[Paleopsych] NYT: For Women in Sciences, Slow Progress in Academia
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Fri Apr 15 13:52:24 UTC 2005
For Women in Sciences, Slow Progress in Academia
April 15, 2005
By SARA RIMER
It has been 12 years since Nancy Hopkins, a senior professor of
molecular biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was
crawling around the floor of her laboratory with a tape measure,
intent on proving to a male administrator that she had 1,500 square
feet less laboratory space than her male counterparts.
But the administrator ignored her data and refused to provide the 200
square feet she needed to expand her cancer research.
Since then, women in the sciences and in mathematics have made some
highly visible gains. At M.I.T., Professor Hopkins, now 61, says that
she and other senior female scientists have laboratories and salaries
equivalent to those of their male colleagues. Female scientists now
also lead M.I.T., the University of Michigan, Princeton, Rensselaer
Polytechnic Institute and four campuses of the University of
And yet, as was made clear after remarks by Harvard's president,
Lawrence H. Summers, about whether women lag in science and
engineering because of "intrinsic aptitude," their overall progress at
many of the country's top research universities has been slow, the
gains uneven and fragile.
Even as the number of women earning Ph.D.'s in science has
substantially increased - women now account for 45 percent to 50
percent of the biology doctorates, and 33 percent of those in
chemistry - the science and engineering faculties of elite research
universities remain overwhelmingly male. And the majority of the women
are clustered at the junior faculty rank.
At Harvard, for example, there are 149 men with tenure in the natural
sciences and just 13 women. Cynthia Friend, the chairwoman of the
chemistry department, remains the only woman who has ever received
tenure in chemistry at Harvard. (By comparison, women have done better
in the humanities departments at Harvard, where 39 women and 98 men
Nor is Harvard's record unusual. The faculties of most elite
institutions are not only mostly male, they are also overwhelmingly
white. According to a 2004 survey by Donna Nelson, a chemistry
professor at the University of Oklahoma, there are 13,235 professors
on physical sciences and engineering faculties of the 50 top research
universities, and only 468 are black or Hispanic.
Given the pipeline problems in some fields, as well as the glacial
rate of faculty turnover in academia - tenured professors routinely
hold their jobs for more than 30 years - the slow increase in the
numbers of women is in part understandable, many experts say.
But there are also vast differences in the efforts that some
universities have made to move women along.
Female scientists, and senior female professors in general, have been
particularly concerned about Harvard's record in the past decade,
including the last four years under Dr. Summers, with the number of
tenure offers to women on the faculty of arts and sciences dropping to
4 out of 32 last year from 14 out of 41 in the 1999-2000 academic
After the firestorm surrounding his remarks, Dr. Summers appointed two
study groups to advise Harvard on how to recruit and retain more
women. When the panels announce their findings next month, their
recommendations will draw heavily from the handful of universities
that already have such programs in place, including the Universities
of Michigan, Wisconsin and Washington; Princeton; Stanford; and M.I.T.
Those campuses have instituted an array of programs, including
workshops on unconscious bias, coaching women on how to negotiate for
things like salaries, research funds and child-care money. (Such help
is also available to men on faculties, but they generally bear much
less of these domestic burdens.)
Three years ago, the University of Michigan had 55 departments in the
sciences and engineering, only one of them headed by a woman. Today,
eight are headed by women. In that time, the university has also
tripled the number of tenure track offers to women in science and
engineering to 41 percent.
Mel Hochster, a mathematics professor at Michigan, belongs to a
committee of senior science professors that gives workshops for heads
of departments and search committees highlighting the findings of
numerous studies on sex bias in hiring. For example, men are given
longer letters of recommendation than women, and their letters are
more focused on relevant credentials. Men and women are more likely to
vote to hire a male job applicant than a woman with an identical
record. Women applying for a postdoctoral fellowship had to be 2.5
times as productive to receive the same competence score as the
average male applicant. When orchestras hold blind auditions, in which
they cannot see the musician, 30 percent to 55 percent more women are
Professor Hochster said he was not inclined to join the committee
until Abigail Stewart, a professor of psychology and women's studies
who is leading Michigan's effort, made a presentation on sex bias to
"I vastly underestimated the problem," Professor Hochster said.
"People tend to think that if there's a problem, it's with a few
old-fashioned people with old-fashioned ideas. That's not true.
Everybody has unconscious gender bias. It shows up in every study."
In the last three years, the mathematics department, regarded as one
of the best in the country, has hired two women with tenure and
promoted one associate professor to tenure, Professor Hochster said,
bringing the number of tenured women to 6, out of a total of 64
tenured and tenure-track professors. Two more women are on a tenure
Some universities have put pressure on their search committees to
broaden their pools of qualified candidates, especially when it comes
to graduate students who could apply for junior faculty positions.
Jo Handelsman, a professor of plant pathology who is leading
Wisconsin's effort to recruit and retain more female science and
engineering professors, said that at Wisconsin each member of a search
committee was encouraged to come up with a list of 10 respected
colleagues and graduate students around the country who would nominate
qualified candidates, specifically qualified women and minorities. "If
you have a committee of eight people and each one calls 10 colleagues,
now you've got 80 people brainstorming," Professor Handelsman said.
With widespread concern that only about half the pool of women earning
Ph.D.'s in biology and chemistry are even applying for junior faculty
jobs at elite research universities, M.I.T. and other institutions are
going out of their way to find outstanding young women in unusual
places and encourage them to apply.
Catherine Drennan, 41, an associate chemistry professor at M.I.T.,
said she might still be teaching high school chemistry in Iowa, as she
used to, were it not for JoAnne Stubbe, a prominent molecular
biologist at M.I.T.
Professor Drennan was a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan
when she first met Professor Stubbe at a chemistry conference. She was
stunned, Professor Drennan said, when Professor Stubbe later asked if
she would be interested in applying to M.I.T. for a faculty job.
"I had never thought of myself as someone that a school like that
would be interested in," said Professor Drennan, who arrived at M.I.T.
five and a half years ago. She is now being reviewed for tenure, and
is expected to receive it.
Some universities have also taken note of the disadvantage that women
face in negotiating salaries, laboratory space and money for research,
as well as the importance of building a reputation by publishing in
high-profile academic journals and getting invitations to speak at
prestigious conferences. Men have naturally picked up such crucial
information, as well as speaking invitations, from male colleagues and
mentors because of their greater numbers and influence. For example,
Columbia University is now bringing in retired senior academics to
coach women on its faculty in such areas.
Professor Hopkins, who in January walked out of the academic
conference where Mr. Summers made his controversial remarks about
women in science, said she nearly lost out on a large grant years ago
because she had been left out of the information loop by some of her
male colleagues. After reading in a newspaper that a biotech company
was awarding grants to M.I.T. scientists, she asked a colleague if he
knew how to apply for the money, she said. He told her he knew nothing
about the grant, she said, though she later learned that he was urging
another man in their department to apply for the money.
Professor Hopkins said she then went to her dean, who submitted her
application to the company, asking for $30,000, The company gave her
$8 million, which allowed her to expand her cancer research and led to
the discovery of a pair of cancer genes.
Experts say they believe one reason women may not be applying for
junior faculty positions at elite research universities is that they
believe - mistakenly, senior female scientists say - that these jobs
are incompatible with having children.
In a widely praised speech at Columbia three weeks ago, Princeton's
president, Shirley M. Tilghman, a molecular biologist and mother of
two, said that universities should do a great deal more to create an
environment that "legitimizes the choice" to be a scientist and have a
family. The first step, she said, "to paraphrase the political
strategist James Carville, is to recognize, 'It's day care, stupid!' "
Princeton, like many other universities, offers one-year tenure
extensions for each child and workload relief to new parents, men and
women. But Princeton found that men were more likely to take advantage
of the tenure extension than women, who were afraid that requesting
the extra year would be interpreted as a sign of weakness or lack of
confidence. Princeton has recently made the tenure extension automatic
so that it will have no value judgment attached to it, Dr. Tilghman
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