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Reflecting on Fifty Years of Progress for Women in Science

Progress for Women in Academic Science Has Been Remarkable over the Past 50 Years but Equality Remains Elusive in all Universities

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Nancy Hopkins Ph.D. Department of Biology Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Like young women today, 50 years ago I too assumed that gender discrimination in science was a thing of the past. Girls who grew up in America in the Sputnik era, as I did, were encouraged to become scientists. By 1964, when I graduated from college with a major in biology, I thought it entirely possible I’d win a Nobel prize. Why not? Dorothy Hodgkin won one that year. At Harvard, my professors had strongly encouraged me to go to graduate school. When I finished my postdoc in 1973, I was actively recruited to the MIT faculty. What were those feminists complaining about?

I would have understood had I known that 50 years ago it was almost impossible for a woman to get a faculty job in any American research university, and that it would take civil rights legislation in the mid ’60s and early ’70s to make it possible.

Following is a brief account of how I came slowly to comprehend that gender bias did (and still does) exist in science, and how, starting in 1994, I worked with other women faculty and with the MIT administration to understand and mitigate its effects, with outcomes none of us could have imagined. Progress for women in academic science has been remarkable over the past half century, though equality remains elusive in all universities because of persistent societal, unconscious, and institutional gender biases.

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DNA and Cell Biology, published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., is the trusted source for authoritative, peer-reviewed reporting on the latest research in the field of molecular biology. The above article was first published in the March 2015 issue of DNA and Cell Biology with the title “Reflecting on Fifty Years of Progress for Women in Science”. The views expressed here are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of DNA and Cell Biology, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers, or their affiliates. No endorsement of any entity or technology is implied.