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Women in Science: Listening and Learning from Nancy Hopkins

Just over a week ago I had the opportunity to hear Nancy Hopkins speak. She did not speak about her biology research focused on zebrafish, but instead she spoke in her capacity as an expert on women in science. In fact, Hopkins explained that until 20 years ago, she was merely known for her biology. Practically overnight she became the woman to interview about women-in-science issues when MIT released their report, A Study on the Status of Women Faculty in Science at MIT, of which Hopkins was a key author. The MIT report garnered front-page headlines in the New York Times and Hopkins, MIT, and the barriers women scientists face were thrust into the spotlight.

Hopkins’s talk was an engaging hour-long tale that did not dwell on inequalities but on her love of science. It was not until the 1990s that she was forced to admit she lived in a state of denial regarding the hostile and discriminatory work environment. Compared to her male peers, her salary was less, her lab space was smaller, and she was not allowed to teach the large introductory courses because MIT students were less likely to believe a woman. 

Hopkins discovered that she was not alone in wanting to change the climate of science at MIT and around the country to one that was more collegial and welcoming. In her talk she argued that each generation of women wants to believe as she did that discrimination is found only in history, but this belief does not adequately prepare women for the reality of science. However, conversations, such as the one she has helped generate about invisible barriers and subconscious biases, must continue among both men and women. The climate of science only becomes more welcoming when scientists, both male and female, fight for that equality.

Posted In: History | Policy

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