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Women in science: from high school expectations to academic career

By 13 November 2012 7

It may appear that women have reached parity with or even surpassed men with regard to their engagement in science education and employment. However, recent research, which the speakers will present and discuss, documents persistent gender differences not only in academic science careers but also in high school science subject choices and science-related adolescent career plans. In the panel discussions two physicists and a sociologist draw on their personal experiences and research to reflect on institutional barriers, cultural forces and ‘personal preferences’ which continue to facilitate gender segregation in science.

Men and women in leadership roles, lecturers and teachers are particularly welcome as the panel will discuss practical ways of encouraging and supporting women in science.

Speakers:

Marion Stevens-Kalceff is Associate Professor in the School of Physics at the University of New South Wales and Deputy Director of the UNSW Electron Microscope Unit. Marion led a research project which investigated the career paths of academic staff in the School of Physics, revealing the long-term impact of organisational culture, opportunities and ‘choices’ on the career paths of women.

Joanna Sikora is a Lecturer in the School of Sociology at ANU whose teaching and research interests focus on educational inequalities and sociology of education. In recent years Joanna has been investigating differences in science-related career preferences between adolescent boys and girls.

In discussion with panellists: Australian Laureate Fellow Professor Mahananda (Nanda) Dasgupta is an experimental physicist at the Heavy Ion Accelerator Facility in the Department of Nuclear Physics of the ANU. Professor Kim Rubenstein, convenor of the ANU Gender Institute, will chair the panel.

When: Wednesday 14 November, 11am-1pm, lunch provided
Where: Law Theatre, Building 5, ANU College of Law, Fellows Road, The Australian National University

RSVP: martina.fechner@anu.edu.au
Enquiries: T 02 6125 6281

Free and open to the public

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7 Responses to
Women in science: from high school expectations to academic career
switch 11:45 am
13 Nov 12
#1

There are a lot of clever women out there. I occasionally had the privilege of working with some of them. But I’d say the vast majority are clever enough to work out early on that science in Australia is a crap career choice. Do a lot of study of very hard subjects, perhaps get a PhD and still find the pay is lousy, you end up several years behind your peers in the pay scales having “wasted” all that time at uni/postdoc etc and anyway you have to move on after three years because the grant money’s dried up. Getting good students of either gender to study science is only going to get harder: developing countries need scientists and engineers, developed countries get accountants and lawyers.

gooterz 8:01 pm
13 Nov 12
#2

I wonder if it has anything to do with the affirmative action?

Get people into science that dont really care for it and aren’t suited. Most will end up as science teachers.

If you have a system that dependant on grades and you end up with mostly guys, if likely to be a gender difference. There are also roles that women do most and no one is trying to get guys to even the numbers.

chilli 11:35 pm
13 Nov 12
#3

gooterz said :

I wonder if it has anything to do with the affirmative action?

Get people into science that dont really care for it and aren’t suited. Most will end up as science teachers.

If you have a system that dependant on grades and you end up with mostly guys, if likely to be a gender difference. There are also roles that women do most and no one is trying to get guys to even the numbers.

Umm, there’s no affirmative action for women in science. They get where they to where they get to on merit, just like the guys. And, just like the guys, the women who do science are passionate about it. They need to be to get through the years of study, often to find (just like they guys) that grant-funded contract work is pretty hard to come by. Tenured positions are rarer than gold.

Most women (and men) don’t leave science because “they don’t really care for it and aren’t suited”. They leave because the jobs aren’t there. And by the time you’re in your mid-thirties, possibly with a family and a mortgage, you need something a bit more stable. And you realise that your contemporaries at Uni who scooted straight into the PS afterwards and have been EL2s for a few years now are earning $30-$40k more than you, despite all your papers and degrees.

And for mid-thirties women, they actually need the chance to have babies before it’s all too late because there was no scope for maternity leave during their doctorate or their post-doctorate contracts which together have taken up the previous 10 or 12 years of their lives (not to mention the 4-5 years BSc + Honours/Masters that preceded it). And no scope for part time work during a contract either. Even if they are lucky enough to get one after two post-docs. It is these factors that account more than any other explanation for the gender imbalance among the research scientists in the labs in the over-40s age brackets.

So, wonder no more about the place of affirmative action in science, gooterz. It doesn’t exist.

Deref 8:00 am
14 Nov 12
#4

switch said :

There are a lot of clever women out there. I occasionally had the privilege of working with some of them. But I’d say the vast majority are clever enough to work out early on that science in Australia is a crap career choice. Do a lot of study of very hard subjects, perhaps get a PhD and still find the pay is lousy, you end up several years behind your peers in the pay scales having “wasted” all that time at uni/postdoc etc and anyway you have to move on after three years because the grant money’s dried up. Getting good students of either gender to study science is only going to get harder: developing countries need scientists and engineers, developed countries get accountants and lawyers.

That.

Both my kids either have or are getting science degrees. My pride in their achievements is matched by my distress at knowing that they’ll never make as much as they would if they’d become lawyers or economists.

dtc 10:40 am
14 Nov 12
#5

Deref said :

Both my kids either have or are getting science degrees. My pride in their achievements is matched by my distress at knowing that they’ll never make as much as they would if they’d become lawyers or economists.

Yeah, but lawyers are more important.

mmillercfp 10:53 am
14 Nov 12
#6

chilli & Deref have both articulated some very real challenges for those who pursue a career in science, and the reality of the situation is that any potential scientist should consider in making their choices.

That being said, if you can eke out a comfortable existence from work that is personally rewarding, that’s what I call success.

It’s important that we learn to choose our comparison points well, and what inspires the neighbours may not make you feel much better at all!

poetix 12:58 pm
14 Nov 12
#7

Deref said :

switch said :

There are a lot of clever women out there. I occasionally had the privilege of working with some of them. But I’d say the vast majority are clever enough to work out early on that science in Australia is a crap career choice. Do a lot of study of very hard subjects, perhaps get a PhD and still find the pay is lousy, you end up several years behind your peers in the pay scales having “wasted” all that time at uni/postdoc etc and anyway you have to move on after three years because the grant money’s dried up. Getting good students of either gender to study science is only going to get harder: developing countries need scientists and engineers, developed countries get accountants and lawyers.

That.

Both my kids either have or are getting science degrees. My pride in their achievements is matched by my distress at knowing that they’ll never make as much as they would if they’d become lawyers or economists.

They could have been poets or musicians though…Look on the bright side!

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