Don't Be A "Woman In Science"

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | December 29, 2008 10:36 am

srkaaas.pngEvery week or so, someone asks yours truly to weigh in on women in science. I have. Including a couple of times here. But like Britney’s career, the subject keeps making a comeback…

How do we break through that glass ceiling, defy expectations, and succeed in a man’s world?

Now more than ever, it seems that science bloggers everywhere are exploring feminist philosophy and the gender divide. And so ladies and gents, what do you think it means to be a woman in science and when is femininity alright in the lab? Most recently, there’s been discussion of whether we (science blogettes) should take some responsibility for how we reflect women in science to the world at large.

Here’s the thing though. As much as I’m interested in promoting women, the best suggestion I can offer every young person–budding scientist or otherwise–is not to follow any particular model, but forge her or his own path. Be unique, don’t compromise to fit a prescribed cast. This isn’t novel advice, but Polonius and Jimmy Eat World were on to something… Speak in your own special voice and charge ahead full speed.

srkdrums.pngScience is after all, a very creative process so you’ll stand out from the pack by being your-one-in-seven-billion-self. And remember it’s okay to express the many dimensions of your personality from serious scientist to rock star drummer and back again. Because it’s boring to subscribe to anyone’s notion of what it means to be whatever it is you aspire to be in the same way it’s boring to be another cog in the wheel. Throw some sand in the gears and shake things up when appropriate. We rarely remember those who play by every rule, so take the road less traveled and see where it leads.

In other words, don’t try to be a “woman in science.” Be yourself. And shine.


Comments (10)

  1. LadyInALabcoat

    Polonius and Jimmy Eat World were on to something…

    I’m going to be repeating that in my woman’s history course. Thanks!

  2. Sciencefan

    I think you set a good example!

  3. I agree. Don’t try to be a woman in science; just be a scientist.

  4. ‘In other words, don’t try to be a “woman in science.” Be yourself. And shine.’

    Awesome post Sheril! I’m with you 100%. One shouldn’t ‘try’ to be anything- much better to be yourself and just go for broke!

  5. Sheril, this is a lovely post. I think you are aboslutely right that first and foremost one needs to be true to themselves.

    I think that the reason you are seeing conversation about this topic on the blogosphere (and why I think it is suchc a darned positive thing) is that many academic scientists feel like they did not have female role models that they could turn to for instruction on how to survive in academia while raising a family. On any given day I think of myself as a kick ass scientist first, but that doesn’t meaan that I don’t face challenges that are unique to my womanhood. It has been tremendously valuable for me to be able to look at the examples set by people like Zuska, ScienceWoman, and Alice Pawley to see how they deal with challenges. In turn, I have felt like sharing the things I deal with as the mother of a preschool aged brood might offer some support to other women in the same situation.

  6. Adrienne

    It’s true.

    Being a woman in science ruins your credibility. Just be a woman. And do science.

  7. Really terrific post. And the end of the day, who you are is all that really matters.

  8. Awesome post, Sheril. Right on.

  9. My thoughts exactly, only far better said. Go Sheril!


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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at


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