A 2005 survey of women working in physics around the world found that
most would choose a physics career all over again. Yet at the same time,
many had concerns about family and child-rearing responsibilities and
feelings of isolation from colleagues, as well as concerns about funding,
equipment and lab space.
The survey was conducted by the Statistical Research Center of the
American Institute of Physics, in conjunction with the 2005 Second International
Conference of Women in Physics. The report, "Women Physicists
Speak Again," recounts the responses of 1353 women from over
70 countries, either working in a field of physics or as students.
A large majority (88%) of the respondents received their first undergraduate
degree in physics, and 59% indicated that they received positive attention
from their undergraduate physics professors. "About one-third reported
receiving attention that was neither positive nor negative, and less
than 10% reported receiving negative attention or no attention at all,"
the report says. "This suggests that positive attention from professors
plays an important role in retaining women students."
Of the respondents with a graduate degree, 37% described their relationship
with their (current or former) graduate advisor as excellent, and 41%
described it as good. "What is surprising," the report states,
"is the number of women who reported poor relationships with their
advisors, but still persisted in physics."
A majority of respondents said that they made the decision to go into
a physics career during secondary school. Many cited teachers and parents,
as well as an interest in physics, as influences on their choice of
career. Of those women physicists in the workplace, 68% work in academia,
15% in government, 7% in industry, and 10% in other areas of employment.
Although the respondents "overwhelmingly said they would choose
physics again (86%), a majority (71%) also reported being discouraged
by physics." Reasons for being discouraged included: Interaction
with Colleagues (55%); Funding (52%); Research (49%); Personal Life
(48%); Climate for Women (43%); and Family Obligations (35%) (respondents
could choose more than one answer).
According to the report, "Two-thirds of all respondents said that
their marriage affected their work." When describing whether the
effect was positive or negative, "Women in developed countries
were much more likely to say that the effect of their marriage was positive
(72%) than women from developing countries (58%)." The report goes
on to say, "The effect of children on a woman's career is perhaps
stronger even than the effect of marriage.... Many women physicists
stated that they had decided not to have children." The report
finds that "Women over 45 from developing countries are more likely
(86%) to have children than women from developed countries, 73% of whom
have children. Women in developed countries also tend to have their
children at a later stage than women from developing countries.... Not
surprisingly, almost all respondents said that having children affected
their work, and the percentage is higher for women in developed countries."
In addition to the responsibility that many women physicists have for
children, the report notes that "20% of the respondents" indicated
that they were primarily responsible for taking care of others as well.
In summary, the report says that the women physicists responding to
the survey "have many things in common," and "most spoke
passionately about their love of physics." Yet despite the similarities,
it finds that "issues are not the same for women physicists in
developing countries as they are in developed countries. Women in developing
countries spoke repeatedly of a lack of basic resources (funding, office
space, lab space, equipment, travel money, and clerical support). Women
in developed countries also found these issues (particularly funding)
challenging, but the percentages who said they do not have enough resources
for research are higher in the developing countries."
The complete report, "Women Physicists Speak Again" (AIP
Pub. No. R-441) is available, along with other AIP reports on women
in physics, on AIP's Statistical Research Center web site at http://www.aip.org/statistics/trends/gendertrends.html.
The National Academies have just released a report analyzing the barriers
to hiring and promotion experienced by women in academia. That report
will be highlighted in a forthcoming FYI.