Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ponderings of a PhD: Women in Science

Tomorrow, the publication Science, is hosting a live chat on the topic "Do female scientists get a raw deal?" check it out starting at 3PM EDT here.

The chat, focused on often hot topic of inequality of the genders in academia, features the author of a recent study carried out at Yale University. "Science Faculty's Subtle Gender Bias Favours Male Student" which was published in last month's PNAS. (PubMed ID 22988126) If you don't have access to the publication (like I do as a UofC student) let me give you a brief run down.

~120 faculty members from departments of Biology, Chemistry and Physics were given an application from an 'undergrad student' who was interested in a lab tech type position and hopefully eventual graduate studies. The trick was, the student did not exist, it was a complied CV Resume made for the purpose of the study, and it was submitted to half the faculty under the name John, and to half under the name Jane.

So here's were things get interesting, despite receiving applications identical in everything but a male vs female name, on average, the faculty members were more likely to hire the 'male student', thought them to be overall more competent and deserving of mentorship. Additionally, they were offered higher starting salaries.
 (Moss-Racusin CA, Dovidio JF, Brescoll VL, Graham MJ and Handelsman J (2012) PNAS)

The paper is a solid, and interesting read, I highly recommend, if you have access, and male or female you give it a read. But I have to say, this has me alarmed. As a female student, I really don't like the idea that there's a bias such that male students are more likely to receive mentorship than me. That means that I'm set back long before the choice to have kids, and take mat leave gets a shot at my career. (See what I've had to say about women in science in the past).

So check out the live chat tomorrow.... already there are some interesting comments happening in anticipation. Particularly one which suggests that part of the reason women have less success is because we aren't as good negotiators as men. This might be the fact in a somewhat related side note, I've been invited to the Young Women of Influence Evening Series next month, featuring:


Who will be talking on the topic of negotiating your career. I am thrilled to have been invited on a media pass to attend and blog about the event afterwards, and would recommend any other young ladies in the Calgary area who are interested to check out the event and consider attending.

So that's what I've been pondering today...have you ever felt held back by your gender? In science or otherwise? What do you think needs to change to avoid this in the future?


  1. Yay! I'm so glad that you are able to attend the event and will get to know these great ladies. You will love the WOI team! xx

    1. I'm for sure looking forward to it as well! Assuming I will see you there?

  2. haven't read the paper yet, but one thing to consider is I find that most women interested in science end up going to med school and becoming doctors. i find there are way less women in science than men simply because men like it more whereas women have other fields that interest them. so it's possible that these faculty members are aware of this as well (whether it's actually true or not) and choose to take a male student. Like your other post says, cream rises to the top. If this was a really good resume that made the hypothetical applicant seem like a star scientist then perhaps there would be no significant difference who gets hired and for how much. what do you think?

    1. Thanks for your comments, while it's true to some extent that women often actively pursue careers outside of academia first, it's still frustrating that within those of us choosing to try and stay, there is this natural underlying bias, based entirely on gender. But then, the study also found a bias towards providing more mentoring to male students... perhaps that in turn causes women to ditch academia? So maybe it just comes down to, now that I know this is the case, myself being more active in getting the mentorship, going after the opportunities I want?

  3. This is really interesting, I'm going to try and get a copy of the article to read.
    Although I also kind of don't' want to just because I'd like to one day get a phD in cell/molecular biology and don't really want to know about even more things I have against me going into this career path.

    1. I hope you decide to go after that PhD eventually! And don't let this hold you back, I think in knowing these biases exist, at least we as women now know we have to be more proactive in going after things like mentorship!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!


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