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Jill Tarter is Director of the Center for SETI Research at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. She served as Project Scientist for NASA’s SETI program, the High Resolution[…]

If women ran the world, different things would be engineered and invented. Unfortunately, many female scientists get sidetracked.

Question: Why are women so underrepresented in engineering? 

Jillrn Tarter: I don’t have a lot of female colleagues. It’s getting rnbetter. That is the good news. The gradient is in the right direction. rnIt isn’t yet 50/50 or it isn’t yet really representative of the rnintellectual capacity of our planet. I think engineering is probably thern least represented with a female population and I’m not quite sure why rnthat is, because engineering problems are phenomenally interesting and rnchallenging, and it’s a creative profession. So I think it’s a shame. Ifrn women ran the world, different things would be engineered and invented.rn And I think it is a shame that we don’t take more advantage of them, rnbut as I said, it’s getting better and it has to get better with young rnmen as well as young women. I think one of the real challenges is if rnyou’re a woman in science, engineering, mathematics field you’re rnoverwhelmingly likely to be married to someone else in that kind of a rnfield, right? Because those are the people you meet. You’re an rnunderrepresented population. The folks that you meet, your male rncolleagues are likely to be your spouses. Then we have a problem, what rnwe call the two-body problem, finding suitable positions, two jobs for rnone couple in the same area. That is a real challenge and we still have arn tradition in this country where it’s more likely that if one of the tworn professionals ends up sacrificing a position or taking a lesser rnposition it’s more likely to be the women. Got to change that. Of coursern it’s much easier to be creative in terms of jobs and making rnopportunities when the economy is doing very well. It’s much harder in arn tight economy such as we have now, but we need to be creative. Women rnhold up half of the sky. How can we not involve them? 

Question:rn Have you faced any challenges as a woman in science? 

Jillrn Tarter: When I was getting my engineering degree, I was the only rnwoman in a class of 300 guys and that had a lot of challenges. I had a rnnuclear physics course where I was asked to leave the room the day that rnthey discussed health hazards of nuclear reactors and sterility for my rnmale colleagues. I don’t know. It wasn’t appropriate for a woman to sit rnin the classroom and discuss. As if I, as a woman, wouldn’t have had anyrn health issues if I had gone into that field, sort of silly. A lot of rnother things, but you know that was then and somehow I had enough rnstubbornness to make it through and I’m incredibly fortunate to have a rncareer as a scientist and be able to blend my long-ago engineering rntraining with what I’ve learned about the natural universe to try and rncraft a better search program looking for signs of someone else’s rntechnology. It’s really a privilege to be a scientist. First of all, yourn never have to grow up. You never have to stop asking why. You get to rnpose your own questions and try and find your own answers and you get torn do something tomorrow that you couldn’t do last week or last month. Yourn get to learn new things almost every day. You get to learn something rnnew about something and, gosh, that’s a real privilege. I like to tell rnyoung people that being a scientist is very much like solving mysteries.rn We’re actually trying to be the first person to understand something. rnOther people may have worked on it, but there are problems that don’t rnyet have answers and we could be the first ones to figure something out.
Recordedrn on June 3, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica Liebman