New Straits Times

Women scientists still ‘undervalue­d’ despite twin Nobel wins


PARIS: With two Nobel prize winners in as many days, women scientists have welcomed the research community “waking up” to the feats of their female peers, but insist they remain underpaid and undervalue­d compared with men.

On Tuesday, Canadian scientist Donna Strickland became the third woman in history to win the Nobel Physics Prize. Twenty-four hours later, United States biochemist Frances Arnold was awarded the chemistry prize, the fifth woman to receive the honour.

“It feels like the world is waking up to the ingenuity of women scientists,” Jess Wade, a physics professor at Imperial College London, said.

“It is an honour to be working in science at the same time as such inspiratio­nal women.”

Despite the relatively strong showing at the Nobels this year — historical­ly, just 19 of more than 600 science laureates have been female — others pointed out several persistent barriers for women in the world of science.

“Things are much better than they were decades ago, but we still have a long way to go,” said Meg Urry, professor of physics at Yale University.

“Women starting out in physics in college already notice they are being treated differentl­y than men, and for women of colour it is even worse.”

Indeed, while almost exactly half of science PhDs in the US last year were submitted by women, for chemistry just 39 per cent were.

For physics, that figure dropped to 18 per cent, according to the American Physics Society.

Roisin Owens, biochemica­l engineer at the University of Cambridge, said institutio­ns need to do more to fix what she called the “leaky pipeline” of women dropping out of science for reasons men are less likely to encounter.

“There are these tremendous women scientists who are almost equal numbers in these fields, then all of a sudden we get to professors and it’s down to 30 per cent or in some places 10 per cent,” she said.

Although she welcomed the acclaim received by Strickland and Arnold this week, “people should resist the temptation to think that these prizes are being given now simply because they are women”.

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