Courtesy of Sociological Images, here’s a graph showing the gender of people being awarded PhDs, department by department. As you can see, women are wildly underrepresented in physics, computer sciences and engineering. We already knew this, of course – women are underrepresented at all levels of the “hard” sciences – but when you see it represented in graph form, it’s pretty stark.
I mentioned earlier this week that I spent the weekend at Princeton, listening to distinguished alumni talk about a number of issues, mostly about their career paths and their efforts to balance their work lives and their personal lives. In a discussion of work-life balance led by New York Times writer Lisa Belkin, class of 1982, a young woman stood up and explained that she was a graduate student in molecular science, and that she was pregnant. She said she had no idea how to manage being a graduate student in such a rigorous field with being a mother. She asked, with an unmistakable tinge of desperation in her voice, if Belkin or anyone else in the room had any advice for her. A woman at least fifteen years her senior stood up and said, “I’m a scientist and a mother of three; you can do it.”
When I saw this graph, I thought about that woman. In addition to facing the challenge of balancing a demanding career with motherhood, she also has to contend with being one of the few women in her lab or in her department.
So I thought, since finals are coming up for high school students, undergrads and physics TAs, it might be nice to send a bit of extra love out to those women who look around the classroom or the lecture hall and don’t see a whole lot of other women. It must be hard to feel so alone, and it must be daunting to look up the ranks and see so few women role models. I only hope that you remember that med students, law students and doctoral students in departments that now enjoy relative gender parity once experienced the very same thing you’re going through. Things change slowly, but they change – and when they do, it’ll be thanks to you brave, persistent women who soldiered on even when you were discouraged.
That said, there’s no reason why we here in the Feministing community can’t offer you a little love and support right now. If you’re in the STEM fields, or know a woman who is, jump into the comments section give a little bit of love to our STEM women on this fine Friday.