Get the facts: Gender inequity still plagues science

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By Cathleen Fry

Editor’s note: Read our entire collection of members’ science advocacy essays posted for the March for Science.

Why do I march for science? Because, facts. Politicians must value facts. We scientists have plenty of them — we just happen to call them data — and they should be taken into account when making policy. Climate change is the easiest example: We know we are doing things that harm the environment and create dangerous climate change. But instead of passing more regulations to control the damage, the federal government is rolling back the regulations that already exist. It is ignoring the facts.

Another indisputable fact: Gender and racial inequity, especially in my field, physics, continues to be a real challenge in the sciences. Only 20 percent of graduate students in physics are women, less than 10 percent are African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans, and it gets worse as you go up the chain to full professorships and to careers in science.

It’s still an old boys club: The men know each other and feel more comfortable reaching out to each other for assistance with research or to fill job vacancies and share career opportunities. It doesn’t help that a lot of people in the Trump administration give the impression that women aren’t logical creatures, and if we’re not logical it’s hard to be taken seriously as a scientist.

Another indisputable fact: Gender and racial inequity, especially in my field, physics, continues to be a real challenge in the sciences.

In our physics department we’ve created a minority group to support one another as we build the skills we need to compete. Women tend to be less adept at negotiating for themselves, for example, so we hosted a seminar to boost our confidence and skills. Sometimes we just hang out together — it’s a support group where you can interact with successful people who look like you. We also reach out to girls in our community, from booths at science festivals to events hosted on campus. We’ve even hosted Girl Scouts, who got to watch 30 to 45-minute science demonstrations from our faculty and grad students.

But it’s discouraging to see young girls at science fairs, only to watch their parents steer them away from my physics display because it’s “too hard for you.” I’ve never seen that happen with a young boy.

It’s discouraging to see young girls at science fairs, only to watch their parents steer them away from my physics display because it’s “too hard for you.”

I want people to hear me when I march: Science is fact. And the fact is, climate change will destroy the planet unless we change human behavior. The fact is, gender and racial inequity will continue to shut out brilliant minds and hobble scientific advancements if left unchecked.

This is not a political standing. There’s data, we understand what that data means, and we must make policy in response to that data. And we must march.


Cathleen Fry is a research assistant at the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory located at Michigan State University. She studies nuclear physics at MSU and is a member of the Graduate Employees Union. Read more from AFT science advocates at the March for Science section of Voices on Campus.


This blog post is re-published with permission from AFT Voices. Read the original post. To learn more about AFT's Schoolhouse Voices from PreK-12 public educators, visit: https://aftvoices.org/school-house-voices/home. Follow on Twitter @rweingarten or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/AFTunion.