Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Bringing Gender Diversity to the Sciences

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Bringing Gender Diversity to the Sciences

Article excerpt

High-achieving women face hurdles in many fields, but if Sue V. Rosser's account is valid, the journey to the top for women in science appears more akin to leaping tall buildings only to confront even higher ones.

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In her book, Breaking into the Lab: Engineering Progress for Women in Science (NYU Press, March 2012), Rosser, who is provost and vice president for academic affairs at San Francisco State University, examines some of the reasons so few women enter, remain in and thrive in science and engineering fields. Recalling her own experiences navigating a science career as a female since the 1960s, she analyzes research and draws on excerpts of interviews from women fighting similar battles in the 21st century.

Q: How can we encourage girls at a very young age to be open to idea of going into science?

Rosser: I think it's very important that they be given options in toys--chemistry sets, erector sets, all the kinds of things that have more traditionally been given to boys --that they be encouraged in risk-taking opportunities because that has been shown to be very important. It's important that they stay in science and that they take all the math they can while in high school, that they not opt out in a way that unfortunately is permitted in American high schools, where you can go into other tracks and not take four years of math or not take science basics. Provide interesting and exciting extracurricular activities that make science seem fun and attractive.

Studies have shown that girls and women are particularly attracted to science when they can see a social usefulness and opportunity to help people. There are a lot of fields that are very socially useful, like engineering, but most high school kids do not even know what engineers do. It needs to be emphasized that the products of engineering are very useful to people in their daily lives. There are more women in fields like biomedical engineering, where it is quite clear that you are helping people by building certain medical devices.

Q: What are the barriers that may be greater for women in science than for women in other fields?

Rosser: To get to the top of any field, I think the barriers are very similar, but one of the differences is that in science, you really can't take time out without falling behind, because it is so rapidly moving. …

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