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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Women in science face extra hurdles

    Women with careers in science and engineering are facing more challenges than their male colleagues, said a panel of UA professors who discussed the “”exodus of women from science”” yesterday.

    Recruitment, retention and advancement are problematic areas for women in science, according to Marilyn Halonen, a professor of pharmacology and toxicology, John G. Hildebrand, a regents’ professor and director of the division of neurobiology of the Arizona Research Laboratories, Martha Hunter, an associate professor of entomology, and F. Ann Walker, a regents’ professor in chemistry, who led the panel discussion.

    We are all different people in different contexts depending on who we talk to… Think about how you are presenting yourself.

    -Martha Hunter,
    associate professor of entomology

    One obstacle young women face is the tendency to choose softer subjects in grade school, Hildebrand said.

    “”Women tend to choose to take algebra, trigonometry and geometry but usually do not go further than that in math in high school,”” said Hildebrand. “”However, men are more likely to take physics and higher math classes.””

    Hildebrand said this is not the fault of women; rather, it is a problem that stems from the start of the educational process. Culturally, women are not pushed enough to go into more advanced fields.

    Another obstacle is the science community, which often communicates a negative attitude toward women, deterring them from getting involved in science and engineering.

    “”Women are less confident. (They) see the field as being male-dominated and think that they will make less money than men,”” Hildebrand said.

    Panel members also noted that professors sometimes send unintentional signals that men are more welcome than women. In addition, the science and engineering communities lack a family-friendly environment for women who would like to have a family.

    Hunter said communication styles also affect how women are perceived in science. Often women speak in a style that is self-deprecating, using phrases such as “”I wish I was smarter”” or referring to their career achievements as a fluke, Hunter said.

    When women use this form of language, they may not realize the signal they are giving off to others, Hunter said.

    “”We are all different people in different contexts depending on who we talk to,”” said Hunter. “”You need to self-edit yourself when you are around professionals. Think about how you are presenting yourself.””

    Walker said in the past, women including herself faced blunt prejudices for simply being women, but the field has changed and the stereotypes are more faded and harder to see.

    Hildebrand said the science and education communities need to embrace more women and encourage them, starting in kindergarten, with better mentoring and more family friendly policies.

    More women should also be invited to become colleagues in the scientific workforce, Hildebrand said.

    The best time in terms of flexibility to have children is during the post-doctorate years because those years are flexible, Hunter said.

    Panelists also said balancing family life and communication among partners is vital for success.

    “”There are things on your side to help you, and one of them is birth control,”” said Halonen. “”I am not saying not to have children. I am saying you can now plan when you want to have a family, whereas 30 years ago you could not.””

    Hannah Goldsmith, an ecology and evolutionary biology freshman, said the panel was informative, and she learned about social standards that women face in science.

    “”I didn’t realize that finding the right partner is so important to helping my career,”” Goldsmith said.

    The UA science community has started to offer more mentoring for students interested in science as a career path.

    The Undergraduate Biology Research Program has set up an e-mentoring blog for students to post questions and comments. Faculty and other community mentors have developed a system for answering those questions. Anyone interested in joining this blog can contact UBRP director Carol Bender at 621-9348 or bender@email.arizona.edu.

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