Tag Archives: Stereotypes

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.

What does a scientist look like?

Alexandra Duncan

When I’m out in a social setting relaxing, one thing that never gets old is seeing the looks on people’s faces when they discover what I do. “You’re a chemist?!?” Quick flashes of surprise and disbelief, followed by admiration and intimidation. The conversation would fall flat at this point if I let it. People rarely suspect that I’m a scientist. I understand: I don’t look anything like Albert Einstiein or Sheldon Cooper from CBS’s The Big Bang Theory. But it begs the question: What does a scientist look like?

Allie Wilkinson, a science journalist, set out to address this question and change our perceptions on her new hit blog, This is What A Scientist Looks Like. Scientists submit pictures of themselves, which are then posted to the blog. The scientists who submit photos choose how to define themselves. Some present themselves in the lab or doing field work, while others show themselves having regular hobbies during their off hours like mine with my pony, Brighton Boast A Bit and fellow BSR Blogger Adam Hill’s entry with his camera. The collection shows vividly that there is no definite form that a scientist “should” have. From the “About” section of the blog, “There is no rule that scientists can’t be multidimensional and can’t have fun.”