Science and the Gender Gap

The name of this post is taken directly from this article I read today, and I'm very excited to see that the issue of women in science and engineering studies being treated differently from their male counterparts. I'm especially excited for Phoebe. Yesterday in the car we were listening to NPR and they were talking about the development of new computer chips to make them run faster. They were talking about the difference of wires vs. optical. A light when on in her head, "If computers can go faster, you can get your work done faster and then I can play my games when you're done!" We started talking about if she would like to be part of building faster computers. She liked that idea immensely. We talked about how she would need to study math and science a lot, and that's what Mommy and Daddy went to school for (we both have a B.S. in Electrical Engineering). It was exciting because very often she doesn't seem to show an interest in being anything when she grows up. I think it's just because she hasn't found what she likes yet.

Anyway, about the article. Being a woman in electrical engineering was tough. It was probably tougher for me than most of the men, because I had to study twice as hard as them to be taken seriously. There were more women in engineering back in the early 90s when I was at university, but there were women-centric engineering fields. Most of them were chemical and architectural. Electrical and mechanical were still very male-dominated and it made it tough. I very often would have TAs try to dumb things down for me when I asked a question. Then I'd have to explain to them that my question was more complex than what they really answered. I got pissed off a lot and a few times explained in no uncertain terms that my tuition was paying their salary and they better answer my questions or else.

Some of my other favorite stories are when I worked in one of the graduate labs (lightwaves/microwaves) as a research assistant. I quickly developed respect and surprise at how easily working with tools came to me. I used to build all kinds of neat things for these guys and they were astounded and appreciative. It was funny. I mean what do you expect? My father's a car mechanic! I've been around screwdrivers and wrenches all my life! And I really love building things. I had one of the professors I worked with for Fields I and II and that was tough! He expected a lot from me because he knew I was smart. I had to read all the assignments ahead of time, because he would always call on me in class to answer questions during lecture.

This article talks more about women in teaching positions in science and engineering and how to ensure there is equality there. I think that will help a lot as well. If there are more female TAs in grad school and more female professors, I think that will help in the fairness of the treatment of female undergrads which will be very encouraging to them to continue their studies. My favorite professor that I think my brain latched onto as she was the only role model I could find, was the only female professor in the electrical engineering department. It was kind of a shame, as her interests were more biomedical and mine were more communications. I think I may have finished grad school if I had more encouragement into my field of choice. Not sure, who knows. Maybe Phoebe will not have to think that thought someday.

Comments

Alli said…
Phoebe is a genius! :) You are setting a wonderful example for her, you strong and smart woman!