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New Study by Biologist Finds Dramatic Improvements and Persistent Challenges for Women in Science

The underrepresentation of women in science has received significant attention.

However, there have been few studies in which longitudinal data were used to assess changes over time. In a paper recently published in the journal BioScience, Richard B. Primack, professor of biology at Boston University; Krista L. McGuire, assistant professor of biological sciences at Barnard College, Columbia University; and Elizabeth C. Losos, adjunct professor at Duke University and president and CEO of the Organization for Tropical Studies, find that women in the field of ecological studies have experienced dramatic improvements, but persistent challenges remain.

In the present study, the authors surveyed the Organization for Tropical Studies graduate database, which also was surveyed in 1988, to determine the challenges still faced by women ecologists.

Certain aspects of women’s situations have shown substantial improvement since 1988, such as an increased number of female colleagues, more equal sharing of childcare and household chores, and decreased perceptions of gender bias. However, women are still more likely to leave the field of science and have lower salaries, promotion rates, and productivity than do men. Women continue to have greater responsibility for childcare and housework and also experience challenges with childcare and safety while pursuing field-based research. These results indicate that although certain obstacles for women ecologists have substantially lessened, other issues of the family/work balance and of fieldwork still need to be addressed.

The article, “Dramatic Improvements and Persistent Challenges for Women Ecologists,” appears in the current issue of the journal BioScience (February 2012 / Vol. 62 No. 2;

To read the article, visit

About Boston University—Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized private research university with more than 30,000 students participating in undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs. As Boston University’s largest academic division, the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences is the heart of the BU experience with a global reach that enhances the University’s reputation for teaching and research.

Richard Primack, professor
Department of Biology
Boston University
5 Cummington St.
Boston, MA 02215
Office phone: (617) 353-2454

Richard Primack, professor | Newswise Science News
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