Women in Biology
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Chilly climate in Academe

The sacred groves of academe are notorious for regressive attitudes towards women. This is surprising since academics are assumed to be liberal, but companies point out that they can't afford to waste talent the way the academy does. Women are still under-represented at all levels, particularly at tenured full professor. Contents include General Academe; chilly cliimate in the Academic metrics: grants, publishing, teaching, tenure; why women choose to leave, and efforts to improve things including Good signs:and women presidents.

Good scientists can learn from the data:

"I have always believed that contemporary gender discrimination within universities is part reality and part perception. True, but now I understand that reality is by far the greater part of the balance."--MIT President Charles Vest, introducing the MIT report

General issues Women in the academy

Slow progress in academic medicine:

  • Sart with Hamel et al (2006), New Engl J Med 355;3 www.nejm.org july 20, 2006. Despite equal numbers at the student level, " ....women who enter academic medicine have been less likely than men to be promoted or to serve in leadership positions. As of 2005, only 15 percent of full professors and 11 percent of department chairs were women. " And this extends to publications, where women are not represented in commentary or as senior authors as often as you mght expect.
  • Women MD-PhDs in the trenches
  • A Targeted Intervention for the Career Development of Women in Academic Medicine. Reshma Jagsi; Joan R. Butterton; Rebecca Starr; Nancy J. Tarbell, Arch Intern Med 2007;167 343-345
  • Promoting the Career Development of Women in Academic Medicine Ann B. Nattinger, Arch Intern Med 2007;167 323-324. Although children and families inevitably contribute, that's not all: Female and male faculty seem to have similar preparation for academic careers in terms of performance as medical students, residents, and fellows and with respect to research experience on entering an academic career. Therefore, preparation for an academic career is likely not a major cause of differences in productivity. But the available data suggest that the academic productivity of junior female faculty members is adversely and differentially affected by poorer initial recruitment packages, including items such as laboratory space, secretarial support, and start-up funds.
  • Women in Academic Medicine: New Insights, Same Sad News, a 1999 editorial from the New England Journal of Medicine about a study that found women MDs have a higher probability of entering academic medicine than men, but a lower chance of advancing through the ranks to tenured full professor. The editor (Catherine de Angelis) goes on to say, "I believe mentors are more important than role models, and I do not believe equal opportunity for women will ever be possible. I would settle for equity -- that is, freedom from bias or favoritism."
  • Why women leave academic medicine: are we backsliding?
Career Metrics: publishing, grants, tenure

Publishing and Productivity

  • Grants

    • "Gender Differences in Major Federal External Grant Programs," analyzed the outcomes of grant applications submitted by men and women to federal agencies from 2001 to 2003. As described in this Chronicle article, the National Institutes of Health give significantly more grants to men than to women.
    • Congratulations to the recipients of the NIH pioneer awards! Unlike last year, women are well represented this time. Well done all!

    Tenure in a chilly climate

    A chilly climate in the classroom?

    Also see education for more general information about teaching, course preparation, and encouraging girls in science)
    • Student ratings of professors are not gender blind
    • Is there gender bias in student evaluations? from the ASCB Women in Cell Biology Newsletter. Both male and female professors are evaluated similarly as to competence, knowledge, organization, presentation, and enthusiasm. However, female professors must measure up to another standard—they are expected to be personable, approachable, warm, and nurturing. Interestingly, female faculty who do not fit these expectations are rated lower by both female and male students.
    • List of articles about gender bias in student evaluations.
    • Intervening when male students demonstrate negative behavior towards women
    • The Chilly Climate, by Bernice Sandler, an essay on how women students are treated differently, by men and women faculty alike as well as by their fellow students.
  • Leaving
    A disturbing trend is the number of women who choose to leave academics. Some of these opt out early, at the postdoc to professor transition. However, many women who have ostensibly "made it", who are tenured and respected, often without children or family conflicts, are also choosing to leave academe in their prime years.

    Remembering Denice Denton


    This page is sad to report the passing of Denice Denton, the Chancellor of UC-Santa Cruz. An engineer and the former Dean of Engineering at U-Washington, Denice was a passionate advocate for women in science, and for diversity in academe. I was fortunate to meet her in 2005 when she spoke at USC as part of our WISE program. We have lost a powerful voice and the circumstances of her death should cause all of us to reflect as well as mourn.
    • UCSC's page has all the official news.
    • Report from Inside Higher Ed covers more of the conflict leading up to her death.
    • Another article from The Chronicle of Higher Ed discusses the firestorm that met her when she went to UCSC.
    • There are numerous reports in the media, but their links and access are variable. Try Google. Be warned: You may be shocked to find viciously anti-woman, anti-gay commentary on some of the blogs that discuss this sad event.
    • Postscript: In November 2006, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Denton was on medical leave, and had been treated for severe depression including in-patient stay at a hospital until the day before her suicide. This compounds the tragedy. What sort of profession do we have?
    Hopeful Signs: strategies to improve things, and women presidents

    Fixing things

    The presidency

    • Princeton's new president is Shirley Tilghman--a prominent woman in biology reaches the corridors of power, as seen from The Chronicle.
    • Of mentors, women, and men from The Scientist, reflects on Shirley Tilghman's rise to presidency of Princeton and issues of women in science generally.
    • Finally, from The Chronicle: Parity and the presidency: a conference of women university presidents.
    • Women provosts at elite research universities. " The growing numbers of female provosts, and their many accomplishments, excite experts who predict that elite universities will finally hire more women as presidents."
    • WOmen college presidents
    • Related, the new Dean of Duke's Med School reflects on climbing through the glass ceiling (may require subscrption to NEJM)
    • Madame President: Why the new female president at Harvard is an exception to the rule. From Campus Progress
    • However, one concern is that these incredibly highly achieving women lead to unrealistic expectations about those at the level just below. As the saying goes, we know we've achieved equity not when the superstars make it, but when the average woman has the same chance of success as the average man.