Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Commenting on the commentary

I was just reading Dr. Barres commentary in the July 13th issue of Nature addressing the current "hot" topic of gender issues relating to the ability of women to succeed in science. I would do a synopsis of the article but a nice one was already done by Propter Doc with a follow up. I confess to having only discovered this issue of Nature because I was rifling through a pile of "stuff" that has been accumulating on my kitchen counter because a) said husband just celebrated his 40th and I was running around like a lunatic trying to make it special, b) I subscribe to the local newspaper but only get around to reading it about once a week, c) I'm behind in reading both my Parents and Parenting magazines and my Bon Appetite issues ( I have two picky eaters of 4.5 and 2.5 years of age; I should give up the Bon Appetite) and d) there was some mail like this issue of Nature that had somehow found it's way under the large box holding my 24 hour urine sample kit - a story for another blog!

Anyway, I'd like to add two comments to Dr. Barres' article and Propter Doc's synopsis for doing a better job of advancing women in the science fields. First, I think academic institutions should add a list of women faculty, their contact information as well as academic interests into the new recruit folders for every female graduate student, postdoc and faculty member. The ELSO database that was just set up in Europe is a great example of how a compilation of such information on women in science can benefit young women entering or thinking of entering science. And to follow that up, we women in academics need to do a better job as serving as mentors for these women. As I've blogged before, I've worked with women who when they "made" it, forgot what it was about the system that made it so hard for them to reach the point where they are. Thank goodness some really good scientists like Dr. Nusslein-Volhard who, despite being a Nobel Prize winner, can still see the struggles of young female scientists.

Second, as Harvard seems to have committed to doing and Dr. Nusslein-Volhard is doing, let's put some money where it really counts. Child-care benefits, re-entry grants, equivalent start-up packages and mentoring-grants. Let's stop talking about the genetics of women's ability until we equalize the social barriers that exist to their advancement.

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