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Lucie de Nooij | NIKHEF | The Netherlands

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With the observation that there are fewer women in physics than men, the question is often raised how to “solve” this. But from a more metaphysical point of view (I am reading a book on philosophy) I think we should address this observation a little bit more careful. Is the low fraction of women a problem? And if so, do all problems need to be solved?

To start of with some numbers: in the master particle physics in the Nikhef there are yearly about twelve students of which typically two girls. In the master that started this September there is none. We are highly dependent on Poisson statistics: when the expected number of instances is two, there is a 14% change that the outcome is zero. So if you repeat this experiment six times (as we have done with this master now), the change that there is a girl in every year reduces to 42%. The scientist in me is now happy, but my girly side still would like more female colleagues.
I will for sure come back to this subject. Please read this very interesting presentation for more stats within ATLAS:

2 Responses to “Powerchick”

  1. Zoe Louise Matthews says:

    This is a very interesting question and I anticipate your next blog :-) I am of the unusual opinion that fewer women is not necessarily a reflection in some prejudiced bias of the system but in the underlying difference, statistically, between men and women. There are biases the other way in other professions. And the Poisson-like drop-off, I think, comes from the choices more women decide to make than men (maternity, children…or leaving for more child-friendly hours), and I don’t think introducing more women will change the culture to fix this problem because I think it is a natural part of research that you need to keep connected and learning all the time. Some women do it. There’s no denying it’s tough. Some men do it too, but not as many.

    A little part of me worries that the drop-off might be a side effect of more girls starting physics at University because they are being chosen over men (to “equalize”), and many of them are not coping. It sounds like a horrid accusation but as an applicant to undergraduate I was told by one university that “entry requirements won’t matter because you are a girl”. This is not equality – it is irresponsible and will only make the male attitude towards women in physics (which in my opinion is the only place sexism seems to still manifest) much much worse.

    I look forward to seeing your opinion on this issue.

  2. Meike says:

    On the other hand, the year before that (my year) there were five girls out of twelve students..
    I also think the subject in general and the ATLAS presentation are interesting. I was kind of surprised though that only 9% of the PhDs in Physics in the Netherlands is awarded to women. I usually have the feeling that it’s not so bad and there’s not that few girls, but that might be because I automatically notice girls/women more (and of course, at summer school the ratio was much closer to equal)

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