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Women as Scientific Workers - Myth and Reality

The latest research has proved that the problem of inequality of sexes is still rather acute, especially if talking about female advancement in science. Strange as it may seem but the 21st century gives no clear answer to the problem whether both men and women possess equal rights in every sphere of their activity. Are stereotypes of thinking diminishing female rights so powerful today?

For already a few decades the growing number of women has joined the world of science, successfully applying to science and engineering faculties even in the most prominent educational institutions, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology being no exception. In fact, women make up 50 per cent of the undergraduate science majors and over a third of the engineering students of the Institute. The representatives of the fair sex also belong to the half of the medical students in the USA, and are actively involved in other disciplines traditionally considered as 'male', like biology and mathematics.

Despite everything mentioned, the research has alarmed that women in the science field usually do not receive the same amount of support as men-scientists. Moreover, there are still really few women who managed to occupy top academic positions especially if compared to the overall exceeding number of ladies joining the science area. Consider the fact - the renowned institutions employ only about 15 percent of full female professors related to social, behavioral or life sciences. While climbing the academic ladder, more women than men turn back and quit further science and engineering career-building. Are their any grounded reasons for the case and can women do anything to improve the situation?

Some organizations who support women in science found it necessary to deal with the problem and hold special conferences, lectures and seminars devoted to the issue. As one of the best examples, women-scientists who work at Rice University invited most successful graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to take part in the conference. Their aim was together to discuss and acquire the necessary skills of job hunting and promotion leading to the top of the academic science. The female participants found it really helpful to discover they were facing the same problems and there existed ways to make things easier and more equitable for them.

Among the major issues discussed at the conference, there were the following: - How to work out the necessary negotiation skills at workplace? Is it possible to have a successful academic career and a happy marriage with children at the same time? How important is mentoring and professional support? Can women support each other if they lack the real help which their professors or advisers are supposed to provide?

Women in Science - Top Issues:

  1. Regarding workplace communication and behavior, female scientists need to come to an alternative - on the one hand not to be too aggressive and not to seem ineffective on the other hand. In general, women are expected to be a little less persistent than men but it does not imply they should be passive. Women should recognize and make use of arising negotiating opportunities. It will result in getting more financial resources and social collaboration - these are among the major factors contributing to successful outcome in scientific research. As an example, women publish their works as often as men if provided by enough support.
  2. It is necessary to come to clear and well-defined evaluation criteria of projects elaborated by women-scientists and their progress in general. The specialists studied letters of recommendation written for male and female candidates who looked for academic appointments. They discovered an interesting tendency - recommendation letters written for women included information about personal life of the applicant six times more often than those written for men. Men recommendation letters included more information on the research skills and practical knowledge acquired in the lab.
  3. The mentors' contribution into the achievements of a female scientist is all important. Well-timed cooperation from the side of a thesis adviser, the head of department or another mentor may define the further course of the entire career. If mentors refuse or are not able to offer the necessary support, women should find supporters among other women-scientists and form their own network. There is an example of a group of female scientists who united their efforts through meeting on regular basis, discussing professional issues, becoming reliable mentors for each other.
  4. The issue of a happy family with children turned out to be the most controversial one. Although there are some prejudice that women are not able to be simultaneously devoted to family and career, the experience of many women proved that it is possible to be successful in both one's personal and scientific life. However, the majority of women say that in case they faced the choice, they would prefer to have family and children but not be promoted than to build a brilliant career and remain lonely.

No matter what sphere of activity a woman is involved into, even if it is not a scientific one, she should improve her knowledge and skills and believe in one's personal characteristics as well as the ability to succeed. Deep devotion to work supported by faith in one's own success is much more important than sheer speculation on the topic - all the possible stereotypes and prejudice will gradually vanish.



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