Thursday, May 22, 2008

Women in Academics

In two parts:
  1. A recent issue of Women, the supplement of the well-known literary fodder of the chattering classes, India Today has suddenly discovered that there are working women outside of Industry, the Corporate Sector, Banking, Modeling and Bollywood -- in other words they have discovered (drum beats please...) ACADEMICS !!! In it are featured six women academics in various fields. They are
    • Kavita Singh, an art historian in JNU
    • Neelima Chitgopekar, a historian at Jesus and Mary College, Delhi
    • Renee Borges, Ecological Sciences, IISc, Bangalore
    • Anita Mehta, physicist from S. N Bose Centre in Kolkata
    • Shireen Moosvi, historian from Aligarh Muslim University
    • Nandini Sundar, Sociologist from Delhi School of Economics.
    Two of these women have figured recently in this blog -- Anita Mehta for her article on Indian science, and Nandini Sundar for her article on the Naxal movement. Of course, it wouldn't be India Today if they got everything right -- Kavita Singh has aged 13 years just by dint of appearing in the magazine, and Anita Mehta's affiliation appears as S. N. Bose College instead of S. N. Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences.
  2. The Boston Globe reports in a recent article about two new studies that try to answer the question why there are not more women in science and engineering. The bottom line? They just aren't interested.. These two new studies by economists and social scientists have reached a perhaps startling conclusion: an important part of the explanation for the gender gap, they are finding, are the preferences of women themselves. When it comes to certain math- and science-related jobs, substantial numbers of women - highly qualified for the work - stay out of those careers because they would simply rather do something else. Of course they give the usual disclaimers -- that these findings involve averages and do not apply to all women or men; indeed, there is wide variety within each gender. The researchers are not suggesting that sexism and cultural pressures on women don't play a role, and they don't yet know why women choose the way they do. One forthcoming paper in the Harvard Business Review, for instance, found that women often leave technical jobs because of rampant sexism in the workplace. Some of the conclusions may sound like stereotypes, but as one of the investigators says, there is a germ of truth in these stereotypes. There is also no question that the findings are quite controversial and it is important to understand the modalities used in the survey. Clearly, these studies are based on a survey of the American work force and the issues in India would presumably be substantially different since science doesn't seem to have the opprobrium attached to it, that it seems to have in the U. S. more and more. The Indian National Science Academy (INSA) published a report on Indian women's access to and retention in science in 2005 which would be more relevant perhaps, to the Indian context. However the issues being discussed in these reports are quite different and therefore are not really comparable. The former discusses why more women do not choose a scientific or technical career. The latter (INSA report) discusses the fate of those who have already made the choice to go into science and technology. I don't think there is any study of the former kind in the Indian context.
Update: A blistering attack on this study by Kathy G (through Nanopolitan) quoting the Snake Goddess. Take a look.


AMOK said...

No one seems to be touching this one. Many of us have spouses, siblings, peers, mentors, friends (and enemies) who are in science/academics and who are women. Perhaps one of them can be invited to comment.

To summarize the post (1) Women-academics discovered by media and (2) men don't keep women out of science and engineering, they stay out anyway.

(1) Above is entirely self-contained and self-explanatory and decoupled from the rest of the world. Women have been in academics for ages. (2) Women choosing science at different rates than men is another matter. It has to do with opportunities and role models perhaps.

You may have read about the Harvard
from the three doctors from India.

Rahul Basu said...

Hah! Nobody is commenting here. That's probably because nobody reads my blog (boo hoo!!). But there are some major criticisms -- see my update.

AMOK said...

Not true. Guaranteed your blog is read many times. You must design your blogs to be comment-friendly. See the blog from yours truly as a shining example :).

It is indeed true, people make arguments as they see fit, failing to identify the "objective function" or "action" that is being optimized. Thus India is raising food prices by gobbling and polluting; women self-select out of science, US is still freeing the Iraqi people, etc.

Imagine having a neighbouring family, a "standard" couple, man and woman. The woman is often seen in jeans (pant-suit?). The man is often seen in a skirt. You can imagine, there is a spontaneous symmetry-breaking about the resulting commentary. Please explain why, using your infinite wisdom. Analyze the man-man, man-woman,woman-woman and woman-man excitations.