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Women in science

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Oct. 25th, 2011 | 11:33 am
posted by: alitheapipkin in feminism_lives

I don't know whether this is of interest to anyone here, but I was listening to Dame Jocelyn Bell-Burnett on The Life Scientific on Radio 4 this morning and it prompted me to write a short post about women in science on my journal here.

Does anyone here have any experience of being a woman in science? How does your experience compare to mine? Do you have any ideas how we find a middle ground between being seen as meek or as trouble makers for trouble's sake? Or don't you think it matters that her male colleagues think that of her given all she has achieved?
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Comments {6}

Lanfykins

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from: lanfykins
date: Oct. 25th, 2011 11:08 am (UTC)
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I listened to that programme as well, and meant to post a link :)

I studied a science at university; Experimental Psychology is one of those sciences that attracts a good proportion of women, but it was still very much male-dominated. I remember that all my first-year lecturers were male, and in fact only two out of the nine tutors I had were female. It wasn't a thing I thought about at the time; the only time I ever realised that being a woman could be an issue in science was when my research project was initially failed by one of the two tutors who marked it. In our year only two projects had been failed; both submitted by women, both failed by the same (male) tutor, both passed when re-marked by another assessor.

I now work in IT, another male-dominated field, but again I've mainly not faced gender issues; I normally get on well and am respected by the male developers I work with, even as a technical writer.

Dame Jocelyn's interview made me realise how lucky I am.

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The Woman Who Would Have Thunder in her Heart

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from: alitheapipkin
date: Oct. 25th, 2011 11:40 am (UTC)
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I don't remember ever having a female lecturer as an undergrad either, even though I studied ecology and environmental science and there was a pretty even gender split amongst the students. I never had any issues as a student though, and haven't really encountered many as a postgrad or postdoc either, as I said in my post. My current department isn't as male dominated as far as the lecturers go, and now our head of school is female so things have noticeably improved in the 12 years I've been there. The majority of the senior academics are still male though.

I'm glad to hear things aren't too bad in IT for you, a friend of mine in IT feels she isn't respected by her male colleagues because she's a technical writer and PR person rather than a programmer.

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Lanfykins

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from: lanfykins
date: Oct. 25th, 2011 12:16 pm (UTC)
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Technical writers in general tend to get little respect from developers; I've had to prove myself in every job I've had.

That's a complicated issue, though. You certainly get more women in technical writing than in programming, but is the lack of respect due to sexism, or because technical writing isn't seen as the expertise it actually is, or because of geek elitism?

Add in that there are a lot of bad technical writers out there (because it isn't seen as the set of specialist skills it actually is, companies often go for 'cheap' rather than 'good', and then the results confirm their existing biases), and, well, there you are.

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bagfish

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from: bagfish
date: Oct. 25th, 2011 09:47 pm (UTC)
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I just listened to the programme and was utterly appalled by the way that Dame Jocelyn was put down by the men she studied and worked with. Sexism was so obvious and overt 30 or so years ago, and these men who treated women as objects, never subjects so *sure* of themselves.

I think that the sexism is still there now, it's just not as blatant and obvious. But it's still there eating away at women in science and other non-traditional female roles where they have to be twice as good as the men who are their peers. It's the whole privilege thing - the white middle-class male is the default, you have to be better than the default if you don't fit the model, otherwise you are judged not good enough.

Your comment about the "angry feminist" vs "meek woman" rings true. You're damned if you do put yourself out there and damned if you don't - a prime example of this is the research that women don't get payrises even if they ask for them because they are seen as being aggressive and out of place.

I did a scientific degree (environmental science and geography at Lancaster - I notice from your profile that you were there as well!) and PhD, and I only remember having one female lecturer as an undergrad. As a postgrad, I was in a very small department and there were no female lecturers, and the couple of women academics I did meet in the field (landscape ecology/geomorphology) were called "wo-men" by the students as they were very much "one of the boys" as it was the way to get on in that particular field (both academic and in fieldwork!)

I didn't stay on to become an academic as I never felt good enough - imposter syndrome right there. I have a doctorate and work for an environmental charity, and I don't get to use my academic skills and knowledge which I find really depressing. I haven't reached my full potential because I have never felt confident enough in my abilities, and now ten years on from finishing my PhD, it's too late to get back into academia.

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The Woman Who Would Have Thunder in her Heart

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from: alitheapipkin
date: Oct. 26th, 2011 11:02 am (UTC)
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Small world! My PhD was done in a very blokey environment and I probably would have ended up in much the same position as you except that someone in the department was looking for someone to do a short lit review based contract when I was writing up and my supervisor recommended me because writing was the only thing he thought I was any good at. So I moved into a different research group that was half women and where people thought work-life balance was a good thing rather than something to be derived. My current boss is brilliant and has much more faith in my abilities than I generally do! I'd never have lasted this long in academia otherwise.

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sfred (né yoyoangel)

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from: sfred
date: Oct. 26th, 2011 10:51 am (UTC)
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Ooh, thanks for linking.

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