March 8 is International Women’s Day – a time to celebrate the achievements of women, to recognize our progress towards equality, but also to reflect on how much is still to be done. In the US in the 21st century, it seems somewhat strange to have a day to celebrate women — after all where is the corresponding mens’ day? And in science, where an enquiring mind and tenacity to pursue questions are needed, surely women are treated equally?
Well, it turns out things are not quite so rosy. Ever since my days as a graduate student I have been struck by the lack of women at high levels in science. Sure, there were plenty of us as students and junior post-doctoral researchers (and in biology, often more than men), but where were the female professors? For example, during my undergraduate studies the microbiology department had a single female lecturer. Over the past 20 years, there has only been a small amount of progress. Women are still far outnumbered in senior science positions. It is not uncommon for me to be the only female speaker in a large conference session or the only woman in a room of grant holders. (more…)