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Annual Users Meeting

June 1-5, 2009
Brookhaven National Laboratory


About the Author

Christine Nattrass is a Yale graduate student working on the STAR experiment.

After the 3rd International Conference on Women in Physics – What We as a Community Can Do

By Christine Nattrass

In October I attended the 3rd International Conference on Women in Physics (ICWIP) in South Korea. Both Yale University and Brookhaven National Laboratory made contributions of $5000 and each donation allowed two physicists from developing countries to attend. This was a chance to meet women in physics from other countries, share our experiences, and help each other succeed in a field that is dominated by men in every country. The conference lasted three and a half days and there were delegates from over 100 countries.

Talking and listening to other women about their experiences was enlightening. There are cultural differences in the manifestations of gender bias, but many of our experiences are the same, and more developed countries are not always more equitable. One of the delegates from South Africa told of how she organized a women's group within the South African Institute of Physics within a couple years. She faced much less opposition from men and was able to organize a group for women in physics much faster than women in the US National Society of Black Physicists or women in the Austrian Physical Society. Many developing countries have a higher percentage of women in physics, although there is a strong negative correlation between salary and status of jobs in physics and the percentage of women.

Physics has a long way to go before women have equal access to opportunities and resources. The MIT report on the status of women in science at MIT demonstrated that female researchers were consistently paid less, given less lab space, and given less grant money by federal agencies than men with comparable qualifications and accomplishmentsi. A study done in ecology demonstrated that more papers written by women were accepted by the journal Behavioral Ecology when the review process was double blind than single blindii. Closer to our own field, a study of the distribution of talks in the D0 experiment demonstrated that women had to be about 2.5 times as productive as men to get the same number of invited talksiii. In an environment where resources are short, such as has been the case for the last few years, the survival of our field depends on how effectively we promote and retain our most productive researchers – and we're not doing that very effectively right now.

Attending ICWIP made me think about some of the ways our community could help ensure that women everywhere have the same opportunities as men. Our collaborations are international, and all members must spend some time at BNL. Career development resources from the labs are intended to be used by collaborators and we should make sure our collaborators know about and use these resources. We should also take advantage of our frequent meetings to ensure that women get networking opportunities.

One of the most common problems physicists from developing countries face is the lack of resources to organize as women, to communicate with each other, to network, to get career advice, etc. The high energy community can help alleviate some of these issues by taking advantage of the frequent travel and meetings required by our research. In STAR we will be incorporating career panels and advice on how to give talks in our next collaboration meeting. The RHIC/AGS User's Executive Committee is organizing career panels and a job fair at the next Quark Matter. While these efforts are not targeted exclusively at women, they will benefit women, who often have less access to career development and networking than men.

Women's lunches can also be incorporated into meetings and conferences to ensure that women at early stages in their careers have role models. Particularly in countries with a small physics community, women may not even know any senior female physicists. In some countries there may be no senior female faculty in their field. These networking opportunities are important not only so that junior women meet people who can give them career advice, but also so that women can trade strategies for dealing with discrimination and work together to deal with discrimination which may exist in the field.

High energy physics is a microcosm of the international physics community. This provides us with some unique opportunities to reach out to foreign physicists and make sure they have the resources they need. There are many things that would be easy to do and could make a big difference in the support women around the world have. I've mentioned above a few activities that are simple to implement and could make a big difference in the support for women around the world. More information is available through the APS Committee on the Status of Women in Physics.


i. First and Second Committees on Women Faculty in the School of Science at MIT, “A Study on the Status of
Women Faculty in Science at MIT”, 1999, http://web.mit.edu/fnl/women/women.html

ii. Buden et all, “Double-blind review favours increased representation of female authors”, Trends in Ecology and Evolution Vol.23 No.1

iii. Towers, “A Case Study of Gender Bias at the Postdoctoral Level in Physics, and its Resulting Impact on the Academic Career Advancement of Females”, arXiv:0804.2026v3