Why don't more females study Physics, how could we change things, and should we?

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Why don't more females study Physics, how could we change things, and should we?

Post by Elbow_Patches » Wed Apr 26, 14:38 2017

Hello everyone,

I'm a Physics teacher and I'm concerned by the fact that only about 20% of Physics students (at A level and undergraduate) are women, and this has remained the same for about 25-30 years.

I'd appreciate it if you could follow this link: www.quicksurveys.com/s/c6J3EnS

to fill out a short survey for me. It should take less than 10 minutes, maybe more if you have a lot to say on the issue. If you have any suggestions about how to phrase the questions differently then please do reply and discuss in this thread.

Many thanks for any responses,


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Re: Why don't more females study Physics, how could we change things, and should we?

Post by rowan » Thu Apr 27, 8:52 2017

Well enrollments/interest at undergrad levels (you'd have to remind me what A levels are) start at about 50% and drop off because the climate in physics sucks. TBH there's a lot of social science already on this issue, you can check out "Talking about Leaving" by Elaine Seymour and plenty of other papers since that book.

Also you should probably call us women not females.

Anyway your survey keeps breaking, so I didn't take it.

And because physicists are notoriously awful at social science, except those of us it impacts here are some links to more reading:
https://othersociologist.com/2014/11/01 ... bias-stem/
https://othersociologist.com/2015/05/05 ... ublishing/
https://othersociologist.com/2015/04/16 ... n-science/ (a takedown of a very flawed study that claimed there was no bias, LOTS of links to additional works, highly recommend)
https://othersociologist.com/2014/08/13 ... education/

And because I don't really need to go into the gaslighting and bullshit that we've seen between all the "superstars" who serially sexually and racially harass (and even assault) and are not punished for it, you can google that yourself. And of course not just the superstars. We've talked about it here.

Honestly as a physics professor I honestly can't recommend going into physics for women. Academia is awful, and physics is pretty much the worst of academia except computer science has decided that it wants to beat us in that track record for some reason. Go into something that will give you a job where HR will actually fucking do something or at least you have the opportunity to go to a different company and you can do cool stuff there. Science isn't just in academia, find a way out of this baloney.
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Re: Why don't more females study Physics, how could we change things, and should we?

Post by Sonic# » Thu Apr 27, 10:26 2017

I was going to say "yes, of course we should!" in response to the last question in the subject. To elaborate in light of rowan's post, I think that the lack of women in physics highlights a problem, but that the solution isn't just to raise those numbers, as if it's a problem of interest. For example, women aren't interested because of all the bullshit rowan mentions.

I found Eileen Pollack's book The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science Is Still a Boys' Club useful because her own narrative and the narratives of the women she interviews shows how systemic institutional problems in Physics departments can appear to be issues of interest or motivation even to the women disadvantaged within them. Pollack describes professors who didn't push or encourage her, professors who made women's requests in class seem like a burden, classes where no one pointed out that she was as good as the boys she thought she was far behind. No one mentored her the way a writing professor did, giving advice and opening up possibilities. Even if, individually, no professor would have said outright that she didn't belong in science, the department as a whole did less for her than it did for its boys.

Out of rowan's links, I found the second one on publishing most glaring. Too often, people interested in fixing the pipeline of women in STEM focus on making women interested and motivated. Better ones give women resources to help them against a system tilted against them. Worse ones, like the peer reviewer in that article, focus on accommodating and reinforcing a sexist system by suggesting that female scholars writing about sexism in STEM have a male champion to give the study more legitimacy. Academic institutions need to be more proactive about issues of gender and racial diversity; otherwise we'll continue to ask women to cope with shit situations. In other words, we need to change the building, not just fix the pipeline.

As for the survey, it does seem predominantly focused on finding ways to sustain women's interest in physics. Because I'm starting from a different premise (interest is a red flag that a problem exists; it's not the problem), sometimes I found it difficult to answer the more limited questions.

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Re: Why don't more females study Physics, how could we change things, and should we?

Post by Nachos » Fri Apr 28, 4:44 2017

Hi there, welcome to the spacefem forums! Would you mind telling us a little more about yourself? There is a handy list in the Guide to New and Returning members you can use as a basis.
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