Not too long ago, I posted some poll questions in this internet group.
Replies were used to write a newsletter article for an organization called
Women in Neuroscience. The article is given below. Thanks to all who
responded, and special thanks to Dr. Judy Gibber, for her particularly
WOMEN IN SCIENCE: ADVANCEMENT THROUGH THE RANKS
As a scientist, we define success in our careers on many different levels.
Scientific achievement, excellent publications, and the respect of our
colleagues rank high among these definitions. More tangible signs of
(at least in academia) can, of course, include being appointed to a
tenure-track or tenured position. Unfortunately, obtaining these goals
can entail a long and difficult road. For women neuroscientists, these
roads may also be filled with additional obstacles. In order to better
understand the problems and attitudes that prevail for women in science,
an informal W.I.N. poll was posted at two Internet sites, namely the
W.I.N. email group, and another newsgroup called, "Women in Biology".
Thirty respondents (all female) answered specific
questions that were posed about their advancement through science. [Thanks
to all who responded!]
1a. How has childrearing/childcare decisions affected how you do
research? 1b. When do you feel it is the best time to have kids:
graduate school, post-doc years, tenure-track period, etc...
Out of those who answered this question (28 total), 50% actually had
children, whereas 33% did not (the remainder did not specify).
Interestingly, while the majority of those with kids had them in graduate
during their postdoctoral training, only 4 of this group said they felt
that having kids during either period was best. Instead, more of the
respondents with kids said that there was simply no good time to have
children. Age was the main determinant for childbearing decisions to only
3 of the respondents. Of the 10 people who did not have children, 5 did
not have children as a conscious decision. Not surprisingly, most of the
respondents with kids indicated that the greatest effect of having
children was to improve their organizational and planning skills in
research. Several women also said that in order to accommodate their
childcare/research schedules, they would skip lunches and work rotating
schedules with their spouses (e.g. Wed-Sun. work week). Only 3 women said
that they felt having children made it harder to compete in research or
resulted in fewer publications.
2. Do you still encourage young individuals to major in science given the
present low employment marketability of today's scientists?
Out of the 28 people who answered this questioned, no one responded with a
negative answer. Instead, 18 said that they would whole-heartedly
encourage individuals to go into science, although many with the caveat
the student "really love science". An additional 10 scientists said they
would also be encouraging but not without adding a cautious warning about
preparing for career alternatives other than those in academia.
3. Have you felt that you were not being taken seriously by your
graduate/postdoc mentor/boss because of your gender? How did you handle
Out of the 30 who responded, 53% said they felt that they were not taken
seriously because of their gender, at some point in their career. Often it
was felt, that this occurred when the respondent was pregnant, or with
young children ("Maternal duties do not engender respect from chairmen.").
In other cases, the lack of seriousness was due to the imbalance of the
pay scale between genders. When presented with this situation, the
majority of those who responded to this question stated that they either
ignored it, and/or, went out of their way to act confidently, competently,
and assertively. In contrast, 43% of the people said that they always
felt as if they were taken seriously. One person put it best by saying,
"People took me as seriously as I took myself". The
remaining respondents said that this was not applicable because they had
4. Do you feel that your gender has ever gotten in the way of getting
hired for faculty positions? If so, how did you know?
Out of the 23 who responded to this question, 8 said that they felt that
being women got in the way of obtaining a faculty position. The reason(s)
for feeling that gender bias was present included the type of questions
asked during interviews, as well as not getting the job when (in the
opinion of the respondent) they
were the better candidate. Just as many people (9) stated that they did
not feel any gender bias during this process. In fact, 2 stated that
being women could be advantageous (as an under-represented group).
5. If you are a woman scientist, do you feel that you are less
self-confident in science than your male counterparts? Did you feel this
influence as a young student?
50% of the women who responded said they felt less confident than
their male counterparts. An additional 27% said that theylacked
self-confidence but because of non-gender related reasons (e.g.
inexperience, youth). Several women said that they experienced the
"imposter syndrome". As one stated, "In general, women have to tune out
lots of cultural messages that question
their worth--this is not unique to women in science." Only 23% said that
they did not lack self-confidence.
These results suggest that while the days of overt gender bias experienced
by Lise Meitner, Rosalind Franklin, and others are over, there are still
subtle (and sometimes, not so subtle) signs of gender discrimination.
Fortunately, it appears that most women neuroscientists are better
informed and aware of these potential difficulties and, with the help of
colleagues, family and their own inner strengths, can work to combat these