Science and the Gender Gap…The Follow Up

In response to my post Science and the Gender Gap, a reader posted the following comment:

1) There’s no food in my kitchen ;p

2) Actually, there are more women than men enrolled in American colleges.

3) You never account for how many women are enrolled in undergraduate and graduate studies for the fields you’re referring to. Doing so would help provide context when you start talking about tenure track faculty.

4) Actually, which fields exactly are you/we discussing? Natural sciences? Computer sciences? Engineering?

5) I resent your underlying implication that most women would choose babies over a career. Furthermore, I think that women can be successful in both science careers and have children if they so choose. It just takes a little forethought and a good amount of dedication.

6) Yes, the gender gap in tenure track faculty may be caused by underlying societal values which lead women to choose different careers. But where’s the problem? Are sciences better? (Um… NO!) If not, maybe there should be a follow up post on how men are less likely study social sciences or English.

7) For the record, journalism and politics are “good old boy” careers too. But I’ve found that I can decidedly use this to my advantage. A young uppity woman can often times, with a little work, have that world (if not wrapped around her finger then at least) at her disposal.

In writing my response, I thought it better just write another journal.  Here is my response:

1.) I feel sorry for you if there’s no food in your kitchen (actually, I feel more for Julie :-p)

2.)There are more women then men in universities today, but that trend is recent, as in women made up 50% + 1 of all college students in 2004 for the first time (this figure is from undergrad to post-doc)

3.)The figures apply in undergrad all the way to post-doc.  It is especially evident in grad school.  What few women do attend university for the sciences during their undergrad years, even fewer of them pursue a graduate degree.  Even less than that decide to do post doc and go on to teach.

4.)Sciences = Natural Sciences (Biology, Chemistry, Geology, etc.) Computer Sciences and all Engineering plus Mathematics.  Otherwise known as Science and Technology

5.)However perceived, there is no underlying implication that most women would choose babies over a career.  The point was to say that women who decide to get a PhD, do post-doc research and go on to teach then have to decide between babies and teaching if they want tenure due to the fact that tenure at most colleges requires 6+ years of continued teaching.  Any breaks at all, for whatever reason, can lead to a disqualification for tenure.  It can be done if the woman either a) has children before she starts teaching, or b) waits until she already has tenure.  I absolutely think having a family while tenured teaching is an obtainable goal, it’s just harder to do that for females under the current tenure system.

6.)No one is saying the tenure track for the sciences is any better than any other track.  In fact, if I had my way, I would remove tenure from the Technology sections of university teaching all together.  Why?  Well, tenure was set up to encourage the flow of new, and sometimes controversial, ideas from professors to their students without reservation or fear of termination.  Wikipedia says this about tenure:

“Tenure systems usually are justified via claim that they provide academic freedom, by preventing instructors from being dismissed for openly disagreeing with either authorities or with prevailing opinion or with both.”

Having established that, let’s look at the logic of awarding tenure to professors in the sciences:  There are precious few ideas in the sciences that lead themselves to any sort of controversial debate.  Recently, the main one has been Evolution vs. Creationism, and which one should be taught in public schools.  This is a prime example of why tenure is needed.  Another example, albeit a little less ground shaking than the former, is the question “Is Pluto a planet, and if not, what is it?”  These sorts of questions do lend themselves to discourse, some of which may be controversial by today’s standards.

Now, in engineering, I can almost guarantee you that there are no such questions yet to be answered that lend themselves to any sort of controversial debate.  Engineering is almost solely based upon processes.  “What process does one follow to produce the expected output or outcome” is the general question all engineers ask.  The task (or the hard part, if you will) is determining the correct steps and sequence of steps to produce that outcome.  In engineering, almost nothing is left open to interpretation; nothing is subjective.  In this lack of fall things subjective lies the problem of awarding tenure to engineering professors.  Since they have nothing to be controversial about, they only thing that separates the best engineering professors is how well they convey technical information to students.  This is why I advocate a performance-based system, coupled with regular monitoring, for all engineering professors.

7.) I understand fully that there are many “good-ole-boy” systems around, politics and journalism included (NPR had a great story one afternoon about how men are allowed to age gracefully on network TV news shows while women have to remain young, wrinkle, and grey hair free). I also understand that any industrious person (male/female, majority/minority) can buck said system and indeed use it to their advantage.

I hope this helped answer some of your questions and clarify most of my statements and intentions.  Thanks for the comments, and, as always, feel free to comment at anytime about anything, whether pro or con.

>Ice9_

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~ by Deuce on September 20, 2006.

2 Responses to “Science and the Gender Gap…The Follow Up”

  1. Ah, the good old stand by Global Warming. If you’re looking for a hot-button issue, and can’t find one, global warming is sure to heat up the lines leading into your blog/webspace/whatever. Again, this is an example of the subtle, yet distinct differences between science and engineering. Yes, global warming is nothing but science, but it happens to be more of a biological/environmental issue than just purely engineering.

    I’m not aruging the fact that the issue is well-grounded (or perhaps not, thus fuling the debate) in science. Perhaps global warming is a bi-product of some types of engineering (certainly petrolium/chemical engineering plants don’t help). At either rate, I don’t think g/w is purely an engineering issue. I view it as a “we better fix this or else we’re all screwed” issue.

  2. 1) Julie has food. I just don’t. I hate HEB.

    6) Just because you and I may think that engineering research may be very well scientifically founded, doesn’t mean that it can’t be controversial. A perfect example of this can be found in this politicized article about a solid piece of research: http://www.thenewamerican.com/artman/publish/article_4206.shtml

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