Field of Science

Science, It's a meritocratic thing?

#sciencegirlthing meme confused me, because when I started at university, there was a 60:40 girl boy ratio on my science course. There seem to be plenty of girls going into science courses, but where do they go? This got me thinking about something that I wanted to blog about a while ago, but was too angry to do anything other than mash the keyboard with my own face.
In my early days working in the lab, I had the fortune to work with an amazing post doc. This post doc always knew what they were doing. Some days, they would be the first one in the lab, and last one out. Not because anyone told them to, not because they felt it gave them an air of arrogant superiority, but because the experiments demanded it. Through an extraordinary level of organisation, they managed to do a huge amount of work with very little time. It was an acknowledged fact in our lab that this post doc was some sort of superhero. Seeing that level of dedication, organisation and productivity affected me a lot, and I still am attempting to emulate their example.
So hearing that she wanted to get out of science sent my head spinning.
After which I was directed to look at the academics in higher positions. Most of them were men. It doesn't take a genius to see that something was going on.

There is a phrase that I've heard bandied about a number of places,  "Too smart for science". Occasionally a lab will be blessed with an amazing student who, despite being excellent at science decides that they'll be better off doing another career, because the job opportunities are so small. And they do well, because they are smart enough to excel at anything they do. But it is still a loss for science.
So when you present such a person with a game so stacked against them, is it any surprise when they cash their chips and go elsewhere ? Why go through the sacrifice and hard work of a career in science when there is very likely no pay off at the end of it. 

So seeing someone who had played such a key inspiration for me, decide that science wasn't the best use for her talents, was devastating. Hence the face/keyboard/laptop chewing implied earlier. Because I had my main preconceptions of science shattered.
 I realised that no matter how good I am as a scientist, some arbitrary crap that I have no control over can prevent me from pursuing a career. Actually we don't always have the best people solving our scientific problems because the system is tipped against a lot of them. This is a career where the smartest people don't get to the top, they get out. 
Can we really claim science is a meritocracy when we are haemorrhaging some of our best talent ? 


  1. This whole post could be applied to the humanities as well.

  2. Hello

    That's SO true. I know an excellent researcher that unfortunately is no longer working in the lab. And guess what? She is a woman... I think she was one of the best I have ever known.

    Bad for us


  3. thank you for posting on this astonishing (and real) fact


Markup Key:
- <b>bold</b> = bold
- <i>italic</i> = italic
- <a href="">FoS</a> = FoS