We used human clones to identify the molecular events that occurred during the transition from a graduate student to a professor. A pool of graduate students was selected on minimal money media and they were dubbed post-docs. These were further screened for the ability to work long hours with vending machine snacks as their sole carbon source. Those selected by their ability to turn esoteric results into a fifty-minute seminar were labeled assistant professors. Clones which overproduced stress proteins, heat shock protein 70, were passed over “friends and family members” columns, and such selected full professors shared striking phenotypes: the inability to judge the time required to complete bench-work and the belief that all of their ideas constituted good thesis projects. Over-expression of these selected gene products may speed evolution of graduate students to full professor.

The point of this is that making a contribution in science and medicine is not easy for either men or women. But there are differences. When women are depressed, they either eat or go shopping. Men invade another country. At many universities, as you’ll see in the next talk, the numbers of instructors and assistant professors are roughly equivalent to the pool since the 1970s. The percentage diverges with each promotion.

Failure of the Trickle-up Theory

Why hasn’t the trickle-up theory worked? I’ve heard lots of people commenting, both women and men. Is it commitment, frustration on the part of women, discrimination, or small differences in early resources? I think the latter reason is one that very subtly contributes to the differences and probably is part of the problem, although I believe the others are as well.

A Columbia University commission on the status of women reported out in October 2001. It found that 40 percent of the Ph.D.’s in arts and sciences were given to women. However, when it came time to do academic appointments for tenure-track jobs, 23 percent were in the pool. They said there was a puzzling absence of qualified women. I thought the choice of words there was interesting. (It’s also interesting that, at Columbia at least, the hiring was actually done at 34 percent. So they actually hired a higher percentage of women than was in the applicant pool.)

The commission considered the reasons for fewer women in the applicant pool, and one was New York City. Did women opt out of coming to New York City? If women are perfectly willing to get their Ph.D.’s in New York City, it doesn’t make sense to me that they would not be willing to take an academic appointment in New York City, but that was one of the reasons given: “Advising networks might steer women away from elite institutions or suggest a career at a research institute is incompatible with commitments to raising small children.” Which I thought was an interesting concern. The report also said, “Women may underestimate their qualifications.”



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement