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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Panel addresses gender in science

Three women with very different perspectives and backgrounds addressed issues relating to balancing scientific research and family, along with past and continuing barriers and inequities faced by women in the fields of science and engineering in a Wednesday panel discussion.  

 

 

 

Panelists included a biologist, an engineering dean and a philosopher. Caitilyn Allen, associate professor of plant pathology and women's studies at UW-Madison moderated the discussion. 

 

 

 

Citing a recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology study which demonstrated gender discrimination in the sciences still exists, Alison Wylie, a professor of philosophy at Washington University in St. Louis, stressed that discrimination against women manifests itself in more subtle rather than overt ways. 

 

 

 

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\[Gender discrimination] is not a matter, necessarily, of intentional exclusion or explicitly discriminatory policies, but innumerable small differences in treatment,"" Wylie said. 

 

 

 

Many in attendance, as biologists and engineers themselves, sought advice from the panel or spoke of personal experiences at UW-Madison. 

 

 

 

Sarah Pfatteicher, assistant dean of academic affairs in the College of Engineering, spoke of the need for all members of the scientific and engineering communities to address concerns faced by women in the fields. 

 

 

 

""I am a little discouraged with the talk of diversity in engineering-with all that talk going on, all of the engineers here were women,"" Pfatteicher said. ""My concern is how do we get these types of stories outside of a group of women, who will nod and agree, to men to whom it is news?"" 

 

 

 

Also on the UW-Madison faculty, Allen described her experience of pursuing tenure while starting and raising a family.  

 

 

 

""It has been possible for me to succeed here. [UW-Madison] has some pretty women-friendly policies,"" Allen said. ""The university recognizes that having children can slow you down. You can stop your tenure clock for a year if you have or adopt a child."" 

 

 

 

However Allen expressed concern about the composition of the faculty in her college. 

 

 

 

""I wish the College of Agriculture had more women faculty,"" Allen said. ""Plant Pathology has seven female tenured and tenure-track faculty out of 25 faculty members in the department. The graduate students don't just see one way to be a successful woman scientist."" 

 

 

 

Margaret Lowman, a panelist and a biologist who has performed fieldwork in rain forests with her young children in tow, offered a further encouragement to women trying to balance research responsibilities with family life.  

 

 

 

""Science is a wonderful career to share with a family. I would advocate it,"" Lowman said. ""I feel grateful to have shared science with my children."" 

 

 

 

Speaking of the necessity of more diversity in engineering-related fields, Eleanor Baum, dean of Engineering at Cooper Union in New York City, offered a piece of advice. 

 

 

 

""You have to have a sense of humor to survive as a woman in science or engineering,"" Baum said. ""It's the only way."" 

 

 

 

The symposium was sponsored by the UW-Madison Center for the Humanities, the Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute and Women in Science and the Engineering Residential Program.

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