Research reveals a gender gap in the nation’s biology labs

Among the sciences, biology consistently attracts the greatest numbers of women to graduate school and academic careers. About half of all biology graduate students are women, and 40 percent of biology postdocs are female. However, those numbers drop dramatically among faculty members: Nationwide, only 36 percent of assistant professors and 18 percent of full professors are women.

A new study reveals a possible explanation for this discrepancy: In the labs of the highest-achieving male biology professors — winners of the Nobel Prize, the National Medal of Science, and other prestigious awards — women are greatly underrepresented, compared with their overall percentages in the field. Those labs serve as a major pipeline to junior faculty positions at top research institutions, the study found.

"What we found is that these labs really function as a gateway to the professoriate. So we think the fact that they’re not hiring very many women is important for understanding why there are still so few female faculty members," says Jason Sheltzer, a graduate student in biology at MIT and author of the study, which appears this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Bringing attention to this imbalance offers an opportunity for faculty members and institutions to try to remedy the situation, says Angelika Amon, the Kathleen and Curtis Marble Professor in Cancer Research in MIT’s Department of Biology, who is Sheltzer’s PhD thesis advisor but was not involved in this study.

"Once you know what the problem is, you can actually do something about it. It’s a great opportunity for these highly accomplished scientists to really reach out and make a very conscious effort to do something about the gender landscape of science at high-powered research institutions," Amon says. "A large segment of the population is being excluded from doing high-level research, and that can never be a good thing. We’re losing out on bright and intelligent people."

Most teachers pay for their own graduate school and ongoing professional training, and over 92 percent buy supplies for their students out of their own pockets. But over the past few years, we’ve seen over 60 percent of teachers working second jobs, dining with their children at food banks, and even selling their blood to make ends meet. Examples of such financial stress and strain can be found in every state in the country; quality teachers are walking away from the profession, and salaries are part of the reason they leave.

Is this the way we want any of our teachers to live? Is this what we think will lead students to higher levels of achievement?

Professor Kwon: Potions

The professor was quite eye catching to say the least. He wasn’t extraordinarily handsome as the famous trio of Ravenclaws nor was he as tall. He did, however, had an almost overwhelming aura of sophistication and authority around him, and was frighteningly charismatic. His stare, no matter how friendly, sent chills along the spines of his students, and his voice, coated with the finest of velvet, made even the fiercest of Slytherins wince.

Background: A full-time prof can expect to earn between $80,000 and $120,000/yr plus loads of benefits and after tenure probably some of the best job security out there; they generally teach 4 courses per semester.  Adjunct faculty teach the same number of course and get paid approx. $28,000/yr and get no benefits and no job security.  

The writer of this letter, who admits to never having to have worked as an adjunct and has had full-time with benefits work for the last 30 years, thinks that this is a-ok and these miserable adjuncts should either suck it up and be happy living at or below the poverty line or just quit their jobs because clearly they are a bunch of entitled, special-little-snowflakes who have no business teaching our young people.  Oh, and if you are in a grad program? Probably just quit and go into administration or something.

Remember folks, universities wanting to cut corners by not paying their faculty enough while simultaneously hiring more and more administrators and VPs of something blah blah and paying them ridiculous amounts of money is just fine and dandy and if you think otherwise you are probably one of those entitled losers who can’t even pay their own electric bill. And if you can’t put food on your own table or pay rent, that is 100% your fault for not trying hard enough and is clearly a bad role model for everyone ever.

Faculty Feature: Carla Williams


What or who initially inspired you to pursue a career in photography?

CW: I was initially inspired by the smell of the darkroom—my first photo class was in college, and you had to apply to get in, and when I went for my interview into the basement of the Arts building I was completely hooked by the mystery and alchemy of it all. I wanted in!

How did the self portrait become a crucial part of your work?

I was a lousy technician, but I loved portraits, so I starting using myself in order to hone my skills. I don’t know that my skills every really improved all that dramatically but I found in self-portraiture a powerful means to an end, which was to see my likeness within the canon of photographic history.



What are you working on currently?

I only make photographs rarely now, usually when invited to participate in an exhibition. I am currently writing a follow-up to “The Black Female Body: A Photographic History” and I edit a photography book series for the California Institute of Integral Studies. Oscar Palacio’s book, “American Places” is our first title, which will be out this winter.


Any advice for aspiring photographers/artists?

Don’t do it unless you love it. In the arts, there often isn’t a lot of remuneration, and there’s a lot of rejection. I think the only way to survive that as a career is to be able to go back to the thing itself and still find the excitement and pleasure you felt when you first realized that this is what you wanted to do. And I feel strongly that the best approach is to make your own way, and not be beholden to any existing structures of “success.”




“Carla Williams is an artist and writer currently based in Rochester, NY. Her work as a photographer and historian addresses subjects such as identity, family relationships and memory, race and acts of naming, and ideals of beauty. Williams was born and raised in Los Angeles. She completed a BA at Princeton University, and MA and MFA degrees in photography at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. She has co-authored a number of historical studies, including “Black Female Body: A Photographic History, with Deborah Willis (2002).” 1

1. Museum of Contemporary Photography. 2012. http://www.mocp.org/

Carla Williams is currently a professor at Rochester Institute of Technology.

I do not see why the loss of faith in the known image and symbol in our time should be celebrated as a freedom. It is a loss from which we suffer, and this pathos motivates modern painting and poetry at its heart.

I think the only pressing question in painting is: When are you through? For my own part it is when I know I’ve “come out the other side.” This occasional and sudden awareness is the truest image for me. The clocklike path of this recognition suppresses a sense of victory: it is an ironic encounter and more of a mirror than a picture.

-Philip Guston, from the catalogue for the 1958 Whitney Museum of American Art exhibition, Nature in Abstraction.