Saturday, November 18, 2006

Here or There?

Is it better for there to be senior women science professors in as many universities as possible, or is it better for there to be at least some universities that have a relatively high concentration of senior women scientists? [assume that it is not possible for there to be sufficient representation of women science professors at all universities on a time scale that is relevant to the reasons why I am pondering this question]

In other words: Should a senior woman scientist leave a university that does pretty good job at hiring and retaining women faculty for a university that does a dismal job of both? In real life, there are many other considerations about family and life and research facilities and so on, but let's ignore those for the moment.

I don't know the answer, but I have been thinking about it a lot recently.

8 comments:

Pam said...

Funny, I've thought about this too. I'm in one of the places with few women (although my field isn't as male-dominated as, say, engineering is - it's biology-related) - but I'm in the south and it's just a very male-driven environment. I've thought about leaving, and looking elsewhere - and I know I could find a department with more female colleagues, but boy - I've felt like I would just be abandoning every female graduate student walking through our doors. We're 82% female graduate students this year, in our freshmen doctoral class. In my program, I'm literally one of just several they can come and talk to - the other women are adjunct - and who would they go to if I wasn't around? But then the situation often sucks for me - dismal as you say - but I just can't bring myself to leave. (But I fear that being a martyr for such a place is an insane way to live your life - I know it's not healthy for me in many ways).

Anonymous said...

As a male professor in physics I claim no privilidged knowledge on the topic. That said, I've often wondered if the "transition" to a female-friendly (or in the best sense of the phrase, "gender-blind") physics/science department is predicted/correlated with a certain fraction of the faculty being female.

ie, if 20% or more of a department's faculty are female then there's an 80% better chance than average for a female graduate student to defend/be satasfied in their career etc.

Do you know if the APS gathered statistics like this in their Spin-Up survey?

Rosie Redfield said...

I think two questions underly this:

1. Who's 'betterment' are we considering - the scientist in question, or other women who might become scientists?

The answer must not be the scientist in question, as she'll have less support and more obstacles in an environment with fewer women colleagues.

So question 2: What evidence do we have about how women's choice of and persistence in scientific careers is influenced by either the local presence of women scientists or the conspicuous success of women scientists elsewhere.

Answer: I don't know of any rigorous (scientifically credible) evidence. My personal experience favours local women. Thinking back to when I was a student, it was direct encounters with some of the women scientists at my own institutions that left me thinking "I could be like her", whereas this never happened with male scientists or with women I only read about.

bsci said...

Looking at the original post and Pam's post, I wonder if there is a compromise answer.
Senior women science professors should be in as many universities as possible that make serious efforts to treat them well regardless of gender/race/etc.

Only going to schools with proven results prevents change from happening at other place and doesn't give students female role models (this is a benefit for both men and women... a male student with a strong female role model is probably more likely to be a good mentor to women).

Going to schools with no track records, but where faculty clearly care is a good way to organically initate change.

Still, going to a school with serious institutional biases and no desire to change benefits almost no one. If a school is ignored by quality male and female prospective faculty because of the institutional issues they will either rot or learn to change in the future.

Ms.PhD said...

Agreed that being a martyr is pointless.

Agreed that well-meaning departments should get a chance to put some women where their mouths are.

Disagree that there's no evidence that women go where women already are- all the studies I know about have shown this quite conclusively. This is also true for minority students. Although you could argue that I can't remember if it's 'go there' or 'succeed there'.

Have to wonder why you even have to worry about this. Oh yeah- the problem is that all the young women who should be getting hired as faculty AREN'T. If you can't effect change at the faculty level where you are now, what difference does it make where you go next? Would you have a better chance of being a driving force with more critical mass of women faculty already there (say, at least one other)? What's holding you back where you are now?

Dr. Shellie said...

The worst case is going somewhere with a track record of LOSING their female professors.

Ingo said...

Sheila Tobias has argued, persuasively in my opinion, that having a "critical mass" of women students is necessary for them to stick around in the sciences. I think the same argument can be made for professors.

That being said, to serve as successfull role models, the research has to be good, too. Therefore, if the choice is between two equally good universities, easy. If the other university is not as good, tough.

Last, but not least, it has sometimes been argued that women in science improve it because of their "different perspective". I'm not sure if that argument is not slightly sexist, but for what its worth, I'm at a department where there are several women postdocs (equivalent to non-tenure track "assistant professors", but we don't really have that title in germany) and they have definetely shaped the research agenda uniquely.

Stephanie said...

Hmm, this is an interesting thought. My large, public undergraduate university had about 30% women in the undergraduate population, but only one female faculty member. I never met or interacted with the female prof, but the young, caring, and supportive male profs were great. Maybe the fact that the students around me had a higher female/male ratio helped me to stay in science?