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Research Proposal

Ann Magnuson ann.magnuson at biokem.lu.se
Fri Apr 3 14:22:10 EST 1998

S L Forsburg wrote:

> We have noted on women in bio
> previously that there are few women in the faculty, even the
> young faculty; women are self-selecting out of the job
> market.  Why?  Here's the
> idea.  Take a couple of top graduate programs....for example,
> MIT and UCSF.  Do a study to determine what happened to the
> women who entered the programs between, say, 1980 and 1985.
> Where are they now, and why?

I think it's a great idea. However, before we have actual statistical 
data to lean on I would like to discuss your ideas about this problem. 
I live in Sweden, so our situation, politics, economy etc are not the 
same. But the general trend is very similar: In all the "bio-sciences" 
women in graduate school taking Ph.D.'s are a good 50%, but the 
university faculty has only a few, around 5% female members. 

I am myself finishing my PhD and I am determined to continue doing 
research at a university. I keep telling myself that it can't be that 
hard, that I should keep the spirit high, but none of the other female 
students I discuss this with share my views but seem quite 
pessimistic. They all shrug sullenly or say "Naahh..." when I ask if 
they would like to continue doing research. What bugs me is that 
no-one seems to have any particular reason not to apply for university 
positions, or at least none they want to share with me.

Why is this so? How come most of the male students say "sure I want to 
try an academic career", and most female students don't? The Swedish 
academic system is very open minded towards women's needs to stay at 
home a couple of years with the kids. Many graduate students actually 
even take a year off and have a child before they finish their Ph.D. 
thesis. Wanting to raise a family can't be the main reason anyway, 
because all these women with a PhD aren't going to be housewives all 
their lives. They will look for a job after the first two baby years 
or so, why not at the universities?

After trying to think up all the possible reasons in the world, I got 
a terrible idea: What if most women students just aren't really 
interested in science? Women are very good at being "good girls", 
working hard and getting good results just because we think we should, 
because it's a virtue. At least it holds for many girls and young 
women, whereas boys do what they like and enjoy, and otherwise often 
don't do very well in subjects they aren't interested in. What if the 
female graduate students chose science just to get a PhD, while the 
male students did it because they are genuinely interested? 

Flame me if you like for this idea, I really hope I'm wrong, and I 
really want to hear your views!

Ann Magnuson
Dept. of Biochemistry
Lund University

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