Women still face walls

October 21, 2010

I had to smile at the article on science and gender (perhaps in order not to cry?) ("Sisters' winning formula", 30 September).

I was a physics major in the US about 25 years ago. In my second year, my quantum physics course was taught by a professor from the University of Oxford. I was one of a handful of females in the class and had to this point encountered no real issues. He handed back our exam papers and I had, as was often the case, achieved the highest mark. He had no comment until later when, at an end-of-term party, he informed me that women should not go into physics - it was too difficult a subject for them.

In the end, I did switch to cognitive science, because its wider knowledge base of subjects was more interesting to me and it had a much better gender balance.

I am afraid now, having read the article, that I am one of those women who believes, perhaps to my detriment, that diversity in research indicates intellectual challenge and scholarly breadth. Having gained an MSc and a PhD from Carnegie Mellon University, I worked in industrial research laboratories and in departments of psychology, computer science and informatics in the US and the UK.

I came to a new medical school in 2003 excited about the prospects of applying my knowledge to a new curriculum and pursuing interdisciplinary research with colleagues from many disciplines. I have found several strikes against me, none of them related to my ability. I am a non-male, a non-medic and not in biomedical research. Even my title suggests that I am somehow deficient. Also, academic medicine, contrary to the opinion of John Radford (Letters, 7 October), is dominated by males; in 2005, only 10 per cent of professors in the UK were female.

I feel that my career has stagnated somewhat, at least for now, and while I have some truly wonderful colleagues, it seems that many have little respect for what I do.

Having spoken to social science colleagues in many other medical schools, I know that my experiences are far from unique. While the article mainly discussed the natural sciences, there are similar barriers for women in other disciplines as well.

Jean McKendree, Senior lecturer in medical education (non-clinical), Hull York Medical School, University of York.

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