Model scientists

By Phil Plait | October 4, 2008 11:14 am

If you ask 1000 young girls ages 13 – 18 what profession they want to be, how many do you think would want to be scientists?

According to a poll done in the UK and reported by The Guardian, the answer is 14%.

How many want to be models?

31%

Ouch.

While again this poll was done in the UK, I suspect it would be pretty closely reflected in the US as well.

There are two interesting things about these numbers. The obvious one is that many more girls want to be models than scientists. That’s disturbing. And it’s obvious why; every TV show dealing with models depicts the life as glamorous; even the ones where we see contests with models dropping out in tears can be interpreted as glamorous because the winner is showered with accolades and, well, glamor. We tend to forget the misses and remember the hits, so I would think a young girl watching that would also tend to see the winner and forget the losers.

I don’t think we need to go deeply into the psychology here; it’s been analyzed everywhere. Certainly in the US we are not showing good images to our girls; it’s aggravating and seriously hurting our culture (Jezebel has one potential solution, but I don’t think it would help since it still would glamorize behavior instead of simply praising it).

But something struck me as I was thinking this over. 14% of the girls polled want to be scientists. By itself — that is, not compared with models or any other category — what does that number mean? Well, how many scientists are there in the US (again, the poll was done in the UK, but let’s assume their numbers reflect ours)? A brief search yielded several numbers (like, say, here), but a rough average would be about 3 million. There are 300 million people in the US, so that means 1% are scientists.

Hey, wait a sec! This means that the poll indicates that proportionally, there are far more girls wanting to be scientists than there really are scientists.

That’s actually a good thing. Lots of girls want to be scientists!

So interpreting the poll — assuming it’s accurate — is interesting. I absolutely agree with the analysis that way too many girls, both proportionally and in real numbers, want to be models, and I also agree that the media (which remember, reflects to some degree the population) is a big part of the problem.

But I also think those numbers aren’t totally depressing. If that many girls want to be scientists, then we’re doing something right. Maybe we need to give the media their due. I see more women scientists on TV shows, more women in positions of authority, more women who are smart and hard working and shown as complex people, and not just eyecandy.

Having said all this, I want to stress that a) the actual questions and choices for answers weren’t listed in the article, b) I am extrapolating from a UK poll to the US, and c) I’m not a social scientist. So my conclusions come with a series of caveats.

And there’s more to consider. First, how many boys of the same age want to be scientists? I wonder what that percentage would be. Higher? Lower? I’m not sure.

Second, we need to think past the immediate numbers. Roughly 1% of the people in this country are scientists. What if we had asked them when they were 13 – 18 what they wanted to be? Would the numbers still be the same? If 14% of them wanted to be scientists, what happened along the way to them becoming scientists? You expect a natural attrition; some people lose interest in school, or don’t have the aptitude, or there weren’t enough jobs… you can think of more, I’m sure. Knowing why we lose so many students of either sex along the way is a topic all by itself, and one I honestly don’t know much about, so I’d rather not speculate.

And finally, are there special pressures on girls who want to be scientists? You betcha! So just looking at the overall attrition rate isn’t enough; it has to be broken down by sex, by social status, by economic status, by location, by family type. This is a complicated situation, and difficult to boil down to a simple solution.

But one thing I’m taking away from this: a lot of girls want to be scientists, far more than is represented in the general adult population. That’s a good thing, and even if we can’t support that many scientists, we can sure support that scientific attitude. I’d love to see everyone thinking more like scientists, and that’s something we need to nurture.

Tip o’ the lab coat to SkepChick.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Piece of mind, Science

Comments (42)

  1. madge

    My daughter (in the Uk) has three years to go before she hits this poll’s age range. Right now her “dream job” is to “run” nasa. I, and her Teacher, are doing everything we can to encourage her and keep her dream alive. I agree that in recent times many women like Kate Humble, Hermione Cockburn, Carolyn Porco etc have been very positive role models for her. Good to see. :)

  2. Thanny

    There’s no doubt that what we see around us influences our desires, but it doesn’t create them. That reverses the causation.

    No girl sees a model and decides to become one because of how glamorously the whole enterprise is treated. She’s innately attracted to glamor, and sees modelling as one of the ways to immerse herself in it. Other girls don’t have the time of day for such fluff, and may want to be scientists, stock brokers, pilots, or any other path you can think of that might be considered orthagonal to modelling.

    The same is true of the choices boys make, when seeing sports stars, actors, astronauts, or whatever.

    We’re all born with most of our desires and personality traits wired in. They’re only tuned by the state of society around us, towards the available avenues of engagement that exist presently. So the 14% of girls who say they want to be scientists are so wired that intellectual pursuits float their boats, and science is one of the more prominently available options to feed their pre-existing inclinations.

  3. Thatch3d

    I’ve been reading this blog since January and this is the first time I’ve posted a comment to any blog.

    I’m finishing my AA degree in psychology and preparing for transfer to a university. I think the poll question posed was pretty useless. It would be much better to focus on attitudes to science exclusively. For instance, a poll could ask on a scale of 1-10 how willing are you to take a career in science? Why isn’t the number higher? Why isn’t it lower? What do you think would make it higher? Then the poll could aske the same questions substituting confidence in science for willingness.

    The problem with the poll referenced here is that it gives a number without any context.

  4. tacitus

    Nope, I think it’s worse in the UK and has been since I was a college student 25 years ago. I’ve worked in the computer industry since that time in both countries, and while things might have improved a little in recent years, there are still a lot more women programmers and engineers in the industry in the US than in the UK.

    I went to one of the top universities in the UK for Computer Science and there were two — just two — British women out of well over 100 on the course. (There were a few other women, but they were all Chinese nationals). Even back then, the balance between the sexes was nowhere near that bad.

  5. well, to add anecdote to your data: I wanted a PhD in archaeology since I saw Indiana Jones for the first time when I was 10 or so.

    then I hit the bureaucracy of academia, and the financial nightmare that is paying for college in the U.S.

    now I’m a freelace graphic designer/photographer and sometime coffee shop worker (maybe when I get rich (haha) I’ll take up archaeology again)

  6. Hands up everyone whose heard of Paris Hilton? Or Naomi Campbell or Kate Moss?

    (Massive sea of hands. Huge crowd shouts “Yeah! Of course! Who hasn’t!”)

    How many times are the above-mentioned names and photos in the newspapers, on TV, written about and talked about online ..?

    (Does quick check ) Aha! 5 bazillion five hundred and fifty five – or therabouts! ;-)

    Now then hands up those who’ve heard of Carolyn Porco? Or Elaine (it it?) Hammel (I think?*) Or Henrietta Leavitt? **

    (Silence, awkward pause then just a few tentative hands rise out of the huge crowd of people stretching far as can be seen.)

    Hmm.. & how many mentions do they get in the newspapers, TV, etc .. ???

    (Does quick count again…)

    Ah, once or twice in few months if they’re lucky – more like once or twice a year for most popular publications /programs. In the women’s gossip & ‘fashion’ rags and teenage girl targeted TV shows .. er ..goshdurn close to never. :-(

    Well, I think I see our problem … ;-(

    (Or at least a big part of it.)

    ———————
    * … & you see my point right there. I’m a science & space exploration & astronomy buff & still I’m not sure if I’ve got her name right! I think I’m thinkingof tehright person ..Heidi is it may be but .. :-(

    ** Yes and again, I know Henrietta Leavitt (Cepheid discoverer) isn’t a contempoary but rather is a historical great female astronomer – and that I can’t think of enough modern female astropnomers speaks a lot in itself. Not well of me I know – but well also not too well about how much publicity they get. :-(

  7. Luis Plata

    I’m a college freshmen at the University of Texas at Dallas, studying physics with the hope of doing research in the future. I’m paying for my college via private loans after my parents decided to cut off my funding. The reason? They don’t believe a career in physics to be a realistic one and something I would be successful in. I’ve tried to show them my enthusiasm by explaining to them details about the LHC and the amazing images you post here every once in a while. I always get this reaction: “That’s scary.”
    Maybe it has to do with their upbringing? Cultural background?

    The point I want to make is, how many future scientists changed careers because of receiving a negative reactions from their family?

  8. I’ve been having some thoughts about the “losing students on the way” part.

    I’m now entering my third year of studying physics, and we’ve lost about one third of those who turned up at the first lecture (and sadly, half of the women, so we’re down to two in 35 now :( ). Seeing who we lost this is not necessarily a bad thing: not everybody can do well in every subject.

    Life would be much easier for students if it were completely normal to switch subjects after a semester or two, whether they can’t make it or don’t like it. This would allow people to really do what they can and want to do for the rest of their lives, instead of doing what they started with by hook or by crook just to stick to some imaginary standard of having a straight CV.

    And maybe then would not only physics students leave to other subject, but some business majors might find their love for the real sciences as well.

  9. I don’t question the validity of the poll but rather how useful it is in determining behavior during formative years and into adulthood.

    The fact of the matter is that very few people grow up to be what they wanted to be as a child. Moreover, the number of careers that children are even aware of is limited to what their immediate family do plus an obligatory circle of professions that are included in childrens’ learning materials. Lots of kids say they want to be rock stars, firemen, doctors, astronauts, sports heroes and scientists of every stripe, especially paleontologists and marine biologists. This is because we project a certain value set onto kids indicating that these jobs are culturally important.

    Not many kids say they want to be dental hygenists, customer service representatives, restaurant managers, forklift drivers, account managers, car salesmen, janitors, network administrators, real estate agents, teamsters, or any of the myriad of professional administrators that most people actually grow up to be.

    I will grant that this poll is probably a good measure of what values we’re teaching to our kids, what professions that we, as a society value over others. It tells us more about the adults that surround the kids than it does about the future of the UK. As a prediction of what these kids will one day do with their lives, it seems pretty useless.

  10. Kevin

    Something that also needs to be taken into account is peer pressure. I see it in astronomy clubs a lot. There are young girls who are gung-ho and wanting to be scientists, but suddenly their friends are convincing them it’s not “cool” and it’s better to be into clothes, boys, shopping, and the high school social scene. We’ve had two of our young ladies go on to get their PhD’s in the sciences (one in astro-physics and one in cosmology). I actually thought we were going to have a third a few years ago. Great twelve year old girl who knew her way around the sky, read up on everything she could get her hands on, badgered her folks constantly to bring her to our observatory so she could use the telescopes. Then she got a few years older, and it’s like a switch was thrown. She’s now a cheerleader, and doesn’t care a thing about astronomy. Just about being a cheerleader, gossiping about guys, and hanging at the mall. It’s sad.

    Another thing is these girls who want to be models because it looks glamorous don’t see the other side. As a photographer, I know more than a few women who are models. And they can tell you that it’s a hard thing to do. Young girls may see the pretty pictures, but have no understanding about how that one “pretty picture” probably took hours to make: hair, makeup, posing under bright lights, etc. And then from the other side of the camera, us camera operators have to set up the shot, have assistants, check lighting, etc. It’s long, boring, and tedious. Sometimes I think that doing science is easier.

  11. Jason

    I think this hinges on the larger problem of western culture’s obsession with celebrities in general. People dedicate their lives to photographing and following around famous celebrities; who themselves have often done nothing or little to earn respect (what the hell did Paris Hilton ever do to become famous?! be born rich and raised stupid?!). Even talented celebrities, who can make a great performance in a film/ record an amazing song/ have a funny TV show/ etc, get far more praise and worship than they deserve. We keep forgetting that these people put their shoes on one foot at a time, just like us, day in and day out; and instead we invest our time and energy into a pointless enrollment in their day to day lives. What’s worse, is that people who actually make a difference (past or present) still get a miniscule fraction of the fame and respect of a talentless hack of a pop culture icon.

  12. Kutsuwamushi

    Thanny,

    I’m impressed. So many scientists, for so many years, have studied the effects of nature versus nurture, without being able to form a complete picture, and yet you have effortlessly settled the debate once and for all in a blog comment.

    You have even found a “glamor” gene. I’m blown away. This is an incredible discovery. Congratulations.

    Perhaps you will win a Nobel.

  13. Kevin, there’s some hope she’ll grow out of that phase, too (hopefully without too much damage to her GPA)

    But this is one of the reasons I’m so upset about the school reforms they’re trying to push through in Germany. Germany has a somewhat antiquated high-school system that needs updating, but in an amazing feat of idiocy, they’re making it worse:

    In Germany, students who finish 4th (or 6th in my state, which is better in my opinion) go to one of 3 different schools: basic (till 9th grade; originally designed for farmers kids who didn’t need to know much more than necessary for basic transactions); regular (10th grade); and advanced (12th or 13th grade), which is what about 60% of kids now do, and which allows them to go to uni (graduates from the middle level theoretically can go to university, too, but advanced level students are usually picked first).
    the system unfortunately leaves behind those in the basic level, but gives smart, interested and “nerdy” kids a chance at getting through school without being bullied etc. I think the solution would be to combine the basic and middle levels (and combine the funding, which would then even out with the funding for the advanced level), while retaining the advanced level for kids who are academically highly motivated.

    instead, they’re combining all the levels. GAH!

  14. Thatch3d

    @Thomas
    “I don’t qustion the validity of this poll….”

    I find the validity of this poll to be irrelevant. In social/ behavioral science, validity refers to whether or not the data answers a question that was asked. I read the article in The Gaurdian and couldn’t find a question the researchers asked. The participants were prompted to select from a menu of choices. Therefore, it is worse than if they had asked the wrong question since they didn’t ask one. It is important that they ask a question and that we know what it was. If there is no question than we don’t know what the purpose of the poll was and can’t place the poll into any meaningful context. For example, look at the comments to this entry. None address the poll directly; the commenters have to supply context from their own experiences. Thus, we are really left with the opinions and biases of the commenters rather than cogent analysis of the poll data.

    “I will grant that this poll is probably a good measure of what values we’re teaching to our kids….”

    I didn’t see any values mentioned in the poll so, it doesn’t seem as if it actually measured any values. In social/ behavioral sciences surveys, polls, naturalistic observation, and anecdotes have value in so far as their ability to generate hypotheses. Experiments, cross-sectional studies, and longitudinal studies are the ways in which hypotheses are tested. Therefore, Experiments, cross-sectional studies, and longitudinal studies are the “yardsticks” with which data are measured. There are no hypotheses generated from this poll.

    The above reasons plus the fact that the polls sample size is only 506 and contains no error bar that I could find are why I said that the poll is useless in my original post. I don’t know if your comments were meant to respond to what I said. I, simply, thought that my comments required elaboration after reading yours. While I value the opinions expressed here and want to encourage more, I believe that we are better of demanding better quality data than trying to find meaning in a meaningless poll.

  15. @Luis Plata:

    Explain to your parents the importance of the Cathode Ray tube to modern science and they may never question you again. This, of course, is assuming that they enjoy watching television. Oh wait, Quantum Physics? Lets use that to help explain how semi-conductors work so that your mom can check her email. I tried to explain Compton Scattering to my dad the other day (elementary stuff you know) and he didn’t even try to understand. Try and explain how physics has benefited your parents and they may come around. It is commendable that you have chosen to do it anyways. Keep up the hard work! Degrees in Physics will one day benefit us both!

  16. For some reason, an awful lot of girls say they want to be Marine Biologists. I haven’t figured out what’s so appealing about that particular field of science that would attract such a high female contingent, unless they think they’ll be swimming with dolphins all the time.

  17. OK, so I am not a woman, so take that for what it’s worth. Nevertheless, as a child, I had always been certain that I would be a scientist of some sort, though my interests encompassed a pretty wide range. By high school, I was certain I wanted to design and build space ships (NASA or not, didn’t matter). I started college in an Aerospace Engineering program at Texas A&M, and boy was I unprepared. Not only did I experience the usual first-time-really-away-from-home-partying-etc., I found that my grasp of the mathematics that would have ensured success in first year Calculus was tenuous, and I never could quite catch up. Try taking Calculus based Physics with a shaky foundation in Calculus. You can imagine where that went. A year later I was shipping off to the Army with no more money to pay for college. That effectively ended my idea of working on space shuttles and the like. I am fairly certain, however, that had I possessed a better math foundation, I could have caught up before it was too late. I am glad now that I am not an Aerospace Engineer, but that is another story entirely.

  18. I think that in the younger age range (13-15) there is a little “fireman” syndrome going on that skews the results. Every boy under a certain age wants to be a fireman, mainly because it’s one of the few distinctive professions. No one grows up wanting to be a process server, but we have them nonetheless. I suspect that there is an element of easy selection popping up in this that inflates the number somewhat. I would like to find out how many of these girls are college bound.

    NEED MORE DATA!

    Typical scientist response isn’t it?

  19. Thatch3d

    @ The Chemist

    “NEED MORE DATA!

    Typical scientist response isn’t it?”

    See my previous posts. It isn’t the quantity. It’s the quality, the methodology, and the context. The poll in this entry brings neither of those things that count. It is a terrible poll that tells us nothing.

  20. @ Luis Plata,

    I just read your comment, and I hear you. My family hasn’t cut my funding yet, but my father wants me to pursue chemical engineering rather than the basic science of chemistry.

    I sense (though the medium of type can be misleading) that you’re considering changing your major.

    My advice: Soldier on, if it’s what you really want to do. Read the blog “How I’m Becoming an Astronaut” if you want to see how far a dream can take you. If you have the ability and the desire, it shouldn’t be squandered. If you walk out of the ordeal having received no support whatsoever from your parents, so be it. You’re your own person, your parents don’t have to live with the degree you end up with, you do.

    I’ve met students, former engineers, students with bachelors’ degrees in a few of my undergrad classes. Talking with them, they all made a bad choice based on things other than the reality of the professions or their hopes and dreams. So if you can’t imagine being anything except a physicist, why be anything else? If tuition is a problem, then you may have to drop out for a brief period of time to raise the necessary funds, or go to a cheaper school. They say it doesn’t matter where you did your undergrad anyway. If your father sees that you will not renege on the promise you made yourself, he will may compelled to support you despite his own well-intentioned desires for you future.

  21. Nico

    I returned to school after 14 years to do marine biology and oceanography. I managed to make my mom blanch when I told her, that dear daughter me isn’t interested in dolphins ( much too squeaky) but sharks.

    I know lots of girls just don’t go for science because as one said so loudly plant bio: “I don’t know why anyone would study plants, they don’t do any good.”

    The girls I know are all going for dental hygiene, and social work degrees, not chemistry, physics, biology.

  22. Again on the whole “fireman” thing, well, I think there are certain professions that every* kid wants to be when they want to grow up: fireman, police officer, beauty model, actor/actress, and I’d probably add in scientist too…

    I think they’re going to get disproportionate results in any survey. Nonetheless, more kids saying they want to be scientists means more kids *interested* in science, and that’s a good thing.

  23. Tacitus: “She’s innately attracted to glamor, and sees modelling as one of the ways to immerse herself in it. Other girls don’t have the time of day for such fluff, and may want to be scientists, stock brokers, pilots, or any other path you can think of that might be considered orthagonal to modelling.

    The same is true of the choices boys make, when seeing sports stars, actors, astronauts, or whatever.

    We’re all born with most of our desires and personality traits wired in”

    I’m sorry, but that is an incredibly ignorant thing to say. Are you seriously suggesting that there is something biological about the jobs that we have socially defined as falling under our definitions of masculine/feminine? That right out of the gates, my brother was more genetically predisposed to becoming a hockey player and my sister a schoolteacher? Not only do I disagree fervently, but I think I might actually find that to be incredibly offensive (luckily, I won’t loose sleep over this), arrogant and igornant.

  24. WB

    In second grade (circa late 1960′s) our teacher had our class draw a picture of what they wanted to be when we grew up. I drew myself with a test tube, Bunsen burner, and Ehrlenmeyer flask. Most of the rest of the girls drew themselves as either a teacher, a nurse or a stay-at-home mom. Boys generally were farmers (it was a farming community), some firemen, a couple of policemen. That was the community I was in. Options seemed limited for both sexes. I was one of the few who was out of the box.

    I got my degree in medical technology and went right to work with my test tubes, Bunsen burner, and Ehrlenmeyer flasks :) Working in a clinical lab probably doesn’t meet some definition of “scientist,” since I stopped with a BS and didn’t go into academia and research. But it is what I always wanted to do and guaranteed me a profession where I could move to almost any community and get a job. I didn’t want a degree that wouldn’t give me a job — my father was an unskilled laborer who suffered through a period of minimal employment when I was in jr. high school. I never wanted to go through that.

    Quite a few talented women went into nursing and from there are deeply involved in medical R&D. And far more women are in medicine these days (I think the medical school balance has actually now tipped to a slight majority of female). At our VA medical center, the staff physicians are encouraged and expected to conduct research and bring in research funding. Do you define these people as “scientists?”

    I think shows like CSI can excite both girls and boys to careers in the lab. But my profession is comparatively low pay (RNs make a bit more) and the state lab and forensics labs pay even less than hospital labs. Meanwhile, the medical research techs make beans, about what a certified nursing assistant makes! It really makes you wonder about the quality of work when you are employing people for the same wage as someone with no college.

  25. Gary Ansorge

    Some Canadian Skeptic:

    Genetic predisposition may or may not be a factor in choice of occupation. We HAVE found a genetic predisposition toward being liberal or conservative in our attitudes which, when applied to pure survival, makes some sense. The desire to see what’s over the next hill can be lethal (liberal inclination) but so can the desire to hold on to the tried and true (conservative), especially when some new environmental challenge develops. Our species has developed in a balance of attitudes, between petting the pretty wolf and making a friend of it or killing and eating it. We are obviously complex beings and with the numerous choices available to us in this society are often torn between our possible choices. Just because we have a specific inclination doesn’t mean we can’t go against the grain though it’s been said, you know you’ve found your bliss when (what you’ve chosen to do) feels easy and natural and makes you happy.

    There are approximately 300,000 different jobs descriptions in America. Have fun finding the one that appeals to you.

    Peace,

    GAry 7

  26. Gary Ansorge

    PS:
    Possibly one of the coolest role models for young females is/was the character of Samantha Carter on SG1 and Atlantis. Science nerd, warrior and human with internal plumbing,,,my kinda woman,,,

    Multifaceted humans are our norm. Robert Heinlien put it rather succinctly when he said (in describing humans) “,,,specialization is for insects,,,

    GAry 7

  27. 12 percent aspire to be “housewives”… I wonder if that includes all forms of “kept women”? My sister was a A-student in sciences and maths until her second year of high school. Then she decided she wanted to be a kept woman, and went from prospective scientist to inflate-to-60-PSI Barbie wannabe… the transition was fast too, on the order of a few months. She was quite open about it too – it’s not like anyone had to interpret or guess at her plans.

    She eventually graduated high school, but never found that man to keep her… Nor did she find much in the way of employment either… it seems that employers don’t want airheads with no education and few skills.

    In her late 20′s she went back to school and became a nurse, so I suppose it all worked out.

  28. I’m surprised more people haven’t suggested that the reason we don’t see more women in science (given that so many girls are interested in science) is because of gender bias in hiring and admission. There’s quite a bit of evidence to suggest that, while overt gender bias is not highly prevalent, there are a lot of subconscious biases that cause people to evaluate women lower than men. I blog about this here: http://sciencegeekgirl.wordpress.com/2008/10/05/advice-for-girls-in-science-the-meritocracy/

    In particular, women are lost at each transition step — from High School to College,from College to Graduate School, and especially from the PhD to Tenure Track positions. In a recent talk I heard on the attrition of women from sciences, Jo Handelsman told us that she’s heard many tragic stories of how isolated women are once they get tenure. No wonder there are fewer women scientists than there are girls with interest and aptitude.

  29. Quiet Desperation

    I never wanted to be a fireman or policeman. I was disassembling radios at age 6 and putting them back together again. Yes, they still worked. Built my first working crystal set at age 7 from a magazine article and using salvaged parts. Went on to become a “Distinguished Engineer” at my company as of last month.

    The moral of this story?

    Danged if I know!

  30. csrster

    QD: Sounds good. I hope it doesn’t mean you’re the guy who gets to clean the coffee machine :-)

  31. StevoR

    Loking at this (admittedly rather dubious) poll from the other angle, could we conclude that 69 % of girls aged 13 to 18 do NOT want to become models and 86 % of girls 13-18 do NOT want to become scientists?

    Or what about the percentage of girls who’d like to become both models AND scientists – either concurrently or at different times in their careers /lives?

    Are there any models who practice science in some form as well?
    Are there any scientists who are also models – and not just ‘role’ models?

    I don’t know I just thought this worth raising.

    I still think its a worry that more girls want to be known for their phyisical appearnce -and make alivingoff their physical appearnce than their minds and thatour society seems to value looks over brains.

    What do we pay more attention to and reward with more fame and money? What is hiugher in our social standings – a model or a scientist? If we put Paris Hilton in a room with Carolyn Porco who would get more attention?

    I think the answers to these questions are somewhat disturbing and say not much that’s good about our priorities and values as a culture, society or species.

    (Personally I’d rather hear Carolyn Porco speak and be in a conversation with her rather than Paris H but I’m betting I’d be the exception in RL if not necesarily here on the BAF.)

  32. FL

    On the other hand, given life’s notorious shortness, shouldn’t girls be encouraged to become exactly what they want — not manipulated into becoming what others think they should be? There are plenty of models who are happy, creative people. While I agree that science needs more women, please remember to respect the choice of those who opt for a different career.

  33. Pisces

    My oldest daughter has wanted to be a paleontologist since she was about four. On a visit to a dinosaur exhibit at the Museum she asked me “what do they call people who study dinosaurs?” When i told her “paleontologists” she said “That’s what i wanna’ do.”
    Now she’s in her first year of grad school and well on her way to becoming one.

  34. Quiet_Desperation

    Now before anyone gets upset, I’m just playing Devil’s advocate here. Someone has to go against the grain once in a while.

    While I agree that science needs more women

    Why? Is there some grand, important reason that the scientific community, however you define that, should be, say, 50% female? Some other percentage? What’s the magic number? I hear this a lot in the media: “Profession A” needs more of “Human Type B”, but I never hear anyone state exactly WHY other than a need to make the percentage match that of the general population. What is the expected benefit and is there empirical data to back it up?

    Personally I’d rather hear Carolyn Porco speak and be in a conversation with her rather than Paris H but I’m betting I’d be the exception in RL if not necesarily here on the BAF

    I challenge that. Hilton is generally treated like a ridiculous clown in the media and as a source of derisive entertainment. You really think there are many people (outside of her teen female fan base) who would really care about talking to her? As for Carolyn Porco, what would the average person talk to her about? The spectroscopy of Neptune?

    Fun fact: I walked right by Paris Hilton in the Hard Rock casino in Vegas two years ago and would not have known it if not for the bodyguards and one of my friends saying, “that was Paris Hilton.”

    On the other hand, given life’s notorious shortness, shouldn’t girls be encouraged to become exactly what they want — not manipulated into becoming what others think they should be?

    Now, now, FL! Around these parts it’s irresponsible to suggest that anyone other than a scientist can have a useful and productive life. Shame on you! Some poor impressionable girl might read your comment and decide to not go into molecular biology and instead become a (eek!) lawyer or (gasp!) a business person!

  35. Heidi Andereson

    Hi Phil, it’s Heidi Anderson from Dragon Con. Great post. I still think there needs to be a scientist tabloid, something to make the kids interested in the people behind the glamourous career!

    Seriously though, I think blogs like yours, Skepchick, Skepbitch, etc. are going to give a whole generation of kids the ability to find more suitable role models. I would have given anything to have Skepchick blog posts in junior high and high school.

  36. Cindy

    I remember in 9th grade saying I wanted to be an “astrophysicist”. I got blank looks from my teacher and peers. I say “You know, like Carl Sagan”. I technically became an observational astronomer rather than an astrophysicist, but got close.

    I now teach high school, so am a science teacher rather than a scientist. But I hope that I influence more kids to become scientists rather than models.

  37. Law Mom

    I went to college with Cindy Crawford. She was an valedictorian of her high school and an engineering major. She dropped out to model–the money was better.

    I’d like to know if the survey question was open-ended or multiple choice, and if the latter, what the other choices were.

  38. SpikeNut

    I remember once wanting to be an astronomer. But three things stood in my way: ability, the desire to have a family, and ability. So I have to take pride in getting my degrees alone, rather than in being an actual practicing scientist.

    SpikeNut

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