A Blog about Career Changes, Madness, and My Awful Brain

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Women in science, dumb men.

I was sent a very interesting link by a friend of mine. In the article, a fellow named Philip Greenspun makes an interesting case as to why there aren't more women in science. Read it here:


Now, I'm not going to go into to much detail about the issue of women in science. To be honest, I'm not extremely well read on the subject, even though it is an issue that is important to a lot of my friends. The fact is, there are a lot of women graduating with science degrees from our universities (way over 50% in the biological science), but they are under-represented in academia and industry as senior scientists and PIs. As to his argument that it's because women are smart enough to stay out of those positions...well, I'll let you make your own mind about that. What interests me are his points about science as a career, and how well it goes with what I wrote in my last post. Specifically this:

"Pursuing science as a career seems so irrational that one wonders why any young American would do it. Yet we do find some young Americans starting out in the sciences and they are mostly men. When the Larry Summers story first broke, I wrote in my Weblog:
A lot more men than women choose to do seemingly irrational things such as become petty criminals, fly homebuilt helicopters, play video games, and keep tropical fish as pets (98 percent of the attendees at the American Cichlid Association convention that I last attended were male). Should we be surprised that it is mostly men who spend 10 years banging their heads against an equation-filled blackboard in hopes of landing a $35,000/year post-doc job?
Having been both a student and teacher at MIT, my personal explanation for men going into science is the following:
  1. young men strive to achieve high status among their peer group
  2. men tend to lack perspective and are unable to step back and ask the question "is this peer group worth impressing?"
Consider Albert Q. Mathnerd, a math undergrad at MIT ("Course 18" we call it). He works hard and beats his chest to demonstrate that he is the best math nerd at MIT. This is important to Albert because most of his friends are math majors and the rest of his friends are in wimpier departments, impressed that Albert has even taken on such demanding classes. Albert never reflects on the fact that the guy who was the best math undergrad at MIT 20 years ago is now an entry-level public school teacher in Nebraska, having failed to get tenure at a 2nd tier university. When Albert goes to graduate school to get his PhD, his choice will have the same logical foundation as John Hinckley's attempt to impress Jodie Foster by shooting Ronald Reagan.

It is the guys with the poorest social skills who are least likely to talk to adults and find out what the salary and working conditions are like in different occupations. It is mostly guys with rather poor social skills whom one meets in the university science halls."

Uh...wow. Okay, it's a little stronger than what I wrote, but it does make a lot of sense, even if it makes me feel like I've been kicked in the nuts. I really didn't do my research when I chose this career. And although I think it's unfair to continually castigate myself for the choices I made in the past, I wish that I had been a little more realistic about my chances of succeeding in a field where passion is a necessary criteria for success. More than that, however, I wish I had realized that even with talent and passion, success in science is still a crap shoot. Even the most successful scientists really lag behind when you consider where you would be if you "succeeded" in another career. What would 10 years of school get you in another career? I guess for some people, some minor advancement in some specific field IS a big success. Who knows?

Dan Evoman

No comments:

Post a Comment