Monday, March 22, 2010

AAUW Report on Underrepresentation of Women in Math and Sciences - "Why So Few?"

Tamar Lewin writes in The New York Times on the AAUW report, supported by the National Science Foundation, to be released today, "Why So Few?" which documents that although women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields have made gains, stereotypes and cultural biases still impede their success. The Times article, Bias Called Persistent Hurdle for Women in Sciences, is definitely worth reading, as is the AAUW report.

According to Lewin: The report found ample evidence of continuing cultural bias. One study of postdoctoral applicants, for example, found that women had to publish 3 more papers in prestigious journals, or 20 more in less-known publications, to be judged as productive as male applicants.

In addition, in a survey, commissioned by the Bayer Corp., and conducted by Campos Inc., two-thirds cited the persistent stereotype that STEM fields are not for girls or minorities as a leading contributor to their underrepresentation. Many in the Bayer survey, also being released today, said they had been discouraged from going into their field in college, most often by a professor. This I find extremely painful, as a professor and a female, to read.

Well, there is some hope (I am being sarcastic here), Harvard, after 375 years, tenured a female in its Mathematics Department. Her name is Dr. Sophie Morel; she is from France, and I found out about her from the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study website.

In 2005-2006 I was a Science Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute and represented mathematics, along with my friend, Dr. Pierrette Cassou-Nogues, who is from France. I have 3 degrees in Applied Mathematics from Brown University (with a specialty in operations research) but my primary appointment is in the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst.

Interestingly, the New York Times journalist, Tamar Lewin, who wrote the article on persistent bias against women in science, is married to Robert Krulwich, an NPR and ABC reporter, who was my interviewer on the World Science Festival panel on Traffic in New York City last June. He was simply fabulous and during a chat before the panel spoke about his wife. Also joining me on the Traffic panel were Dr. Iain Couzin of Princeton University and Dr. Mitchell Joachim of Columbia University.