An Unassuming Suggestion

For alleviating the burden and disadvantages experienced by women pursuing scientific careers, and for benefiting the public as a whole by reducing the impacts of said imposed hardships.

It is most unsettling to observe the halls of prominent scientific institutions, and their interactions twixt each other in both physical gatherings and writ in words across the machinations of the great endeavor of human progress, and to see the effects of a tremendous degree of selection against less common demographics. In particular, it is a rare occasion to see equal representation of men and women, and increasingly so as one climbs the tiers of seniority and compensation. Many women enter STEM research at the level of graduate training in a specialized discipline, but over time their presence is whittled down to a stalwart few.

I think it is uncontested that the research output, in terms of both innovation and quantity, that is lost along with the women who tend to leave technical STEM careers, is a tremendous detriment to nations in terms of productivity, health, and quality of life, and a burden to all societies plagued by the problem. Therefore, the individual who could come up with a cheap and easy method of reducing or eliminating the problem would deserve to have a statue constructed in their honor, a building bearing their name, or whatever the modern standard for public homage may be at the time the solution is enacted.

Many learned scholars have pointed out that a major exit point for women in STEM occurs at the decision point between career and family, specifically child-bearing and the associated obligations that follow. The dearth of women scientists in top roles can therefore be largely attributed to the nature of their reproductive capabilities. The premise follows that if society were to remove this bottleneck, women scientists would flourish. And I can clearly discern that such half-measures as paid maternity leave and availability of child care would not amount to much in terms of reducing the problem.

Some contend that the determined developmental cell plan of the common nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, makes their species the most useful model organism, while others may prefer the complex behavioural repertoire of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. Still others will settle for nothing less than a mammalian subject, and for them something along the lines of a small mouse, Mus musculus, or a laboratory brown rat, Rattus norvegicus, is the only method of interest. For others still, these multicellular types put the cart before the horse, and for these reserved researchers the only acceptable subject is brewer’s yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisae, or bacteria. Likewise, researchers in the physical sciences and mathematics have their own preferences for software programs, mathematical domains, approximations, etcetera.

Returning to the problem at hand: talented women leave scientific careers in droves at the bifurcation between choosing family and prioritizing career. In the absence of a suitable bioengineering solution that would push peak female fertility into the late 30s or beyond, I offer a solution, which, with proper implementation, promises to rid scientific endeavor of gender disparity once and for all.

I have been assured by a very knowing colleague that aspects of all major questions in physiology, neuroscience, psychology, etcetera, and a good deal of those in the physical sciences could be tested using the infant human as an experimental subject. Furthermore, in research areas disinterested with experimentation on living subjects, children represent an untapped labour resource and are ideally suited for many laboratory tasks.

What better model organism could be had than the larval specimen of the ubiquitous Homo sapiens? The clever reader will have followed this thread of reasoning to its penultimate conclusion: the method by which women may negate the career pitfalls associated with their sex, and, dare I say, propel themselves to advantages above and beyond their male cohorts, is not to forgo family in preference for professional aspirations. Rather, they must bring their progeny into the research fold, first as test subjects, and later as volunteer labour as the subjects mature.

Therefore, I do humbly offer up for public consideration that the so-called “leaky pipeline” of women exiting scientific research and technical professions, especially the component of said loss attributable to child-bearing and rearing, shall be plugged with the ready supply of women-scientists’ own children! I suspect that the advantages of this new arrangement will be sufficient to overcome institutional and personal impediments to representation at the top tiers of the scientific community. Additional measures, already suggested by others, such as marketing more laboratory equipment in rosy hues or encouraging research conferences to give out more feminine products as swag, would fill any remaining interstices left of the seniority and wage disparities currently based on gender.

In instances in which a particular avenue of study is outside of the specialization of the mother, collaborations with experts can be solicited to the advantage of the mother. I can even envisage resourceful mothers in research devising collaborative societies, in which entry is guaranteed by provision of a certain minimum number of children, and membership grants access to the combined progeny of the entire collective.

The small fingers and innate curiosity of young humans make them ideal for such mundane tasks as filling pipette tip boxes, working with small pieces of machinery, and washing glassware, as long as a suitable (non-monetary) reward is provided as incentive. Children are robust and heal quickly, obviating any effects of the clumsiness of growing limbs. Therefore, if a given child-subject is not suitable as a test subject for the experiments at hand, they can be employed at very low cost in the day-to-day running of the laboratory. The economy of such an arrangement can give women-scientists a small but effective advantage in times of sparse funding availability.

Being studious of brevity I will leave the concoction of additional uses of this untapped resource of experimental subjects and ready labour, which are sure to be highly numerous, to the reader. Of course, not being so violently defensive of my own simple idea, I remain open to alternative solutions to the problem, as long as these would be comparable in terms of ease, low expence, and efficaciousness. Whereas I have done my part to mitigate the problem of a STEM gender gap, I can therefore rest easy if the problem is not ameliorated due to a failure in implementing my suggestion. Further, having proffered this solution, my conscience will remain clear if some slight differences in the gender demographics in technical fields shall remain, as after having been fully informed of my suggestion described in this document, these differences could only be due to personal preferences of individuals.

The End

by special guest columnist Jean Brusque

Image of (left to right) Pierre, Irène and Marie Curie is public domain via an expired copyright. retrieved from

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