Thus Spake Zuska
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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Where the Girls Are

I'm a little late in forwarding this news to you - it's from the May 5, 2006 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education.  But I just had to share it.  You see, the Chronicle reported this absolutely astounding discovery:

...some of the nation's small liberal-arts colleges send on more women, proportionally, for Ph.D.'s in the sciences than do elite research universities.

Take the pool of students in the physical sciences who earned PhDs between 2000 and 2004.  Of all the ones that came from liberal arts colleges - 36% were women.  Of all the ones who came from research universities - 24% were women.  Oberlin College's graduates who went on for science PhD's were pretty evenly split male/female - you go, Oberlin! 

Here's one of my favorite stats from the article:

Stanford University, with an undergraduate enrollment four times as large as Pomona College, produced six times as many male Ph.D.'s in the physical sciences, but just twice as many female ones.

Pomona's really kicking some Stanford butt. 

Now, here is the stunning surprise conclusion to the article:  why are the liberal arts colleges so good at producing women who go on for PhD's in the sciences?  Here's the big secret:

  • More attention;
  • Role Models;
  • Atmosphere.

It seems that when you pay attention to women students, take them seriously, treat them as if they are actually intelligent, capable human beings, and expose them to other women pursuing similar interests, why golly gee, there's women scientists breaking out all over!  Who woulda thunk it? **

**Greg Brown is a most excellent singer-songwriter. 

I have to say, this Chronicle article put me in mind of several others I've read over the past few years:

  • This one from 2004 about women scientists who spurn the big research universities in favor of community colleges, where they can actually spend time teaching students - and have a real family life themselves. 
  • Louts in the Lab from Jan. 2004 about the appalling conditions at Duke's physics department.  What sane woman would want to be part of that mess?  Or, really, any physics department, I'm wondering?  (In case you can't access that last link, it's an update on Wendy T. Padget; she was a doctoral student in physics in 1970 who said she'd never experienced discrimination.  Today, Wendy is an artist specializing in needlepoint, following her unsuccessful attempts to have a career in physics - she looked too nice to do weapons work.  Thanks for the compliment, guys!)  Hey, if you know of a physics department at a top-notch research university that is not incredibly hostile to women - maybe one that's even just sort of grudgingly tolerant of them, but not actively working to obstruct their careers and make life miserable - drop Zuska a line!  I'll be happy to give them good press here.  That's zuska AT bobtownsuz DOT com  bobtownsuz AT yahoo DOT com.   
  • In Where the Elite Teach, It's Still a Man's World, they just come right out and say it: 

Indeed, the core problem facing women who want to advance in academe appears to be at research universities. The higher up the academic-prestige ladder a university is, the fewer women it usually has in tenured faculty positions...women at doctorate-granting universities advance more slowly on the tenure track than men do, are paid less than their male counterparts, and are more apt to be dissatisfied with their jobs...young women earning doctorates in fields like mathematics and the physical sciences are, surprisingly, turned off by the prospect of jobs at top universities.

Heh.  "Surprisingly." 

You know, the environment in some of these elite research sites is so toxic...I wonder if we couldn't just get them declared Superfund sites?  High likelihood of air and surface release/migration of large amounts of very toxic waste products that are exceedingly detrimental to the health and well-being of at least 50% of the nation's population. 

Okay.  You're right.  Debra Rolison - who is one of my heroines - has what is probably a more likely strategy in the Title IX approach.  She's already got a senator on board!   Still, a girl can dream. 


(This post edited to correct email address.  Read Zuska's angst about the correction here.) 

10:27:39 PM    comment [] trackback []

That's Just Good Design!

Friends who know me well, know that I am not shy about pronouncing judgment on bad design when I encounter it.  Bad design is, well, really bad.  The engineer's job - the engineer's responsibility - is to reduce or eliminate bad design wherever it exists, and to create and nurture new, good design in any and all venues. 

Good design:  Washington's Metro system.  Especially at stations like Metro Center, where different lines meet, and you get those gorgeous intersecting arching nice. 

Bad design:  Childproof caps on pill bottles that my mother cannot open with her arthritic hands.  Actually, pretty much anything that isn't designed keeping in mind the needs of the elderly and disabled.  Grrrrrrr....

Here is a lovely collection of really bad design. 

Last Friday's Philadelphia Inquirer had a review of a book - set of books, really - called Phaidon Design Classics.  This is where you go to see really good design!  I am pleased to know that Tupperware made it into the book.  Also the clothes peg.  Household technology doesn't get near enough the kind of attention it should.  

Too bad these books are so expensive.  They would be a great resource for high school teachers who wanted to illustrate the engineer's ubiquitous influence in our lives.  Perhaps you are feeling philanthropic, and would like to donate a set of these books to your local middle school or high school library!  That is really wonderful.  Zuska approves.   


7:07:16 PM    comment [] trackback []

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