Posts Tagged ‘Careers in Life Sciences’

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

This post addresses related issues On the Career of the Life Sciences Scientist and compliments the following two posts on this Scientific Web Site:

August 1, 2012 — Introducing Career Streams into Academic Research


June 27, 2012 — Picturing US-Trained PhDs’ Paths and Pharmaceutical Industry’s Crisis of Productivity: Partnerships between Industry and Academia




Hélice www.triplehelixassociation.org  Triple Helix X, 2012, Bandung, Indonesia . . . www.th2012.org

by Professor Henry Etzkowitz, President of the Triple Helix Association,  Senior Researcher, H-STAR Institute, Stanford University, Visiting Professor, Birkbeck, London University and Edinburgh University Business School


Professor Henry Etzkowitz paper is based on his Keynote Address to the FemTalent Conference, Barcelona, Spain 2011

I am often asked: why is a man studying women in science? The answer to that question is: my mother. She graduated with high honors in Geology from Hunter College, a public women’s college in New York City during the 1930’s depression. I had long thought that the reason why she didn’t pursue a career in geology was

because of the depression, that there were simply no jobs. However, on a research trip to the University of Texas at Austin, I visited the Engineering School which had a “wall of recognition” at the main entrance, including the names of many distinguished professors and practitioners, all of them men, who had graduated during the 1930’s depression and pursued careers in Geology. Perhaps the reason why a woman did not pursue a career in geological science at the time, might be found in the gender dynamics of science and technology. The broader question is how the best results may be attained from societal investment in human capital formation.

Firstly, we will consider the implications of findings from a study done in the 1990s, in the United States, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, of women’s experience in academic science (Etzkowitz, Kemelgor and Uzzi, 2000) including over 400 in-depth qualitative interviews conducted in a dozen leading research universities in five disciplines: biology, physics, chemistry and computer science:

1. One of the lessons from this study is that in Europe and other countries, there is a move to introduce the American system of higher education, including tenure procedures, which put a very strong emphasis on early achievement which, as we shall see, has deleterious consequences for women. Higher education policy makers in Europe and other parts of the world may want to look more closely at its effects before introducing this system, which is now taken as the gold standard in higher education. The introduction of the tenure system is driven by

international ranking procedures which drive movement from a system of relatively equal universities. Before abandoning values of equality, it should be seriously asked if introducing extreme inequalities will overall advance or inhibit quality academic research, teaching, and innovation.

2. Secondly, I discuss the Vanish Box model, derived from a four country study, sponsored by the European Union, DG Research, on Women and Technology Transfer (Ranga, et. al. 2008). During interviews with women in US academic science on Athena Unbound study, some of them would talk about colleagues who were no longer in the department, they were now in jobs elsewhere. I interviewed some of these women leaving academic science, and found that they were taking up careers in science-related professions such as science journalism, technology transfer, museology. etc. They were using their scientific training in translating science into use and spreading the results of science to a broader public. Rather than being “lost to science” as presumed by the “Leaky pipeline” thesis of science career loss; they were pursuing work-life balance in their new careers. This finding inspired the study sponsored by the European Union on Women and Technology Transfer.

3. Third, I outline a four phase model of women’s experience in science, technology, and innovation, “the Vanish Box”: after the magic trick of the “disappearance of re-appearance of a woman”. “The vanish box” model shows the dynamics of the historical experience of women in science, and questions the taken for granted “male model” of science that does not work for women or men who seek work-life balance.

4. Finally, we address the question of whether the Gender Revolution in science and technology is stalled or moving forward.

Gender Inequalities in Academic Careers

The historical relationship between status and gender provides a clue to understanding the underlying dynamics of women and men’s careers in science. Typically, there is strong participation of women in the early stages of development of a new discipline, but as the new area becomes prestigious and rewards increase, women disappear. As fields attain recognition and fruition, and the Nobel and other prizes are awarded, it is men who are there to receive them. There were a significant number of women working in “the fly room,” the drosophila genetics lab headed by Thomas Hunt Morgan at Colombia University, but as the field became prestigious, women virtually disappeared from classical genetics (Kohler, 1994).

Does this historical relationship between gender and science still hold today or has it changed? The most important finding from all the specific instances that we came across was that the most important thing holding back women’s advance in academic science was “inflexibility” of rules and procedures. It didn’t matter what the specific procedure was. For example, in the US it’s expected that that you should pursue your PhD at a different University than your undergraduate degree. This is the highest route to achievement. If a woman has a relationship, and the man moves will she leave the relationship to seek her competitive advantage?

On the other hand, if the man in the relationship moves, and the woman goes along, she may then have to move to a school that is not as good as the one which she otherwise might have gotten into with a broader range of selection. Thus, this informal rule of exogamy, mandating leaving the previous school or worksite at each point of progression, from undergraduate degree to PhD to entry level position, works against women’s advancement.

On the other hand, in Sweden the rule is the opposite. Instead of saying that you should move from one university to another, the rule is that you should stay at your own University; that if you are a highly successful junior scholar you will be kept within that University. A Swedish professor said, “why would I send my best

graduate student away? He is going to replace me when I retire.” So the rule in Sweden is endogamy that you stay within one university. Again, if a woman’s partner moves, and she moves with him, it will hurt her career, because she has left her university of origin. So which ever way the rule is, it is an inflexible rule, it has more negative consequences for women than for men. The gender policy implication is to increase flexibility in the system.

A female model of science, balancing work and family life, has been invented but it is a subsidiary and undervalued format that needs to be brought to the forefront and institutionalized. However, this would necessitate re-thinking aspects of the academic system, especially the US model, that unintentionally yet systematically works against women’s inclusion in the higher level of academic science. The US model of academic hierarchy, front loading in the academic career with a strong emphasis on youth and achievement

in the early years, is partly based on a mistaken idea that youth are more productive in science than people who are of an older age. That finding was documented in a study done by Merton and Zuckerman of “Aging and Age Structure” (1973). They found that “productivity was as high or even higher at the later stages of a scientific career”, and that makes sense. When you are more advanced in your career you have more access to resources, more

graduate students, more research associates, more people working with you. Co-authorship arises from having members of your research group being highly productive. Nevertheless, there is a strong belief that youth makes disproportionate scientific advances, and this has been the basis of a system in which there is a strong emphasis on early achievement during the first years of your career. There is a race to accumulate publications and research grants in order to be given a permanent position in a high status American University.

In Europe, the tradition has been once you are hired there is a probationary period and then you continue to be promoted or not. But in the United States there is a very sharp dividing line: an “up or out” system. The implications for women’s advancement in science, includes the contradiction between the “tenure clock”, typically of seven years, and the “biological clock”, the time when is possible to have children, and these coincide. Thus, women have to make the choice to postpone having children to after tenure, which then becomes their middle or late 30s. There were some women who didn’t want to postpone, and some of them rethought

their commitment to academic science and left for that reason. Occasionally, in some universities there has been some reform of these procedures to try to accommodate women by extending the clock. i.e. you can apply for a year extension to reduce your time in the workplace and/or take a break in order to have more time for one’s young children. Even this attempt to ameliorate the male model of science and make it more amenable to women’s

participation contains a contradiction: women are concerned that if they apply for this privilege that it will be held against them in the final review. The academic system requires a demonstration of full commitment to racing the clock, otherwise you will be viewed as insufficiently competitive. Moderating the conditions will be held against you, or at least that is the fear. The attempted reform has its dangers since many women feel that they may be given points off for taking advantage of the attempt to change the rules. The contradiction between the tenure clock and the biological clock encourages some women in academic science to seek an alternative career path.

An American professor talked about a leading female student who stayed in the same city and took a job at a local teaching college. But an exception was made for her because she was such an outstanding scholar that she was then brought back to the leading University in the same city where she had received her PhD and allowed to pursue a career at that university. The rule was counterproductive to the best use of talent, but this case was an

unusual exception. However, it is one that can be more regularly made if we are thinking of how to revise the system that works against women by following an implicit male model of science. Another negative factor is the “two out of three” time bind. In interviews in the US and Mexico, it was found that if you are trying to do three things, most women usually find it was too much, they could do advanced research in a highly productive way, and manage their family relationship, but that didn’t leave time for spending time in local politicking and talking with people, which is the way towards advancing within the academic system. So they could advance in their research career, but not in the career that would lead to becoming a chair person or administrator within academia. So this is the two out of three time bind.

Traditionally there has been a gendered division of labor where men worked with men and women with women, in gendered occupations. Some think that this occurred as a basis of naturally occurring gender divisions. But historically we can see that these gendered occupations change over time. I did my masters thesis on the male nurse, titled “the Precarious Identity of the Male Nurse” (Etzkowitz, 1971). The nursing profession in the

nineteenth century was entirely male, and began to change over to a female profession by the end of the nineteenth century, and by the middle of the twentieth century it was virtually entirely female. Thus, gendered professions can change over time and are subject to revision.

From “Leaky Pipeline” to the “Vanish Box”

The pipeline model has been based upon the movement from schooling into higher education and into careers; the premise that there should be an unimpeded flow. Over a period of twenty years, at maximum, women should be at the highest level of any occupation. Recruitment has taken place: young women now make up equal numbers in bachelor’s degrees, and the numbers are moving up in the PhDs. But they have not moved up at the same rate to the associate and full professor levels. The pipeline has not worked by filling it at one end, and expecting a changed result at the other. We need to make changes in the system to make the pipeline work. A gender neutral occupation would be one with flexibility in the role, and with balance between on-site and off-site work, and the possibility of equal participation of both genders in the occupation. What happens to women who, for one reason or another, don’t continue in an academic career in science? This was the question that we posed in: “Women in Science and Technology”(WIST) sponsored by the European Union. We identified that women who had left academic science, were reappearing in science related professions, using their scientific, networking and social skills in these new professions. In the UK, when opportunities opened up in the mid 1990s, female PhDs entered this career, following the States where women had risen to the top of their profession as heads of offices at major universities. From this study of women disappearing and reappearing from academia to science related professions, we developed a concept that we called the “vanish box” model (Etzkowitz and Ranga, 2011), that takes place in four stages:

1. The first is the disappearance of women: the disappearance that we found in the Athena Unbound study, the exclusionary practices, or the taken for granted male model of science which did not take account of women’s needs, of women’s life chances and lifestyles. They weren’t found at the highest levels of academic science to the extent that would be expected if the pipeline was working as it was supposed to, with women flowing in and being promoted up over a period of time. So disappearance.

2. The disappeared women are in the reserve army: at home or in part time positions unemployed or underemployed. The reserve army is called back when there is an emergency or a shortage. For example, during World War ll women PhD’s who had been unemployed or working as volunteers in their husband’s laboratory were called into full-time positions in the Manhattan Project and other Labs. After the War, some began to get academic positions and rose to the highest level after having been in the reserve army for many years.

3. The third phase of the model is the creation of new opportunities; either by emergency situations, or by the creation of new professions that require people with scientific training. An example of this was the Technology Transfer profession that we studied: a new profession that required people with scientific training and background and business training, and typically people with a scientific background would learn the business skills, take courses or even a master’s degrees in business. This provided opportunities, but there are still limitations: the new profession wasn’t as prestigious as the old one, and it had both advantages and disadvantages: working in a technology transfer office gives more of an opportunity for a work life balance, but the prestige of the profession isn’t that high and the opportunities for advancement are limited.

4. On the other hand, as the knowledge society advances, professions that translate knowledge into use become more prestigious and the profession also rises in status and prestige over time. That is what has been happening with technology transfer. The question that arises is, will it follow the same model of classical genetics, or will it lead to a new model of a gender neutral profession, with men and women working at the highest levels in a situation that allows for work-life balance? There is some evidence that this may be happening in small biotech firms. A recent study found that women recruited into these firms were taken seriously in their work, they were being promoted, and so the start-up biotechnology firm has offered evidence that there may be a changing relationship between gender and career advancement and new possibilities available in this area.

Beyond the “Male Model”: An Alternative Female Model

The American sociologist Cecilia Ridgeway has set forth the thesis of a stalled revolution, in the 1970’s large numbers of women entered professions in law and medicine but more recently advancement of women has halted. Pay differentials continue to exist. Women have not risen to positions in board of directors of firms to the same extent that might be expected. On the other hand, women now make up a majority of bachelor’s degrees recipients – over fifty percent in some places and as high as sixty percent in others. Forty years ago the percentage of women at MIT could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Today half of the undergraduate students at MIT are female. Once you get to the level of twenty percent social relations within organizations start to change; but they really transform at the fifty percent level. Typically in women’s entrepreneurship the service occupations make up the majority; but in Catalonia, there is a major change going on as the majority of the women in a program to support

entrepreneurship were in science and technology related occupations. The woman running this program said that the key issue is working with these entrepreneurs is how to grow their firms and still retain a work life balance. So the revolution is moving here. Academia is still resistant to change, but business has been moving faster, and Academia has to learn from industry. That is the next stage in making the gender revolution in science and technology.

To this end, the relationship between career structure and life cycle needs to be rethought (Etzkowitz and Stein, 1978). The current taken-for-granted career path is based on implicit male assumptions that do not take into account women’s greater responsibilities for family maintenance and societal reproduction that persist, even given good faith efforts on the part of men to play a greater role in child care (Kayyem, 2012). In the male model,

imposed on women as well, significant early achievement, typically involving a high time commitment, is the prerequisite for subsequent high-level positions. It is hypothesized that women’s difficulties in conforming to this model explains at least part of the variance in the paucity of women in high-level positions even as their participation rates increase.

An alternative female model, with a higher time commitment after child-rearing years, may be discerned. A Rockefeller University Professor, who started on her PhD at a later than usual age, and US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, exemplify this alternative model that needs to be legitimized as an alternative path to high achievement. The current offering of a relaxed early career path in law firms is stigmatized as a “mommy track”

and reified into a permanent blockage to later high flying. When an alternative “female model” is available for women and men, gender democracy in science, technology and innovation, as well as in the larger society, will be a reality.


Etzkowitz, H (1971), The Male Nurse: Sexual Separation of Labor in Society, Journal of Marriage and the Family.

Etzkowitz, H, and P. Stein. (1978) The Life Spiral: Human Needs and Adult Roles Journal of Economic and Family Issues. 1:4: 434-446

Etzkowitz, H, Kemelgor, C and Uzzi, B (2000), Athena Unbound: The Advancement of Women in Science and Technology Cambridge University Press.

Etzkowitz, H and Ranga, M (2011), Gender Dynamics in Science and Technology: From the “Leaky Pipeline” to the Vanish Box, Brussels Economic Review, 54:2/3.

Kayyem, J. (2012) The working moms debate International Herald Tribune June 27 Wednesday p.8.

Kohler, R. (1994) Lords of the Fly: Drosophila Genetics and the Experimental Life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Ranga, M et al (2008), Gender Patterns in Technology Transfer: Social innovation in the making?, Research Global, 4-5.

Ridgeway, C (2011), Framed by Gender: How Gender Inequality Persists in the Modern World, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Zuckerman, H and Merton R (1972), Age, Ageing and Age Structure in Science. In Ageing and Society, Riley, M, Johnson, M and Foner, A, eds, Vol 3. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.



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