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Women in Science: Maud Menten

by Eva Amsen

I recently made a video about Maud Menten. I used Lego, of course, but this time also added myself.

Menten is a famous name in Biochemistry, but for years I didn’t know that her first name was Maud, or that she was a woman in the first place. I just assumed Menten was a man. That’s what this video is about.

I made it for the #ScienceWoman project. Although I didn’t make it into the final video (below), I am on the playlist for the project.

There are a lot of comments on the video on the It’s Okay To Be Smart channel along the lines of “I didn’t need a role model” or “isn’t it demeaning to women to highlight them as ‘female scientist’  instead of as ‘scientist'”.

Role models

I used to think like that as well: I don’t really have any role models – male or female – and I actively rebelled against “women in science” initiatives as a teenager by avoiding all university programmes that had a special Open Day for girls only. (Ugh.) I wanted to be treated like an equal, so I only looked at universities that didn’t base their advertising on gender. But the larger issue I missed at the time is: why WERE they advertising to girls? The universities that had to revert to that – the ones with low female enrollment numbers – were the ones that offered only science and engineering programmes. The universities that had a mix of programmes also had a mix of genders, and didn’t need to do that.

I also only recently realised that the fact that I didn’t need a female role model doesn’t mean that nobody does. I learned that it is important to many other women, and I want to help everyone reach their goals, so if that means providing or supporting female role models, I’ll try to help with that.

I also never looked at what happens beyond enrollment. I thought my fields were fine, because in my undergrad chemistry degree and my grad biochemistry degrees there were about 50:50 male and female students. But looking at the faculty in those departments, the numbers dropped drastically.

My cohort of graduates is currently at the age where they are starting out in faculty jobs, so you would expect the numbers to change soon, but the gender balance among applicants is already skewed and no longer 50:50. Plus, professors stay in their job for AGES. They don’t even properly retire, like other professions, but instead hang around in their departments for ever and ever. So it’s going to take a LONG time until women are better represented at the top level, no matter how many female students there are.

All good reasons to support highlighting exemplary scientists who happen to be women. (Even if you didn’t find out until years later that they were women in the first place…)

I’ve also recently read a book about this topic that I’m writing a review for. Expect that on the blog soon as well.


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