Breaking into the Lab: Engineering Progress for Women in Science

Breaking into the Lab: Engineering Progress for Women in Science

Breaking into the Lab: Engineering Progress for Women in Science

Breaking into the Lab: Engineering Progress for Women in Science

Synopsis

Why are there so few women in science? In Breaking into the Lab, Sue Rosser uses the experiences of successful women scientists and engineers to answer the question of why elite institutions have so few women scientists and engineers tenured on their faculties. Women are highly qualified, motivated students, and yet they have drastically higher rates of attrition, and they are shying away from the fields with the greatest demand for workers and the biggest economic payoffs, such as engineering, computer sciences, and the physical sciences. Rosser shows that these continuing trends are not only disappointing, they are urgent: the U.S. can no longer afford to lose the talents of the women scientists and engineers, because it is quickly losing its lead in science and technology. Ultimately, these biases and barriers may lock women out of the new scientific frontiers of innovation and technology transfer, resulting in loss of useful inventions and products to society.

Excerpt

In 1968, when I applied to four graduate schools and was accepted to all but Harvard, I wondered why Stanford had failed to provide me with support, since both Berkeley and Madison had. When I called the chair of the department to inquire about this, I was told that they had accepted me only because of my very high grades and GRE scores, since normally they did not offer a place to a married woman who was likely just to have children and “waste” her graduate education.

In 1971, I was directed toward a dissertation topic on fossil rodents based primarily at the Field Museum in Chicago because my major professor assumed that, since I was pregnant with my first child, I would not want to go to Africa for dissertation field research as most of his other students did. In 1975, when I became pregnant with my second child, my postdoctoral advisor suggested that I get an abortion. He said the timing for having another child at that point was not good for the research; he said we needed to collect more data to improve our chances of getting the grant renewed.

Despite these and other obstacles, I did go on to have a successful career in academia, culminating in my serving as a dean of liberal arts at a research I institution for ten years before attaining my current position as provost at a large comprehensive university. The types of barriers, obstacles, and discrimination that women scientists, engineers, and I faced 30 or 40 years ago, and some that slightly younger women faced 10 or 20 years ago, now appear overt and obvious. While today’s obstacles seem covert and less clear, my junior colleagues continue to face similar issues, just manifested now in different forms. This volume explores these similarities and differences and their impacts upon the careers of women scientists and engineers.

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