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Help women stay in science

A female scientist gives her top 10 list for men, and our readers respond with tips of their own.

By | January 1, 2008

Editor's Note: In October, we published online an article written by Laura Mays Hoopes, in order to spark discussion on gender disparity in science. More than 70 readers wrote comments, a sample of which are included at the end of this article. Click here to see all of the comments.

Here are Hoopes' tips followed by suggestions from our readers to help keep women in science:

Tips from our readers:

>> Men can help women in science by playing a larger role in childrearing, and broadcasting the importance of that role to their students, says Marc J.E.C. van der Maarel.

>> "Advancement in science is related to prestige and quality of personal network," writes Anthony Dennis. One way to bolster that network is that is to get on the board of promising start-up companies. "Next time you look for a board member, pick a qualified female," says Dennis, himself a CEO.

>> Help new moms in your lab with advice and support. "Resist the urge to see them as lost causes who are personally responsibility for having made poor, career-jeopardizing choices," writes Penelope Duerksen-Hughes.

>> Introduce your female colleagues or students to leaders in the scientific community and engage them in conversation about their work with others, writes Suzanne Wuerthele. It's a great way to encourage and validate any student.

>> Give women advice on how to recruit good graduate students and post-docs, writes Marguerite Butler. Finding motivated students and fellows "can be akin to winning the lottery."

1. Call a woman scientist from time to time, to chat about science, a recent breakthrough, yourpuzzling results, their puzzling results. Even better, call one once a week.

2. Every time you have to recommend a scientist to speak at your seminar series, replace "young man" in your thoughts with "young woman" or even "old woman."

3. If you're on a hiring or tenure committee, don't start reading the files until after you review the primary literature on unconscious bias. You can access references from Jo Handelsman's site (www.plantpath.wisc.edu/fac/joh/ joh.htm).

4. Support the development of a child care center at your university or college. Women produce babies and they need the day care.

5. When you are organizing a scientific meeting, invite some women scientists to be speakers.

6. When you walk through the posters, where women who were not invited present their work, stop and talk with them about what they've been doing. When you do, don't look over her shoulder, listen.

7. When you chat with a woman scientist at a scientific meeting, invite her to join you and your friends for a lunch or dinner. She may eat in her room to avoid eating alone in a restaurant while watching you and your (male) friends laughing at the next table.

8. When you think about someone to appoint to an editorial board or to write a review article, be sure to consider women as well as your particular favorite young men and male cronies.

9. When you are looking for a nominee for an award (I'm not talking about the awards for the BEST WOMAN, I'm talking about research awards in general), replace that "young hotshot man" image with a "young hotshot woman" image. Or even an "old hotshot woman." If you don't know anyone to consider, E-mail me at lhoopes@pomona.edu and I can suggest someone.

10. When you're spoiling for a fight, call the National Library of Medicine and complain that you can't properly track the publications women have produced for your award committee because they have no way to let PubMed know all of their different names so they can be connected in one list of publications.

Laura Mays Hoopes is a writer and the Halstead-Bent Professor of Biology and Molecular Biology at Pomona College.

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