Women Power in Science (5)

Korea Times (Seoul, Korea), May 16, 2000 | Go to article overview

Women Power in Science (5)


In the hit weekend drama ``KAIST,'' where Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology is used as the backdrop, female characters are portrayed as energetic engineering students striving to achieve their long-cherished dreams _ just like their male counterparts.

Along with the female students, a female professor, who teaches electrical engineering, is also portrayed as equally competitive and adept in her field.

However, what is pictured on screen is quite different from the reality. Only a small number of Korean women are engaged in the field of science and engineering.

Women account for just 6.6 percent of researchers at the 12 state-funded institutes in the Taedok Science Town in Taejon, about two-hour drive south from Seoul. Likewise, female professors in natural sciences account for only 8.3 percent nationwide. The rate shrinks to 3.8 percent when the range is narrowed to science and engineering colleges. In fields such as mechanical, electric, and civil engineering, the rate is even smaller _ less than one percent.

The rate of aspiring female scientists is just as meager. Only 16.7 percent of all women who enter universities enroll in science and engineering departments, whereas fields that are traditionally considered more ``suitable'' for women, such as biology, mathematics and chemistry, have enroll rates surpassing 50 percent.

``Due to Korea's long history of Confucianism, people tend to think women are not suitable for the sciences. Girls are taught from childhood that it is not feminine to like science or machines, and are encouraged to be interested in relatively soft fields, like arts and literature,'' said Prof. Mo Heh- jeong, 61, of the Department of Physics at Ewha Womans University.

``Women who grew up in this atmosphere do not feel as familiar with science and machines as men, and as a result, only a few are motivated to become scientists,'' she explained.

But even if some decide to pursue a science career, it is difficult to find opportunities to show their abilities.

``Female scientists have long experienced disadvantages in employment and promotion,'' said Mo, pointing out that there is no woman heading a research institute.

``I went to a research institute and was surprised to find there was no women's bathroom. …

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