Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

University Scientists, Networking, and Gender


Kind of an interesting study, but I’m not sure what to make of the results:

For the first time, scholars have used the tool of social-network analysis to examine how a large, national sample of female and male scientists interact with professional colleagues and how this affects their careers. . . .

For example, women and men both formed networks of approximately equal size of professional collaborators and confidantes, the study showed. But women were less likely than men to receive introductions from members of their networks to potential research collaborators . . . They also found that women’s networks were more likely to contain people at other campuses and with greater seniority.

As a result, [female] scientists may be missing out on chatting informally and regularly with colleagues around the water cooler at their home institutions, ties that can be critical to establishing a research career, the authors said. These research partnerships are becoming ever more important as science increasingly becomes interdisciplinary and carried out by teams. Women might be disadvantaged in the tenure process because collaborations are also a way of establishing one’s credentials among colleagues within a department.

(I eliminated the use of “women” as an adjective because I hate that.)

It seems to me that these researchers started out with the idea that networking hurts women in science, and then twisted their analysis to fit that idea. If women are more likely to have friends with seniority, isn’t that a rather big advantage, even if those friends are at other institutions? Also, if it had turned out that men had more contacts at other campuses, wouldn’t the researchers have called that a net advantage — you can use a geographically dispersed network to get published in journals based at different colleges, gain access to specialized equipment your own university doesn’t have, etc.?


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