Posts byJane Hu

The Magnifying Glass Ceiling: The Plight of Women in Science

Scientists frequently reference a quote attributed to Einstein: “You do not truly understand something unless you can explain it to your grandma.” Whether or not these words were actually Einstein’s, they’ve been used again and again to encourage students to explain highly technical details in a simple way so that even your grandma could understand it. The assumption is that your dear old grandma is a feeble-minded lady who doesn’t know anything about phishing or bitcoin or Bayesian statistics.

What’s interesting here is that it’s always your grandma you’re asked to explain things to, not your grandpa. This subtle difference seems innocuous, but it reflects the age-old stereotype that men are more competent than women in math and science. Luckily, we’ve moved forward from the days when women in science like Rosalind Franklin, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, and Lise Meitner had their ideas overlooked or even blatantly stolen, but the undercurrent of sexism has not disappeared – it has just become subtler.