What is it like to be a woman in STEM?

Sometimes I can see the blog What is it like to be a woman in philosophy as complementary to the perspective of someone like Female Science Professor.**   Like a number of female philosophers,  female science professor appears to be someone who’s got just about everything right.  She works at a research intensive university and is a full professor.  She has a lot of graduate students, and is well-admired in her field, as far as one can tell.  Her blog posts strongly suggest she understands her professional environment as well as one can.

Her blog can be read for its often very good advice, which is spiced sometimes by such cliche ridden experiences, such as her latest one:

…but what surprised me recently was the dramatic difference between how I was portrayed and how a colleague in Another Science Department was portrayed [in a university publication of interviews].
We are both about the same age, both in physical science departments, and have other similarities in our career paths (hence the juxtaposition of these profiles).
And yet, the profile of me talked about my gentle personality (my soft smile, my quiet way of talking about my research passions), an important childhood experience, and how I came to be a professor of Science. The profile of the other professor mentioned millions in grant $ and buckets of publications. The person who interviewed us (separately) never even asked me about grants or publications.
The other professor, who is male, comes across as dynamic, assertive, and awesome in his funding and publishing. I come across as quiet and pleased to be doing some cool science.

The differences described seem in fact like a shocking exaggeration of differences in letters of reference where, according to one study of references for medical school, women are more likely to be described in personal terms and men are more likely to be described in terms of academic merit.

FSP has some ideas of how she contributed to this situaiton.  There is also  advice that she does not quite articulate:  if you are being interviewed, it is a good idea to decide in advance what you want the outcome to look like, at least in terms of the general points it should contain.

**. That is, she is where one might be if one survives, gets recognition, etc.

One thought on “What is it like to be a woman in STEM?

  1. I think of this as very much related to gender and self-promotion. The research suggests that men tend to be much better at self-promotion and are much more likely to be favorably regarded for engaging in it compared with women. The MSP may have found it quite natural to turn the interview into an opportunity to talk about his research, grant success, etc.

    Some interesting links on this issue:

    women in neurology should self-promote more:


    Kristof’s NYT piece on what experimental research shows:


    And discussion of Clay Shirky’s Rant About Women:


    I suspect most women have experienced some negative repercussions for self-promoting behavior. I also suspect most men are not aware of the difference between their doing it and women doing it.

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