Friday, November 24, 2006

Women in science: Some links

A bunch of links to recent articles and blog posts on this important topic.

1. Let me start with a celebration of women in science.

2. Here's J.D. Nordell's review of sociological research on how people's ambitions are shaped. (it also briefly touches upon the views of Ben Barres); here's a quick extract:

Ambition is a complex internal drive, and it relies heavily on a belief in one's own potential. "In order to have high aspirations, you have to have a sense of your own competence," says Shelley Correll, a sociologist at Cornell who studies the development of aspirations. Correll has found that, in the presence of a stereotype that men are better, women tend to underrate their own performance, while men overrate their own, regardless of demonstrated ability. "We find that if you compare boys and girls, or men and women, with the same grades in math classes, and the exact same scores on standardized math tests, boys think they are better than girls," she notes.

3. Zuska gives a stinging reply to a Cornell freshman who claimed that there's no discrimination. This issue also generated some discussion on Janet Stemwedel's blog.

4. In a deeply personal post, Cognitive Daily's Dave Munger starts with a quote from Lester Thurow:

The decade between 25 and 35 is when men either succeed or fail. It is the decade when lawyers become partners in good firms, when business managers make it onto the "fast track," when academics get tenure at good universities, and when blue collar workers find the job opportunities that will lead to training opportunities and the skills that will generate high earnings.

But the decade between age 25 and 35 is precisely the decade when women are most apt to leave the work force or become part-time workers to have children. When they do, the current system of promotion and skill acquisition will extract an enormous lifetime price.

Dave Munger then goes on to answer the following question:

[In 1992] Greta and I were both 25, and we had already had our first child. Greta was on track to become a scientist, and I was an up-and-coming textbook editor and writer. Why didn't our child doom Greta to failure?

5. A recent academic paper examines underrepresentation of women in tenured positions in US universities. Here's the abstract:

Many studies have shown that women are under-represented in tenured ranks in the sciences. We evaluate whether gender differences in the likelihood of obtaining a tenure track job, promotion to tenure, and promotion to full professor explain these facts using the 1973-2001 Survey of Doctorate Recipients. We find that women are less likely to take tenure track positions in science, but the gender gap is entirely explained by fertility decisions. We find that in science overall, there is no gender difference in promotion to tenure or full professor after controlling for demographic, family, employer and productivity covariates and that in many cases, there is no gender difference in promotion to tenure or full professor even without controlling for covariates. However, family characteristics have different impacts on women's and men's promotion probabilities. Single women do better at each stage than single men, although this might be due to selection. Children make it less likely that women in science will advance up the academic job ladder beyond their early post-doctorate years, while both marriage and children increase men's likelihood of advancing.

The link comes via Tyler Cowen who also points us to comments from Matt Yglesias.

6. In a different setting (business), we recently saw what Tim Harford has to say about pregnancy and women's careers.


  1. Anant said...


    It may be a good time to pay our homage to
    Asima Chatterjee who passed away recently.
    The obituary from the Hindu is given below:
    Kolkata, Nov. 22 (PTI): Eminent scientist Asima Chatterjee died at a nursing home here today following old age complications, her daughter Julie Banerjee said.

    A recipient of the Padma Bhushan in 1975, Chatterjee, 90, was a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha from 1982 to 1990 and was the first woman to be appointed general president of the Indian Science Congress in 1975.

    A scholar in pure chemistry, Chatterjee received the S S Bhatnagar Award (1961), C V Raman Award of the UGC (1962), and P C Ray award (1974) for her research and contribution to the subject.

    A first class second from Calcutta University, Chatterjee began her teaching career as the Founder Head of the Department of Chemistry in Lady Brabourne College in 1940.

    In 1945, Chatterjee joined Calcutta University and taught there till her retirement in 1982.

    Chatterjee received all-round praise for her DSC thesis - Indol-Alkaloids and Coumarin of Indian Medicinal Plants - and later received honorary DSC degrees from Benaras Hindu University as also the universities of Burdwan, Kalyani and Vidyasagar.

    She also received fellowships from Watumull University, US in 1948-49 and International Science Academy in 1960.

    She had keen interest in music, and was placed second in classical vocal music in the All Bengal Music Conference in 1932.

    Her mortal remains were consigned to flames at the Keoratala burning ghat this afternoon.


  2. Rohit De said...

    How do women score on the Indian science scene?

  3. Rahul Siddharthan said...

    abi - I can't say I respect writers who'd bash up on an enthusiastic 18-year-old like that. Zuska makes a ridiculous parody of her article and does not address her points at all, about women being well-represented in honours and awards, the promotion delay being explained by childbirth years, etc.

    red - well, women are under-represented in my area all over the world, but I have a few excellent women colleagues, and I have never seen any evidence of bias either in hiring or in promotion. In other fields, like the biological sciences, women are very well represented at all levels. But you really need to ask the women how they find it...

  4. Abi said...

    Anant: Thanks for that information about Prof. Asima Chatterjee.

    Red: In public, I have listened to several high-ranking women scientists say that they haven't experienced any discrimination. In private, I have also heard some of the younger scientists laugh at these denials. However, unless these issues come out into the public view (through a study, for example), I wouldn't be able to comment. However, I believe the statistics will show that women are seriously under-represented in the sciences (including biology).

    Rahul: Zuska was asked to address the substantive issues in Janet Stemwedel's post, and she does (here). However, don't you think that the arrogant, all-knowing tone used by the "enthusiastic 18-year old" invited the kind of reply Zuska gave?