lot of different people. There is collaboration, questioning, and teamwork abundant later in the career work, but absent from the early education.

I’ve been at Colorado School of Mines for almost three and a half years. I’ve seen the types of thinkers attracted to the school because so many of them are stand-alone thinkers, self-assertive in their educations, and competitive. The diversity of thinkers overall at the school is extremely low. I consider myself different because I think very globally about the work I want to do as a future chemical engineer. I don’t want to engineer something without collaboration and input from people, and I certainly don’t want to only interact with one kind of thinker.

The problem is the way we’re teaching our children math and science and how that one type of teaching lines up extremely closely with the cultured male persona we have also created. We have to change the way we teach it in order to get more girls involved. It’s not that girls are biologically less adept at math or science, it’s that culturally we’re telling them that they will fail, we teach contrary to the way they were hardwired to think/learn, and we write off the problem as “biology” rather than warped culture. I am a woman. I think in relation to others. I care about people’s feelings. I think engineering is fascinating and amazing. I know that the whole point of engineers is to make life for our society better.

So why do we discourage the thinkers who think communally when they can make those connections to people that are needed to complete an engineering design?

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This page contains a single entry by Matt Young published on October 6, 2013 7:22 PM.

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