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Women and Science

Question: Have you faced challenges as a female scientist?

Shelley des Etages: As a female scientist I would say that I'm cognizant of the fact that there aren't as many female scientists as there are male scientists.  I've seen it as I've progressed in my scientific career.  When I was in graduate school, we were about 50-50.  And then I got to my post-doc and the number dipped a bit.  And then I started working and I'm like, where are all the women?  Where'd they go?  So you do notice.  You are sometimes the only woman in the room.  Have I been treated differently because of it?  I have not, for the most part, experienced differential treatment because of it.  I am simply cognizant of the fact that many times I look around the room and I'm like, okay, I'm the only female.  We need to get more women in this area.

Question: What would bring more women into science?

Shelley des Etages: I think more flexible work options.  And the reason I say that is I look at my class from graduate school.  Where's my class?  And of the women in my class, let me think, one went to a small biotech firm and kept working.  Two took five to six years out to raise their kids.  One actually went to medical school after graduate school, decided she didn't want to do research at all and went off to medical school.  So she's still around.  And then another stayed in the industry, stayed doing research, but switched to non-lab bench, more literature based research.  But the ones who stopped invariably stopped for family obligations.  And so you've got to wonder, what if they don't have to put their careers completely, totally on hold because they want to be with their kids all day.  Beyond three kids it doesn't make sense to keep working.  You're just doing an even exchange with your daycare costs.  So what if you don't have to do that?  What if you can work part time for X number of years, is that feasible?  Is that doable?  It really depends a lot on the role, because some roles lend themselves better to being part time, or even job sharing, than others.  But if you had a scenario where you can pause, hit a pause button, and then come back and integrate or stay in touch while you're on pause.  That may help.  And I don't know that those are the only factors, that I cited, it's just if I look within my own circle of friends who trained in research as well, that's where they are.

Recorded on: 06/25/2008

Self-sufficient women have inspired Dr. des Etages; she hopes that young women will follow her into science.

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