Tag Archives: women

Re: women in science, part 2 of ???

7 Oct

So I’ve gotten a lot of feedback/had many good conversations from my last post and the article linked there.  One of the things I do as a TA in math is teach discussion sections, and I’m part of a pseudo-experimental program that emphasizes collaborative learning.  This afternoon we’re having a discussion on that very article, which is why I labeled this post part 2 of ??? because I suspect there’ll be more points this afternoon.  Plus I still need to read some related  articles that friends have sent me.

My fellow grad student Alex summarized/projected a great point from this article that I want to share because I liked it so much.  Here’s one school of thought: math/science graduate school is very hard and there’s no need to encourage people to pursue it, as Roger Howe says in the article; the idea is that only people who think they can do it/want to do it should do it.  But women may want to do so but think they can’t, as the author did, because women internalize failures (“you’re telling me this is hard?  That means you think I can’t do it.  I guess I’m just bad at this.  I can’t do this.”) whereas men externalize them (“you’re telling me this is hard?  Thanks for the warning, I’m still going to do it.”)  Obviously these are huge generalizations, but I liked this dichotomy a lot because it points out the flaw with using a unilateral approach for both genders.  We treat little girls and little boys differently, but somehow expect that we can say the exact same thing to 21 year old men and women and they won’t react differently.

Okay way too many other things to respond to but guys I should go back to math.  So here’s just one other thought, my reaction to this article http://philip.greenspun.com/careers/women-in-science, sent to me by my friend Max.  Here’s his concluding paragraph:

Most people go to work primarily in order to earn a paycheck. Workers prefer a higher salary to a lower salary. Jobs in science pay far less than jobs in the professions and business held by women of similar ability. A lot of men are irrational, romantic, stubborn, and unwilling to admit that they’ve made a big mistake. With Occam’s Razor, we should not need to bring in the FBI to solve the mystery of why there are more men than women who have chosen to stick with the choice that they made at age 18 to become a professor of science or mathematics.

So this person’s explanation for why there are more men than women in sciences is that science is a bad job, and capable women make smart decisions and go into law, medicine, industry, anything that pays better.  There’s more to say on this article, but for now, here’s a blog post asking why there aren’t more women in law.  Essentially, the question now is, where are the women?

I’ve asked that question before.  It was in the summer of 2008, when I was doing an independent research project in Vietnam.  I was walking outside a lot and interviewing people in schools, cafes, and on the street, and I definitely noticed that while you’ll see plenty of men driving motorbikes, sitting at the outdoor coffeeshops, drinking beers at the pubs, or eating meals at the food-to-go stands, you’ll see very, very few women who aren’t working at those places/selling things at stores.  Where are the women?

Isn’t it weird that I ask the same question for these two different contexts?


Quick link: great read on women in science

3 Oct

Regular post is coming tomorrow (it’s peach shortcake), but a quick note before I head off to teach.  I just read and really, really enjoyed this article, and only partially because I know a few of the people interviewed in it (and it is a spot-on portrayal of those two professors).  It’s a long but worthwhile read.  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/06/magazine/why-are-there-still-so-few-women-in-science.html?_r=0.

My advisor actually asked me a similar question a few weeks ago: why are there so few women in our graduate program?  We’ve got about 2-3 a year for 5-6 years, with each cohort having somewhere around 20 students.  So we’re at, what, 10-15%?  When I was at UCSB, we were around 20%.  At certain schools they have 50% (by which I mean North Carolina State University, last time I checked which was a few years ago).  What should we aim for?  I mean, is % of graduate students even a good metric (probably not because lots of people drop out)?

My first approach to his question was to ask the women in our program why they came- everyone said something about how people were friendly, and when I pushed further, every woman had talked to an older woman in the program.  Really I need to ask the people who were accepted and didn’t come why they didn’t, but that’s not possible.  I should also ask the men why they came and compare.  I’m not a sociologist, I’ve said before, but I am a feminist and I am interested in this stuff.

OK I really have to head to class (the students have a calculus exam tomorrow) but here’s a last note on this.  A comment on this piece, I quote:

Why do fewer men than women graduate from high school?

Why are many fewer men than women hired as school teachers?

Why do significantly fewer men than women receive college degrees?

Why are these data not evidence of gender bias against men?

Why are female achievement gaps systematically portrayed as gender bias against women, while male achievement gaps are systematically portrayed as innate male fecklessness?

Why are astronomically fewer articles published by the Times about these issues?

I’ll never claim to have answers for anything, just my thoughts, and stuff for you to think about.  Besides a substitute teacher in 5th grade, I had never been taught math by a woman until I finished undergraduate.

I am a woman in math

10 Jul

That should be pretty clear from the fact that I put together that women in mathematics symposium a few months ago.  And from all the photos of me with my baked goods.  I hope that the fact is not necessarily obvious from the fact that this is a baking and math blog as, I’m friends with plenty of men who bake and do math. (In fact, I’ve linked to this guy and his cookies before on this blog).

I’ll probably end up writing many things about the fact that I am a woman in math, but this is just a short post about my thoughts right this moment.

I spent some part of the afternoon reading this heartbreaking blog “What is it like to be a woman in philosophy?” where women and men write in with their stories of misogyny, sexism, and battling these things.  As I read I kept thinking to myself “phew!  Glad I have my adviser!”

Since I’m not a woman in philosophy I didn’t submit this story to them, but I do want to write it somewhere, so here goes.  One day there was a marvelous talk in our geometry, topology, and dynamics seminar, and a few days later I met with the professor I’d come to UIC to work with about various math, as well as a conference coming up.  He asked who was speaking at the conference, and I said something like “that girl who spoke on Tuesday here.”  He gave me a look, and then said, “You mean the woman.  You would never refer to a man who gave a talk as that boy.  Women have it hard enough in our field, we don’t need to make it harder by demeaning them.”

I was rightly chastised, and that was also the moment when I decided that I would ask him to be my adviser- we discuss math together well and he’s brilliant, but that’s true of many professors.  He values feminism as much as I do, and can also rebuke me when I need to be.  So he’s fallen into the category of my mom, my boyfriend, and my closest friends.  Fantastic!

As for using the word “girl”- my friends say things like “girls’ night”, and this is a common phrase in our culture (there’s about 975 million more of those, these are just the first things that came up when I googled “girls night”).  But my adviser’s right that I absolutely should not refer to a female mathematician as a girl.  Perhaps it’s unprofessional language?  Or perhaps we’ve just internalized our systematic infantalization (whoa calm down there Yen you’re not a sociology student you don’t even really know what those words mean).  So no conclusions on this (my friends didn’t have them either).

On a positive note, two of my math heroes are interviewed here, over at Roots of Unity, on being women in math.  They actually talk very little about being women in math, and more on just being them and being awesome in math, which is fantastic.  They do both mention the importance of role models, and I hope they both know that they’re huge role models to many, many graduate students at their respective universities.  Because they’re mathematicians, and women, and totally cool with both of those things, whereas a lot of us grad students sort of nervously juggle the two when we meet strangers.

I could just keep writing about being a woman in math but I will stop.  Look at this hilarious stock photo (I love stock photos)


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