Friday, November 21, 2008

Links: Women in Science edition

  1. Vineeta Bal in Nature India: Why women scientists in India need affirmative action [free registration required].

    If couples are looking for jobs, a policy should be in place to encourage their employment in the same institution, or the same city. Potential employers of one spouse should take proactive steps in helping the other spouse find a job, thereby facilitating the woman's entry into the workforce. Provision of campus housing similarly improves the quality of life, and a preference should be given to women scientists for campus accommodation. Provision of good, clean crèches and day-care homes for elderly, preferably in close proximity of the workplace or home, is also a promising proactive step. Providing child-care allowance until the child reaches a certain age is another option. Extra efforts are needed to facilitate a congenial work environment by having frequent gender-sensitisation programmes for men and women. Sexual harassment is a significant but unrecognised problem which needs sensitive and prompt action. Providing security and a women-friendly workplace atmosphere should thus be a responsibility of the head of an institution and specific recommendations have to be in place for achieving it.

  2. Cidem Kaitcibai [I'm sorry I'm not able to reproduce the Turkish name correctly here] in Nature: Caution: Men at Work. Interestingly, this article includes a section on the age profile of scientists.

    Developing countries have a great deal to gain from the full participation of women in the knowledge economy. It is encouraging to note that many developing countries enjoy a head start in their efforts to advance this goal, largely due to the comparatively high percentage of professional women found in elite, high-paying fields. The challenges today lie in increasing opportunities for poorer, less-educated women in cities, small villages and rural areas, and in breaking through the 'glass ceiling' so that more women will hold management and leadership positions.

    As for age imbalances, innovative policies must be devised to protect experienced knowledge workers without discouraging the next generation of students from entering science and other fields. For example, older professors could be allowed to remain on the faculty without remuneration and without administrative responsibilities — allowing them to pursue their own research agendas freely and to teach classes. This would allow older faculty to remain active and involved without blocking the career paths of younger researchers. It would also encourage an intergenerational exchange of ideas and research collaborations between young and old. It does, of course, depend on having reasonable pension systems in place, and a willingness to approve and enforce mandatory rules for retirement.

  3. Elizabeth Durant: Ellencyclopedia (a profile of MIT's alumna, Ellen Swallow Richards).

    Ellen Swallow Richards is perhaps best known as MIT's first female graduate and instructor, but launching coeducation at the Institute is merely the first in a long list of her pioneering feats. The breadth and depth of her career are astounding; a 1910 tribute in La Follette's Weekly Magazine professed that "when one attempts to tell of the enterprises, apart from her formal teaching, of which Mrs. Richards has been a part or the whole, he is lost in a bewildering maze." Authors and scholars have called her the founder of ecology, the first female environmental engineer, and the founder of home economics. Richards opened the first laboratory for women, created the world's first water purity tables, developed the world standard for evaporation tests on volatile oils, conducted the first consumer-product tests, and discovered a new method to determine the amount of nickel in ore. And that's just the short list of her accomplishments. In a nod to Richards's remarkable knowledge and interests, her sister-in-law called her "Ellencyclopedia."