What’s Up With Science’s Gender Gap?

Still not sure women face more obstacles than men on the way to a science career? Read Eileen Pollack's story.

Now, as ever, it’s a tough time to be a lady in science. As Nature wrote in its women in science issue earlier this year: “Despite some progress, women scientists are still paid less, promoted less, win fewer grants and are more likely to leave research than similarly qualified men.”

The question, of course, is: Why? Why, even as the demand for STEM education rises, do only a fifth of the physics Ph.Ds awarded in the U.S. go to women, as a new New York Times magazine story asks?

Written by Eileen Pollack, who was one of the first women to graduate from Yale with a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1978, this story is a deeply personal one. Though she graduated with honors after having written a thesis that, years later, her advisor would call “exceptional,” no one–not even that same advisor–encouraged her to go on to a post-graduate career in science.

When she goes to visit that former thesis advisor, 30-some years after the fact, the maleness of mathematics was still basically written on the wall:

But this isn’t just the story of one woman. A Yale study from last year found that when hiring an applicant with the exact same qualifications, professors (both male and female) were more likely rate “John” as more competent, hirable and deserving of mentoring and a higher salary than “Jennifer.” But, great for Jennifer, they thought she was more likable. Pollack spoke to the study’s author, Jo Handelsman, a molecular and cell biology professor at Yale. Her takeaway, basically, was that this is everyone’s problem.

Just go ahead and read the whole thing.