Women in Science, ctd.

Mary wrote about this recently, and it rightly remains a topic of conversation: Women in Science.

PNAS recently had an article entitled, “Understanding the current causes of women’s underrepresentation in science.” suggests that today’s reasons for the underrepresentation of women in (math intensive) sciences is less due to active discrimination and more due, as they write,

…primarily to factors surrounding family formation and childrearing, gendered expectations, lifestyle choices, and career preferences—some originating before or during adolescence

and that to alleviate the  differential, we must look to that cause.

Wired science has a good synopsis of this article and Mike the Mad Scientist has an hypothesis, though as he admits it’s purely anecdotal,

women scientists are often loaded with jobs that best could be described as “cleaning up the mess.” Things like god awful committee work and other ‘service’ commitments. Even as post-docs and graduate students, women, in my experience, disproportionately shoulder ‘teamwork’ burdens in labs that men do not.

I’m not sure I see this in my own anecdotal experiences, but it would definitely make a fascinating study if one could design some objective measure of ‘cleaning up the mess.’  Perhaps take ‘teamwork’ measures (committee membership, outside service commitments) and compare genders in the same workstages (grad students, post docs, pre-tenured, etc).

In our own anecdotal experience, we conduct genomics training workshops across the country and internationally (Singapore, Morocco, Iceland, NYC, Kansas City MO, LA, DC, Huntsville Alabama, San Francisco, Boston and the list goes one) in many different types of institutions (universities, government research and private institutions, etc) and a broad range of scientists (students, postdocs, early and late career researchers). I could say (with data :), that the slim majority of our workshop attendees are women in total and in nearly every single location (including Morocco and Huntsville :D).

This is not to say that women are not underrepresented in biological sciences. The data suggest they are. It could be that women or more likely to seek educational opportunities and thus sign up for workshops at higher rates, or that there is equal representation of women in biological sciences at the early states (grad students, postdocs) and that representation dwindles in later stages of career. My purely anecdotal observation of our workshops suggests it might be the latter (most, but surely not all of our attendees are ‘early-stage’), and that would definitely square with the data. Perhaps we should add to our survey some questions about gender and career stage, just for interest sake?