Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Sehr gut Dr. Nusslein-Volhard

I was reading the latest email of WICR member news from WICR communication guru Pam Marino and ran across another interesting story about women in science. This caught my eye for two reasons. One because it was something done by Dr. Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, a woman scientist who won the Nobel Prize in 1995 along with Dr. Wieschaus and Edward B. Lewis for their characterizedaion as to how the genes in a fertilized egg direct the formation of an embryo. Dr. Nüsslein-Volhard was just the 10th woman to win a Nobel Prize in one of the sciences. But second, if that isn't amazing enough, she then set up a foundation in her name to award grants to promising German women scientists to help in the care of children and running of the household. She was recently interviewed by Claudia Dreifus for the New York Times (videos also available). In reading this, I was stunned to learn that she never had children and yet understands the drain they can have on a woman's career. In the interview she states:
In German science, we have a special problem. We lose talented women at the time they get pregnant. Some of it occurs because they are encouraged — by their husbands, bosses and the government — to take long maternity leaves. Germanic thinking has it that children can only be properly brought up if the actual mother is cleaning and picking up. Many stop their research for two or three years. Later, these young women find it difficult to get back. They drop out.
I don't think this is a German-specific problem except that in the US the long maternity/family leaves don't exist. I can see where a year out of the lab would make it incredibly difficult to ge back in and be competitive, even if your job is still there waiting for you.

She was also asked about Harvard University's Lawrence Summers comments on women and science which I've blogged on previously. Her response:
In mathematics and science, there is no difference in the intelligence of men and women. The difference in genes between men and women is simply the Y chromosome, which has nothing to do with intelligence.
What troubles me is that some might think: "Well, if the president of Harvard says this, it must be true. He's just being attacked because he said something politically incorrect." What Summers said was scientifically incorrect.
Thank you for the level-headed and unemotional response to that story.

And despite having won the Nobel Prize, apparently her skill in the kitchen still gets mentioned in articles about her:
Q. Every article I've read about you mentions that you bake an incredible chocolate cake. Why is that?
A. It's true! They want to make sure "she's still a woman." There is terrible prejudice against women who are successful. If she's beautiful, she must be stupid. And if a woman is smart, she must be ugly — or nasty. I think it makes some people feel better to learn I bake good chocolate cake.

So nice to see a smart, level-headed scientist who made it to the pinnacle of her career, use her position to do something practical about keeping talented women in the science field. I know there are many nights when I look at the work bag and then look at the play room looking like the result of a nuclear explosion, the information about tomorrow's field trip, the swimsuits that need to be clean for tomorrow's splash day, the blueberries I bought days ago in hopes of making muffins for the kids breakfast and I have to say, 95% of the time, the work loses out. If I actually sit down to do something work related at night, it's not until after 10pm.

No offense to husbands who do more than most husbands (like mine) but you don't see half of what I do to keep the household and children's lives running. It's no wonder I'm good at printing out scientific papers but never seem to find the time to read them. Maybe a grant to pay someone to read papers and distill the informaition into one useful paragraph should be established - now there's something I could really use!


Amelie said...

I think the "special German problem" she's referring to is a combination of the following:
* it is relatively hard to find child care for under-3-year-olds, and you're allowed to leave up to 3 years, "guaranteed to get your job back"
* mothers who do give their < 3 year old in child care often have to handle a lot of negative-to-offensive comments on this, even from their own families. I don't know a proper translation of "Rabenmutter", but it basically means "you leave your child alone too much, so you don't really care about it" -- so in part it is a problem of the society accepting child care for babies/infants.
I don't know if this really is a German problem, or if the situation is similar for women in other contries, and we [Germans] just haven't heard much about it. I'd be glad to hear experiences from others!

MissPrism said...

What a fantastic, practical idea!

Housework's holding women back, so offer grants to help run the household. It's so simple, so obvious, that it takes a Nobel Prizewinner to think of it.

avocadoinparadise said...

Undergrad and/or grad research assistants are what are known as article readers and summarizers. At least that has been my experience of it!

Get some RAs for a semester and have them each write an annotated bibliography of 10 articles related to your field for their final paper. Voila!

And yes, I need a grant to hire a maid! That would help so much!!!