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The Role of Science and Engineering in Development: Summary of Discussion

MICHAEL FISCHER

Massachusetts Institute of Technology


An overview was provided on three topics: the statistics of women in the sciences in research universities by rank and partly by field and the range of reasons behind the numbers; two organizations dealing with the continuing wide gaps between men and women in academia—the National Academies Committee on Women in Academic Science and Engineering: A Guide to Maximizing Their Potential and the Committee on the Advancement of Women Chemists (COACh); and the number of women faculty reached by COACh workshops.

The National Academies committee is chaired by Donna Shalala and composed of senior women and one man, Robert Birgeneau.1 The committee is conducting a nine-month study to be published in fall 2007. A strategic question was raised about the wisdom of essentially only women comprising the National Academies committee, as if the issue were a women’s problem rather than a societal problem. In response to a question about the number of African American women on the committee, the number indicated was three.

COACh was established in 1998 and originally targeted only chemists, but now includes other fields as well. COACh workshops have reached 350 chemistry faculty members and 600 academics from other science faculties. These workshops coach women (although men could also benefit from such coaching) on how to ask for support, how to avoid personalizing problems, and how to be

1

Robert Birgeneau was MIT Dean of Science when the breakthrough report, “A Study on the Status of Women Faculty in Science at MIT” (Birgeneau, 1999) was released in 1999 and was embraced with much acclaim by MIT.



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The Role of Science and Engineering in Development: Summary of Discussion MICHAEL FISCHER Massachusetts Institute of Technology A n overview was provided on three topics: the statistics of women in the sciences in research universities by rank and partly by field and the range of reasons behind the numbers; two organizations dealing with the continuing wide gaps between men and women in academia—the National Academies Committee on Women in Academic Science and Engineering: A Guide to Maximizing Their Potential and the Committee on the Advancement of Women Chemists (COACh); and the number of women faculty reached by COACh workshops. The National Academies committee is chaired by Donna Shalala and com- posed of senior women and one man, Robert Birgeneau.1 The committee is conducting a nine-month study to be published in fall 2007. A strategic question was raised about the wisdom of essentially only women comprising the National Academies committee, as if the issue were a women’s problem rather than a societal problem. In response to a question about the number of African American women on the committee, the number indicated was three. COACh was established in 1998 and originally targeted only chemists, but now includes other fields as well. COACh workshops have reached 350 chem- istry faculty members and 600 academics from other science faculties. These workshops coach women (although men could also benefit from such coaching) on how to ask for support, how to avoid personalizing problems, and how to be 1 Robert Birgeneau was MIT Dean of Science when the breakthrough report, “A Study on the Status of Women Faculty in Science at MIT” (Birgeneau, 1999) was released in 1999 and was embraced with much acclaim by MIT. 1

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2 THE ROLE OF SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING IN DEVELOPMENT “relentlessly pleasant” in making one’s needs known. COACh is planning similar workshops in Cuba, Romania, and elsewhere. In response to a question about the essential “natural difference between men and women,” one study has indicated a slight difference in three-dimensional puzzle-solving ability, a difference that disappeared if the women spent an hour ahead of the examination thinking about this type of problem. A recent study in Marseilles was also mentioned in which two groups of girls, ages 16–17, who were matched in socioeconomic and other ways, were given the same geom- etry problems to solve. One group was told they were mathematics problems, and the other was told that they were architecture problems. The first group scored an average of nine correct answers from 20 possible answers, whereas the second group’s average score was 15. For boys the scores were the same: 13 in both groups. All of these questions were measured statistically and do not have explanatory power about particular individuals. In addition, family issues were discussed. Assuming that tenure is granted at around age 36, there could be difficulties in waiting to achieve tenure before having a family. Do the workshops have any demonstrable effect on promotion data? Since the program is only four years old, it is too soon to tell. At one university with a step system in rank, it was possible to develop a salary comparison of males and females in each rank, resulting in some disparities. These are public data, and so people can look up their standing and complain. Minorities were at the top of their step, but women were often underpaid. At this university, Sunday afternoon sessions were held for women faculty on how to get information about tenure requirements, where to obtain information, and so forth. This in turn led to agitation by women for an extra year for tenure. This approach was adopted for the parent who is the main child-rearer. A paper was presented on trends in basic science in contemporary Iran, using Institute of Scientific Information data. Among other things noted was a dramatic increase in publications in the past few years. Of interest was whether the increase in publications was a function of a new, good English language medical journal; however, there are about 10 other English language journals, including Science from Shiraz, the Iranian Polymer Journal, and so on. Ninety percent of the 5,000 papers annually are published outside Iran. There is now a surplus of physicians being trained in Iran in response to the trend of importing physicians in the early 1980s. The ratio of university appli- cants to places available is about 1 to 10, which means that there are 1.4–1.6 mil- lion applicants each year. As to support of graduate students, Ph.D. students are given stipends and sign contracts with the university to work at the discretion of the university after they finish. Fields such as chemistry, which have sufficient scientists, are no longer subsidized, and some of the contracts have even been rescinded. In Iran, higher edu- cation is essentially free. Dormitory rooms cost very little, and food is subsidized.

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 THE ROLE OF SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING IN DEVELOPMENT The distance education university Payam-e Nur was mentioned. It has 0.5 mil- lion students. Even more students, about one million, are served by the Islamic Free Universities (Azad). In both university systems, the quality is variable. Regarding physics, and particularly astronomy, in the 1960s, Shiraz Univer- sity produced a few papers. With the help of the University of Pennsylvania, it set up the Biruni Observatory. About 65 professionals, one-half faculty and one- half M.S. and Ph.D. students, produce about 15 papers a year. The second main observatory in Iran is Tusi Observatory at Tabriz University. Mashhad, Zanjan, and Babulsar have smaller observatories. The Astronomy Society of Iran holds summer camps and has huge support from high school students. It campaigned for a national observatory, which has been approved, and the site selection process is in its third year. It also produces a monthly magazine, Nojum, now in its fifteenth year, with a sizeable readership. Translating the results of basic research into technology and hardware was discussed. In the West, universities and industry have grown up synergistically and have developed a culture of cooperation. The structures of Iranian universities were copied from the West by intellectuals, while the approaches of companies were copied from the West by wealthy individuals. There was little culture of cooperation. The difficulties of the past two decades have made the need for such cooperation evident, and to a limited extent the two have turned to each other. However, this collaboration is tentative and new. As to private funding of universities, the government passed legislation about five years ago mandating that all industry must spend one percent of turnover on research and development, and a fraction of that amount must go to universities. Ten years ago, the Institute for Advanced Studies in Basic Science (IASBS) in Zanjan received all its money from the government; now 20 percent is non- governmental funding, which is impressive, given that IASBS has no medical, agricultural, or engineering programs. Sharif University now receives 50 percent of its funds from nongovernmental sources, and Amir Kabir University receives even more nongovernmental funding. Inquiries were made about setting up companies and relations with the oil industry. Faculty members should be full time, and they are supposed to be in their offices 40 hours a week. However, this is not always closely monitored. They are allowed to start companies with the consent of the university and on the condition that the university gets a percentage of the income in return for supply- ing facilities. It was suggested that the universities should exercise oversight; otherwise both faculty and the university could experience difficulties, as has been the case in the United States. One participant mentioned a policy at a U.S. university stating that no graduate student can work on anything proprietary for a dissertation thesis (although if he or she happens to discover something patent- able, that is acceptable). Inquiries were also made about petroleum engineers. There is a petroleum institute in Ahwaz, Iran. Some petroleum engineers used to train in Texas, but

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 THE ROLE OF SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING IN DEVELOPMENT now they often train in Calgary because of difficulties in receiving U.S. visas. Some training in this field is offered at Amir Kabir University. Science parks, particularly the Sheikh Bahai Science Park in Isfahan, were discussed. Sheikh Bahai Science Park was the first science park and is now one of the best developed and most successful, being more than ten years old. This has not been enough time to develop a routine and culture, however. At IASBS there is a two-year-old small information technology incubator. In 18 months it has hosted 20 companies, and the companies have transacted U.S. $1 million worth of business. There is also Pardis Science Park associated with Sharif University. REFERENCE Birgeneau, R. 1999. A study on the status of women faculty in science at MIT. MIT Faculty Newsletter XI(4). Available at: http://web.mit.edu/fnl/women/women.html. Accessed February 27, 2008.