It’s easier to win the Nobel Prize than get tenure for women scientists
In early October the winners of this year’s Nobel Prizes were announced, including two female scientists. Dr. Frances Arnold was the fifth woman to receive the Nobel Prize in chemistry and Dr. Donna Strickland was only the third woman in history to win the Nobel Prize in physics. Even with the contribution of these two scholars, women only account for 3.2 percent of the 600 laureates in science.
While it is exciting for women to be given the recognition they deserve this year, there is still a large misrepresentation in the science community. Until the winners were announced Strickland did not even have a Wikipedia page. Though one was submitted back in March, she had only been mentioned 9 times in relation to science and so Wikipedia had determined she was not notable enough at the time. This sounds harsh from Wikipedia, but Strickland’s own boss has left her equally ignored. She is currently working at the University of Waterloo in Ontario as an associate professor. This means she received the Nobel Prize before obtaining tenure.
Though maybe Strickland should be happy with the progress women have made in science. The last woman before her to win the physics prize was Dr. Maria Goeppert-Mayer in 1963. Dr. Goeppert-Mayer was not allowed to be hired by John Hopkins because her husband was already employed there as a faculty member. At least both husband and wife are allowed to be hired now. Women have only been receiving tenure for about 40 years.
It isn’t necessarily surprising that Strickland has not yet received tenure despite working at the University of Waterloo since 1997. While we have made strides in trying to reduce sexism in science, it is still prevalent. An inherit bias exists. An article from Science in 2016 showed male editors are more likely to publish other men. Tenure promotions are often decided by committees made primarily of white males. It will take time for females to begin to fill more positions of influence within the scientific community.
It is important to note that Dr. Strickland has not complained about being treated unfairly by her colleagues. She also has stated that she thinks of herself as a scientist and not a “woman scientist”. Still, it is upsetting to know you can win a Nobel Prize before being promoted to full professor.