Saturday, December 3, 2011

Fixing Glaring Gender Gaps in US Research Labs

You look around and realize only you and the secretary in the research lab are females.

Years after, one of your students who now works at the same research lab realizes that she is one of 5 females out of 500 at the same research lab.

The above experiences happened at the Los Alamos National Lab, a top scientific research lab in the United States.

And, the female scientist who had the first experience above is now doing something about it.

Her name is Dr. Maria Gomez and she teaches at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, which is part of the 5 College System in western Massachusetts (I teach at one of the five -- UMass Amherst).

Yesterday, I read an outstanding article, written by Chad Cain, in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, on what Professor Gomez is doing to inspire and educate females in science and especially in her specialty -- chemistry. I enjoyed the article so much that I wrote to both Professor Gomez and Mr. Cain yesterday and congratulated them (and heard back from both of them).

I saved my hardcopy and shared it also with my daughter.

You can read the full article here (minus the nice photos).

Professor Gomez ( I did some additional research) completed her PhD at Brown University, as I did, and although she only saw her father several times in her life, he was a mathematician and her mother would tell her it is in your genes something which I keep on telling my daughter since her parents have PhDs in physics and applied mathematics (from Brown).

The article further highlights the misrepresentation of females in what are the STEM (sciences, technology, engineering and math) fields. The relatively few women who do receive degrees in those fields are concentrated in the physical and life sciences.

According to the article: Although women fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S., they hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs, according to a 2009 report from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The report, culled from U.S. Census figures, found that women comprised 27 percent of the computer and math workforce (the largest of the four STEM components) and about 14 percent of the engineering workforce. The numbers are higher in the physical and life sciences, at 40 percent female.

In a 2010 report called "Why So Few?" the American Association of University Women offers a similar picture.

Women have closed the gap in the fields of biology and agricultural sciences, making up some 50 percent of those earning a doctorate, according to the report. The numbers drop off considerably for other fields. The figure for women earning doctorates in math, for example, stands at about 30 percent, while about 20 percent of computer science doctorates are awarded to women.

Students need more role models such a Professor Maria Gomez to see what is possible and how rewarding and satisfying research in math and sciences can be.