March is Women in History month and despite advances in science women are still under represented in academia.
According to a report in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, women are underrepresented in academic medicine in the UK.
“There has been a longstanding gender imbalance in clinical academia as well as laboratory-based basic medical sciences”, said lead author Professor Jonathan Grant, Director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London. “This inequality increases substantially with seniority, with women representing only 15% of professors in UK medical schools.”
Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies, a co-author of the essay, said: “The lack of women participating in the clinical academic research system is likely to be implicitly biasing today’s research agenda and, by consequence, tomorrow’s clinical practice.” She added: “The system needs to be reformed by medical schools improving the culture for and chances of women in clinical academia, through schemes such as Athena Swan. The adoption and embedding of gender neutral policies, for example flexible working, will be of benefit to all clinical academics whether women or men.” (Source)
Considering that the proportion of women entering medical school today is around 53% this disparity is significant. The same trend is to be found in the US where 48% of medical students were women and while “women comprise of 35% of all medical school faculty in the U.S., these were usually low-level junior teaching positions.” (Source)
The situation is improving however. According to the Times Higher education supplement the statistics for women professors in the UK is as follows:
- 22 per cent of professors – 4,415 out of 19,750 in total – were female in 2013-14 compared with just 15 per cent in 2003-04
- 45 per cent of the UK’s 194,245 academic staff are women.
- A third of senior academic staff, excluding professors, are women
- There are 25 professors under the age of 30 working in the UK, of whom 10 are women.
In Ireland, 18% of professors are female, and in the University of Limerick 34 % of professors are women. In 1910, University College Cork was the first Irish college to appoint a female professor, Mary Ryan, Professor of Romance Languages.
However, while the number of female senior academics may still be low, those who do make the grade are contributing hugely to the field.
In University College Cork, for example, Professor Geraldine Boylan is leading the way in the area of neonatal neurophysiology and recently became the only female scientist honoured in a series of stamps issues by An Post celebrating scientific discoveries in Ireland. Professor Ella Arensman of the School of Public Health and Chief Scientist at the National Suicide Research Foundation is a global expert in suicide related research, while the College of Medicine and Health is now led by Professor Helen Whelton.
And last but not least one of the instrumental contributors to this site is a Professor of Nursing and Health Science, our very own Professor Lynn Basford!
The Royal Society looks at the issue of women in science in the video below featuring physicist Dame Athene Donald FRS and cognitive neuroscientist Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore:
Read more about historical women in science
In the San Diego Supercomputer Center, a series of machines in the computational laboratory were named after women in science. Brief biographies were written for each woman selected, and these were put on the walls of the classroom and were also compiled into this very informative PDF. https://www.sdsc.edu/ScienceWomen/GWIS.pdf
Articles from the Royal Society on women in science: