Jane Deer in Science: A Sample Case
by Anne Innis Dagg
When I was enrolled in the Honours Science program at the University of Toronto in the 1950s, my ambition to become a practicing biologist seemed to others rather quaint. There was little or no thought that the four "girls" in my year would ever become professional scientists. Three of us went on to graduate school, but despite our best efforts only one succeeded in having a paid career in science.
Today, girls have a far better chance of becoming scientists and engineers if that is their ambition. Indeed, the demand for professionals in these fields is soon expected to exceed by far the supply. Universities are now anxious to attract women students into science and engineering to help overcome the declining number of men (1).
Despite widespread efforts, it is still sometimes implied that females can't do science and engineering as well as males. This isn't true, as many studies have shown. At the University of Alberta, an examination of many thousands of students' course marks over 12 years showed that women on average did better than men in both engineering and science courses, and that their performance remained high as the number of women taking such courses increased, indicating that it was not just the very best women who were outstanding (2). If women ate needed in science and engineering, and if they are as intellectually capable as men in succeeding there, why is there a problem? Why are there relatively few women in these fields?
Let us look at the qualities a hypothetical A+ student, Jane Deer, must have to succeed at university. If Jane really wants to become a scientist or an engineer, she will have to be DETERMINED. In high school, when her counselors and friends and family may be telling her that it would be easier to be a teacher or a nurse (secretaries aren't much in vogue any more), and that women aren't readily accepted in science or anywhere else considered non-traditional for them, she will have to stand firm. She will have to think to herself that women can be successful at science--look at the many women who have won Nobel Prizes-and that science needs women to humanize it.