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"What is York doing to combat the gender gap?" report Science Editor.
As science students button up their lab coats and prepare for a new term of gruelling nine o’clock lectures, the news of 2014’s Nobel Prize winners should come as welcome inspiration, especially for those suffering from a lack of motivation. Characterised by a prestige equivalent to that of the Oscars, the awards for Chemistry, Physics and Medicine are the subject of scientists’ dreams the world-over. For female scientists, however, a glance at the list of past Laureates can make the chance of being awarded a Nobel seem just that; a dream.
|Marie Curie features amongst an otherwise entirely male crowd in the official photograph from the 1927 Solvay Conference in Belgium. 87 years later and the science field is still dominated by men. |
The Nobel Prizes were first awarded in 1901 following Alfred Nobel’s dying request that his entire remaining estate be used to endow ‘prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind’. Since then 566 Laureates have been awarded prizes for Physics, Chemistry and Medicine. Just 17 of these have been awarded to women.
Historically, science was considered a male profession: any women involved were considered to be serving men and science, not as pioneers themselves. Mary Curie, the first person to win Nobel prizes in two separate disciplines, was turned down by the French Academy of Sciences in 1911 on the basis that she was a woman.
Whilst such outright sexism wouldn’t be tolerated in this day and age, women still are, consciously or unconsciously, discriminated against in science, engineering and technology. The US National Science Foundation found that, on average, women earn 82% of what men make. In another study where 127 professors from 6 different US universities were asked to evaluate two CVs, the professors said they would offer $3730 less per year to ‘Jennifer’ than to ‘John’ despite their CVs being identical.
In recent years there have been various campaigns created, in an attempt to up-end this cultural sexism. Just in case the Nobel Laureates weren’t inspiration enough to get you through your first month of labs, October 14th has been pronounced Ada Lovelace Day, ‘an international day celebrating the achievements of women in science technology, engineering and maths’. Named after the first computer programmer, the day was set up after psychologist Penelope Lockwood emphasised the need for female role models.