Tonight! ‘Net Radio: Me and Eileen Pollack on “Why Are There Still So Few Women In Science”

That’d be my regular monthly gig co-hosting Virtually Speaking Science, tonight, Wednesday March 12, 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT.

Eileen Pollack is now a professor at the University of Michigan, teaching in the creative writing M.F.A. program there.  She’s a celebrated novelist and writer of short fiction, essays, and what is called (alas, in my view — and not her fault) “creative” nonfiction.  You can get hold of her works here.  All in all, hers is an enormously impressive record of a life in letters, of worlds made in words.

Eileen Pollack in 1978 was someone quite different (weren’t we all…) That spring, she graduated from Yale with highest honors in physics — only the second woman in the history of the university to complete that major.  What happened to take someone who was, on the accolades, one of Yale’s most accomplished undergraduate physicists, and turn her to a radically different path?

Pollack answered that question and raised another one in her New York Times Magazine article “Why Are There Still So Few Women In Science?” published last October.  In her case, no one told her she might have a shot at a career in math or physics.  So, as conditioned by her context’s views on female capacity and the maleness of science as any of the male professors who never thought to encourage her, she gave up the joy she found in equations and the ideas they expressed, and moved on.

So far hers is a sorrowful but not unfamiliar story.  The history of barriers to entry in science is a miserable one, but not unknown.  But Pollack’s curiosity — and more — flared in 2005, when then Harvard president Larry Summers mused about a possible biological deficit — at least when it comes to the extremes of mathematical capacity — might explain why men so outnumber women in the physical sciences.  Pollack is gentle with Summers himself, whom she’s known for decades , but the controversy created a need to know the answer to the underlying issue.  It’s a fact that there are many more men than women hold positions in the upper echelons of scientific research.  But why?

Joseph_Wright_of_Derby_-_Experiment_with_the_Air_Pump_-_WGA25892

Pollack’s article, and the book that will emerge from her enquiry, engage that question, and the explanations she’s coming to are at once depressingly reminiscent of her own story, and extend them, to account for the persistence of cultural and social bias even when (a) formal discrimination is prohibited by law and (b) members of a community — like physics departments — pride themselves on their ability to separate emotion and unconscious impulses from the exercise of reason.

In other words:  being smart is no protection against hidden biases, or even against accepting the evidence of bias when rigorously documented…and the revolution isn’t won yet, not by a long shot.

Pollack and I will be talking about all that, the whys the wherefores, and some thought as to what it will take to turn formal commitments to gender equity (and by extension, equity for the whole host of relevant modifiers) into actual practice, the simple fabric of society.

Join us!  Live or later here.  Or, if you are virtually real, at the Exploratorium’s Second Life joint — 6 p.m. this evening, March 12, 2014.

Image:  Joseph Wright of Derby, Experiment with the Air Pumpc. 1768

63 replies
  1. 1
    Crusty Dem says:

    A better question, based upon my 20 years in the field, is “Why is ANYBODY in science?”

    Seriously, don’t do it.

  2. 2
    Cassidy says:

    After having seen youtube videos of you presenting, you’re classing the joint up too much.

  3. 3
    Belafon says:

    @Crusty Dem: Because, very much like teaching, someone has to do it. If not, we’re left with those Christians that want to make the world 6K years old.

  4. 4
    Joel says:

    The sciences are overwhelmingly old, white, and male. Demographically, a GOP dream.

  5. 5
    Joel says:

    @Crusty Dem: The joy of findings things out?

  6. 6
    Crusty Dem says:

    @Joel:

    Profound ignorance alert. Today’s science is young and Asian.

    The level of fraud is consistent with today’s GOP.

  7. 7
    Jerzy Russian says:

    @Crusty Dem: I think science is cool. It clearly is not for everyone.

  8. 8
    PurpleGirl says:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06......html?_r=0

    Rosalyn S. Yalow landed in medical physics after earning her Ph.D. in physics and first having jobs as a secretary, etc. (I know her son from science fiction fandom.) She shared a Nobel Prize for her work in radioimmunoassay.

    ETA: In high school I liked my science classes and in college began as a chemistry major. Unfortunately, I was not so good with mathematics and I dropped the chemistry major. (But I tried it!) The thing is, I read a lot and exposed myself to science history and found I liked it. That led to trying science classes in school. I liked mixing chemicals.

  9. 9
    Linnaeus says:

    Gotta say that what Pollack has gone on to do isn’t exactly a mere consolation prize.

    ETA: Which, of course, doesn’t mean that options should be closed off due to pernicious biases.

  10. 10
    Warren Terra says:

    This is something that I, as a man in the biological sciences, care deeply about (we in Biology are a lot better than Math, Physics, or Chemistry, but despite parity or even more women than men starting in biology, when you look at the more established levels women become rarer – I think this is true even for junior faculty, and more so higher up). I, and everyone I know, not only try to be fair but make a special effort to encourage people we worry might be receiving discouragement elsewhere. One of my pet peeves is trying to figure out how to encourage women trained in their youth to be quiet and retiring in nature that they need to be assertive; it amazes me that in this day and age so many brilliant people think it’s rude or inappropriate to speak up, to stand out in a crowd, to disagree with their peers or their seniors, to admit ignorance or confusion, or to insist on receiving the credit they deserve – even as so many men do too much of some of those things, or do them inappropriately. So, I hope your conversation goes well – and, remember, that even beyond the issues of gender there may be issues of gender identity and there are simply enormous issues of race. I honestly think we’re trying pretty hard with members of under-represented groups by the time they start their professional training, but for some of these categories (and I’m thinking in particular of Blacks and Latinos), there are for a variety of reasons just vanishingly few people even starting on that road – a huge part of the problem is earlier, and the problems that reduce the number who try to enter the sciences continue to affect those people who do try aftre they have started.

    One word of warning on this very important issue of the under-representation of women in science: there are a couple of rather famous people who have made this issue a central focus of their lives. Although I admire their passion and they have done some excellent work, I’ve also seen some really depressing, even reprehensible stereotyping and assuming of conclusions by these people. Naming for the moment no names, these are people who deserve respect and must be listened to, but perhaps more so when they are talking about generalities than about specific cases.

  11. 11
    Corner Stone says:

    @PurpleGirl:

    The thing is, I…exposed myself…and found I liked it.

    Hmmm, do tell.

    Sorry, but I simply could *not* help myself there.

  12. 12
    planetjanet says:

    I am a bit stunned by the statement that Pollack was the second woman to graduate from Yale in physics in 1978. That needs to sink in a little bit. I was just starting my studies in physics that year. I didn’t consider it strange that I was the only woman in the department – it was a small department. Notably, I was recruited by my professors to major in physics. I just always enjoyed science. I will have to catch the show on podcast later. Thanks.

  13. 13
    Crusty Dem says:

    @Jerzy Russian:

    I think science is AWESOME. I think a career in science is horrible. I think most scientists (at research Universities) are pathological, sociopathic, narcissistic monsters. And I think today’s situation (funding, tenure, rarity, etc) very nearly requires that for success, since being a decent person and getting impressionable, brilliant young people to work for you 100+ hrs/wk are two traits that cannot coexist.

  14. 14
    PurpleGirl says:

    @Corner Stone: I understand.

    Actually, it began with reading Isaac Asimov’s SF and then reading his non-fiction books on science. I kept getting books from the library on science history and philosophy/thought and then took as many science classes in school as I could.

  15. 15
    wormtown says:

    It seems that women are almost at parity in medicine (med school); and it sure seems like they are now the majority in Vet school. So, it might be interesting to look into that dynamic. I think percentage of some minorities in science is worse than women.

  16. 16

    I blame my PhD thesis adviser, the nastiest bitch who ever lived.

  17. 17
    Joel says:

    @Crusty Dem: I’ll go alert my department’s faculty. They’ll be surprised!

    As Warren Terra pointed out, the disparity grows the higher up the ranks you climb.

  18. 18
    Stella B. says:

    @Joel: A Pew poll in 2009 or 2010 had PhD scientists self-identifying as Democrats at 55% and as Republicans at 6%. Those are my kind of old, white guys (and young Asian guys). My husband is definitely on the good team.

    As an engineer turned physician, I have to say that the higher number of women in my second career is a lot more comfortable. I was stunned on my first day of medical school to see so many women in one room. Engineering was much more creative, but medicine has been much more collegial. I don’t know if that is a generational change or growth on my part or both.

  19. 19
    Jerzy Russian says:

    @Crusty Dem:

    I think most scientists (at research Universities) are pathological, sociopathic, narcissistic monsters. And I think today’s situation (funding, tenure, rarity, etc) very nearly requires that for success, since being a decent person and getting impressionable, brilliant young people to work for you 100+ hrs/wk are two traits that cannot coexist.

    That has not been my experience at all. For example, I don’t consider myself to be narcissistic. There are wide variations within different fields and departments, but I don’t think the fraction of assholes among the scientists I know (I personally know hundreds) isn’t any higher than the general population.

  20. 20
    Stella B. says:

    @wormtown: women have been a majority in med schools for quite a while now.

  21. 21
    Joel says:

    @Stella B.: I know, my statement was in jest. I’m in the field.

    But it is amazing how often faculty searches actively seek out women and minority candidates and then interview none of them. There’s something to be said about acting on your principles.

    Following up on your next point; women are the majority in graduate schools, too (at least for NIH disciplines).

  22. 22
    Crusty Dem says:

    @Joel:

    Obviously just my experience at 4 different top 20 departments at major research universities…

  23. 23
    shelly says:

    I remember being so upset at that painting when I was a child.

  24. 24
    Joel says:

    @Crusty Dem: Look man, I’m not going to shit on your experience, but these departments look pretty white to me.

  25. 25
    JoyfulA says:

    What year did Yale begin admitting female undergrads? There hadn’t been enough years for lots of previous grads in anything.

  26. 26
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Warren Terra:

    I think at least part of the problem is with academia itself and how it’s structured, not specifically with science departments. I think I said before that I knew a woman working on an advanced degree in linguistics at UCLA who was flatly told that she was never going to get onto a tenure track because she had a child. This was in the late 1990s, so not exactly in the bad old days.

  27. 27
    Anoniminous says:

    Outright sexism – not allowing girls to take science courses – is a big reason. Passive sexism – “girls don’t do that” – is another. If these basic courses are not taken it’s hard-to-impossible to catch-up at the university level

    Until sexism is addressed anything else is fiddle-faddle.

  28. 28
    greennotGreen says:

    @Crusty Dem:

    I think most scientists (at research Universities) are pathological, sociopathic, narcissistic monsters.

    I’ve worked in biomedical research at my university for nearly 26 years, and I have not generally found that to be the case. Of course, we are known for a more collegial atmosphere than some other universities (*cough* Duke *cough*.) Yes, there are some assholes, and they’re protected by the university as long as they’re also brilliant and bring in the grant dollars. I don’t think that’s appropriate because for every brilliant asshole, there’s another brilliant person who’s decent. But I’m not on the Board, so I don’t get to make the decisions.

    Nevertheless, a career in science has been good to me. But I’m just a lab manager who doesn’t write grants.

    BTW, the sequester sucks. Starving science while protecting the super rich is incredibly short-sighted.

  29. 29
    Crusty Dem says:

    @Jerzy Russian:

    I’m seriously quite happy for you, and a little jealous that my experience is so different. I would love to tell detailed stories, but don’t really want to risk outting myself. Suffice to say, I’ve worked for and with PIs who demand 100+ hr weeks, post signs in the lab telling people they aren’t allowed to talk with other people until____, damaged equipment of workers who weren’t in the lab when they were, falsified grants, benefited from fraud in their lab and fired those who even acknowledged it, threatened foreign employees with deportation, lied to thesis committees to keep students from graduating, held up papers of competing labs for years to take advantage of insider knowledge or slow progress, sexual harassment, etc etc etc. Good times!!

  30. 30
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    “Math is hard”

  31. 31

    @Villago Delenda Est: Are you saying that women can’t do math?

  32. 32
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Joel:

    The problem the GOP faces is that science is often in direct opposition to other Rethug memes, in particular those of the fundigelical morans.

  33. 33
  34. 34
    WereBear says:

    @greennotGreen: BTW, the sequester sucks. Starving science while protecting the super rich is incredibly short-sighted.

    Yes. We really could get along without the super rich.

  35. 35
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: All I know about women is what Barbie tells me.

    “Math is hard!”

    Of course, this maxim applies to guys like Paul Ryan too…but then again, he’s a Ken Doll, so it fits…

  36. 36
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @WereBear: Ada Lovelace was more than that. Heck, a computer language is named after her!

  37. 37
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @WereBear: We can get along without the super rich pretty much the same way we could get along without smallpox.

  38. 38
    greennotGreen says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: It would be different if the super rich had super goals…like Bill and Melinda Gates. “We have a lot of money; let’s wipe out polio in the entire world!” That’s quite different from the Kochs – “We have a lot of money; let’s buy a political party and subvert the US government so we can make more money!”

    All in all, yeah, we can do without the super rich.

  39. 39
    Crusty Dem says:

    @Crusty Dem:

    PS – and yes, I am super-fun at parties…

  40. 40
    sparrow says:

    @Joel: Scientists, at least American ones, in my experience, tend to be reliably center-left, with a streak of super-leftists and a thin crust of clueless libertarians. Engineering is an entirely different story with practically inverted numbers (and a much higher number of clueless libertarians).

    As to why anyone should do science, well, some of us are just driven to explore and find out. And we’re obviously willing to sacrifice a lot to be one of those few people who get to do this amazing thing called science. Last year I wrote a proposal to Hubble which was accepted. I can tell you that all the late nights were worth it the moment I got that email. It’s true I can make more money working for a company. But I don’t care about money as long as I have enough, and I do. Day to day, I define my own tasks. I think about some of the biggest questions we have as humans (what IS going on in the universe, after all?). I work from home in my pajamas. I give talks in which Nobel Laureates are in attendance, and vice versa. I work with incredibly smart people. It’s so much more than just money.

  41. 41

    @Warren Terra:

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with the roots of the problem beginning much, much earlier. I not only faced gender barriers but also socioeconomic ones as well. Ironically enough, two women who could have taken me under their wing in the 8th grade and really helped me achieve some great things were the very people that ended up discouraging me. It affected me for many, many years–something I didn’t realize until years later. Now I work in IT, a very male dominated field. How many female computer programmers do you know? Before that I worked in Law Enforcement another male dominated field. Before that I was a hairs breadth away from going into the military (first the Naval Academy and then Army ROTC in college). So I’ve always been more attracted to fields that are male dominated and I have found I’m more likely to think like a male (and even sometimes converse like men do) BUT I’m always conscious of when I do it and it makes me profoundly uncomfortable because it seems no matter what I do, it will be deemed wrong by someone.

  42. 42
    sparrow says:

    I should also add, that I’m really pissed about the President’s latest budget, which pointlessly cuts astronomy research. They save a few million dollars, which are tiny drops in the bucket, while potentially crippling our ability to continue operations and support the pipeline of young scientists without tenure (who rely on grants).

    I’m convinced that Obama does not value basic research, which is a rookie mistake, if you ask me. Very disappointing. If any of you front-pagers are interested, I’d be willing to write a post on it.

  43. 43
    Tyro says:

    Women enroll at high rates in medicine, veterinary schools, nursing, and physical therapy. That is because the job opportunities are very good.

    But lots of women are entering PhD programs in the biological sciences, where job opportunities are poor.

    Lots of this is like, “why aren’t more [group] becoming lawyers/architects?” Ultimately, who cares? The jobs suck and we have more than we can already handle.

  44. 44
    Joel says:

    @sparrow: I would be interested.

  45. 45
    CarolM says:

    @Warren Terra:
    I just wanted to agree with much of your comment. I am a woman PhD chemist currently working at a non-profit medical research institution which employs a mix of both professional scientists and Post-Doc and graduate students. A few of us started a grass-roots institutional women in science initiative to address certain common observations we had. For example, we noticed that in large scientific meetings, men were many times more likely to speak up or ask a question than women. In addition, the questions that were asked by women tended to be carefully focused and very rarely were used to express an opinion or view point. I really appreciated your sharing your observations that support this point, I know this is something that must be seen throughout the scientific community.
    We have received considerable support for our initiative from our Institute’s senior leadership and are moving forward with programs designed to assist women (and men) at our Institute in professional development, specifically addressing topics that have in the past affected women more than men (including the socialization to be more quiet and modest) We are also sponsoring programs to educate the entire community on topics such as understanding internal bias.
    I am hoping that as we in the scientific community continue this conversation, we can see steady and permanent change toward the equal representation of the genders throughout all scientific disciplines and levels.

  46. 46
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @greennotGreen:

    For every Bill and Melinda Gates, there are a hundred Koch Brothers and Pete Petersons.

    Which is the main reason why we don’t need the super rich.

  47. 47
    Someguy says:

    @Joel: The sciences are overwhelmingly old, white, and male. Demographically, a GOP dream.

    Yeah, basically, that’s right. The sciences are filled with people whom, if not entirely right wing f~cktards at least share most of the biases and prejudices of full on right wing f~cktards. Of course there’s not many women in the sciences, not many minorities either. What do you expect a bunch of old white men to do… just give up control of the career field to The Other?

  48. 48
    Tyro says:

    @Someguy: cripes, no. Scientists want the government to spend lots of money on research and education and make nowhere near enough money for tax cuts to be relevant to them. Also, faculty are generally unionized.

  49. 49
    Cassidy says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: I’m no Ken doll…I have genitalia. Math is still hard.

  50. 50
    sparrow says:

    @Someguy: As a woman in the sciences, I have to say your view of things is really pretty wrong.

    There are creeps out there, especially as you get to the 60+ age group, but they’re rapidly retiring.

    There’s been quite a bit of research on this, and the upshot is that the vast majority of established scientists are not *consciously* racist or sexist. However there are these persnickity things called “schemas” that basically amount to unconscious bias. Funny enough, these schemas can be held by women, or minorities as well. And they are still pretty damaging, no doubt. But we’re pretty well out of the phase where evil white dudes sit in their ivory towers and refuse to let the ladies or minorities join in.

  51. 51

    @CarolM:

    I really noticed the difference in gender communication styles in college. Since I was taking male dominated classes (major was criminal justice) I was one of the rare females and if I didn’t interrupt or didn’t state my argument forcefully enough, I never would have gotten a word in edgewise. It still, to this day, makes me uncomfortable to communicate this way. Now I work in a small office with 5 men and they are constantly talking over one another and interrupting. And if they disagree they get louder and louder. Sometimes it really gets on my nerves. But I try to keep that irritation to myself. Because all too often, I have to be what I feel is pretty obnoxious to be heard.

  52. 52
    Jerzy Russian says:

    @sparrow: Way to go on the Hubble proposal! The oversubscription rate is consistently around 10 to 1, so the proposals have to be top-notch to get through.

    I would also be interested in hearing your views on the latest budget for astronomy/astrophysics.

  53. 53
    Someguy says:

    @sparrow: That was kind of what I was getting at but I hadn’t really considered the lack of intersectionality of women and minorities in the sciences. Still, until affirmative action is taken to wipe out the unassumed privilege and unconscious biases of white men in the sciences, they will remain pretty much lilly white (okay, and Asian too) and male gendered in every significant respect.

  54. 54
    CarolM says:

    @Ms. D. Ranged in AZ:
    It’s great to hear your experience, I’m impressed with your ability to communicate successfully in a way that is against your nature. I am trying to learn how to speak up, but it doesn’t come easy. I get so tired of being completely rolled over in meetings! I have a great mentor, and that has made a big difference.

  55. 55
    Tyro says:

    Take the top 10 lucrative jobs in America. Ask why more women aren’t entering those professions. Don’t ask about the other jobs because they don’t solve problems related to women’s empowerment/opportunity.

    I don’t really care why there aren’t more women postdocs or lab technicians. If they have the misfortune of choosing to go that route, I will be more than happy to discourage them from doing so.

  56. 56
    Joel says:

    @Tyro: There are plenty of women postdocs. There aren’t enough female faculty. That’s the problem right there, cleanly illustrated.

  57. 57
    Tyro says:

    @Joel: but those are all women “going into science.” There are a small number of faculty positions available compared to the number of people competing for such positions. And even when you get a faculty position, the payoff isn’t that great. And as the numbers show, if you give women the opportunity to get more lucrative or more stable jobs as patent lawyers, physicians, dentists, or nurse practitioners, they will enter those fields in droves. So don’t encourage women to go in a direction that will only harm their long term opportunities.

  58. 58
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Tyro:

    And as the numbers show, if you give women the opportunity to get more lucrative or more stable jobs as patent lawyers, physicians, dentists, or nurse practitioners, they will enter those fields in droves.

    Re-read my anecdote towards the top. Women are being actively steered away from tenure track and told that being married or having a child means they will never be up for tenure. It’s not okay for universities to discriminate against women just because you think the career path is too difficult for them.

  59. 59
    Joel says:

    @Tyro: Well, yeah. You can argue that pursuing academic science isn’t worth it, and there’s plenty of evidence to back that claim. But plenty of people want to do it, anyways, and faculty hires are still disproportionately male compared to the pool of candidates.

  60. 60
    Tyro says:

    @Joel: the pool of candidates is huge compared to the hires.

    Women are not being over-discouraged from going into science, if we look at the supply of good science jobs compared to the number of available candidates. There are more women (and men) in science than the market can possibly handle.

    If you want to help women in science, improve the job prospects for people with PhDs in general. Fixing any imbalances on faculty hiring committees will just give you slightly fewer women with dead end career prospects but doing nothing for the majority of women (and men) in science who’d have been better off becoming accountants or nurses.

  61. 61
    mclaren says:

    In her case, no one told her she might have a shot at a career in math or physics.

    Because she didn’t have a shot at a career in math or physics. No one does nowadays.

    Ever since 1970, funding for math/science in America has cratered. Such a tiny fraction of STEM PhDs ever wind up with real careers nowadays that you’re better off percentage-wise trying to make a career of major league baseball or professional poker playing.

    Are you thinking of becoming a scientist? Do you want to uncover the mysteries of nature, perform experiments or carry out calculations to learn how the world works? Forget it!

    Science is fun and exciting. The thrill of discovery is unique. If you are smart, ambitious and hard working you should major in science as an undergraduate. But that is as far as you should take it. After graduation, you will have to deal with the real world. That means that you should not even consider going to graduate school in science. Do something else instead: medical school, law school, computers or engineering, or something else which appeals to you.

    Why am I (a tenured professor of physics) trying to discourage you from following a career path which was successful for me? Because times have changed (I received my Ph.D. in 1973, and tenure in 1976). American science no longer offers a reasonable career path. If you go to graduate school in science it is in the expectation of spending your working life doing scientific research, using your ingenuity and curiosity to solve important and interesting problems. You will almost certainly be disappointed, probably when it is too late to choose another career.

    American universities train roughly twice as many Ph.D.s as there are jobs for them. When something, or someone, is a glut on the market, the price drops. In the case of Ph.D. scientists, the reduction in price takes the form of many years spent in “holding pattern” postdoctoral jobs. Permanent jobs don’t pay much less than they used to, but instead of obtaining a real job two years after the Ph.D. (as was typical 25 years ago) most young scientists spend five, ten, or more years as postdocs. They have no prospect of permanent employment and often must obtain a new postdoctoral position and move every two years. For many more details consult the Young Scientists’ Network or read the account in the May, 2001 issue of the Washington Monthly.

    As examples, consider two of the leading candidates for a recent Assistant Professorship in my department. One was 37, ten years out of graduate school (he didn’t get the job). The leading candidate, whom everyone thinks is brilliant, was 35, seven years out of graduate school. Only then was he offered his first permanent job (that’s not tenure, just the possibility of it six years later, and a step off the treadmill of looking for a new job every two years). The latest example is a 39 year old candidate for another Assistant Professorship; he has published 35 papers. In contrast, a doctor typically enters private practice at 29, a lawyer at 25 and makes partner at 31, and a computer scientist with a Ph.D. has a very good job at 27 (computer science and engineering are the few fields in which industrial demand makes it sensible to get a Ph.D.). Anyone with the intelligence, ambition and willingness to work hard to succeed in science can also succeed in any of these other professions.

    Typical postdoctoral salaries begin at $27,000 annually in the biological sciences and about $35,000 in the physical sciences (graduate student stipends are less than half these figures). Can you support a family on that income? It suffices for a young couple in a small apartment, though I know of one physicist whose wife left him because she was tired of repeatedly moving with little prospect of settling down. When you are in your thirties you will need more: a house in a good school district and all the other necessities of ordinary middle class life. Science is a profession, not a religious vocation, and does not justify an oath of poverty or celibacy.

    Source: “Don’t become a scientist,” Jonathan I Katz, professor of physics, Washington University, St. Louis Missouri.

    Also see: “The Postdoc: a special kind of hell.”

    Unfortunately, many postdocs are treated like glorified lab techs … and it’s very sad that you felt a little good just now about the “glorified” part. (..)

    For every available opening for a tenure-track professorship in the United States, there are roughly seven postdocs. That’s not an exaggeration or a joke. That’s not me being all like, “Yo yo, postdocs are so screwed—(‘How screwed are they?’)—they’re so screwed that there are seven times as many postdocs as there are academic openings! And that’s pretty screwed!” No, this is a freaking fact. Look at the postdoc on your left, and look at the postdoc on your right. Then look at the postdocs on the left and right, respectively, of the postdocs on your left and right. Finally, look at the postdocs on the left and right, respectively, of the postdoc on the left of the postdoc on your left and the postdoc on the right of the postdoc on your right. Only one of you will get a faculty job.

    Why do so few women go into science?

    Because they’re smart.

    The jobs are gone from the science professions and the postdoc experience is a living hell of brutal 100-hour work weeks and constant humiliation and low pay.

  62. 62
    Joey Giraud says:

    Talent or intelligence isn’t the reason. Motivation is probably the primary reason.

    Women, in aggregate, on the average, in general, are more socially conscious and socially cautious. They depend more on society, and support the social fabric more. Any field that rewards brashness, arrogance, and individual initiative is going to attract fewer women.

    Not that women don’t have individual initiative, but that men have, in general, on the average, in aggregate, always had more reason and need to exhibit initiative. ( primarily to attract women, who seem to like that kind of thing. )

    I think this is also why women are, in aggregate, on the average, in general, more liberal then men.

    I’m not a libertarian or an advocate of individualism. Humans are social creatures and that makes us stronger.

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    sparrow says:

    @mclaren: Some of that is on the mark, other stuff isn’t. For example, it is hardly pointless to get a physics PhD, the unemployment rate of those who have one is basically what they call the “friction” rate. You’ll always be able to get a job is science doesn’t pan out. Other fields, like biology, are much worse of course. But you shouldn’t lump them together.

    Also, those numbers are very low, even for biology (which pays the worst, for both grad school and postdoc), and I think pretty out of date. In 2014, in astronomy, I make 50k as a postdoc, which is probably about average or just below. Some fellowships pay much more – 65 – 70k. In graduate school, by the end, I was getting close to 30 (I think 27?). So it was actually pretty ok. What majorly sucked were the undergrad loans I deferred for 7 years. That was stupid.

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