Izzy Kratzer ’12 Examines Gender Imbalances in Math and Science

Izzy Kratzer ’12 presented her research on the presence of women in high-level fields of science and mathematics last Friday in her Brace Fellow Presentation titled “XX: An Investigation of Women on the Path to Success in Science.”

Kratzer researched explanations for the scarcity of female scientists and mathematicians and proposed ways to eliminate the gender imbalance in those fields

In her presentation, Kratzer identified three reasons why women do not choose to pursue careers in science and math: an inherent bias against women in scientific institutions, conflicts between career and family and a lack of female mentors.

She said that because science is a field that was created both by and for men, it has a tendency to perpetuate the gender gap between males and females. Since the study of science was initiated by men, it seems against the social norm for a woman to pursue a scientific degree.

Many mothers face pressure in balancing their families with their careers in science, according to Kratzer.

She said, “[The issue] of family and career [concerns] me. I don’t think that’s something that’s easy to deal with on an individual level, and I hope institutions figure out how to help with the problem. I don’t think it’s something we realize is happening.”

Kratzer proposed that childcare programs be established for scientist mothers. These programs would provide women with families the option to spend more time on their careers.

In her presentation, Kratzer also pointed out that due to the gender imbalance, women in high-level science and math courses may feel isolated.

Because of this mindset, female students who make a mistake in class may be more inclined to blame themselves or believe that they are incompetent, according to Kratzer.

Kratzer concluded that the gender imbalance in math and science is not a result of women lacking interest in these fields.

She noted that at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), both genders are equally represented in undergraduate science and math classes. However, the ratio of men to women involved in these fields increases in graduate school, as academic degrees become more advanced.

“[At Andover,] one of the biggest [problems is] the confidence issue. I think it’s a huge problem, and it’s really frustrating to me when I see other people thinking they are not ‘smart enough’ to pursue science,” said Kratzer.

She believes the only way to break this cycle is to have both genders recognize the deterring effects of a lack of confidence across all fields and subjects.

Tailor Dortona ’12 said, “I think that it was most interesting to see that only 25 percent of all doctoral degrees in math and science were held by women. That was just an appalling fact. But I’m not necessarily surprised, [which is] even more appalling.”

Christine Marshall-Walker, Instructor in Biology, advised Kratzer for the project. Marshall-Walker is also Kratzer’s house counselor, academic advisor and Biology 600 instructor.

Marshall-Walker said, “[Kratzer’s] topic is near and dear to my heart, and I think it’s something important to focus on, reflect on and improve. I thought Izzy was courageous enough to address a sensitive topic, to carry the research through to a place that might expose vulnerabilities among female students in science and female scientists and to embrace that vulnerability, try to understand it and try to improve the future generation’s experience.”

Kratzer was inspired to research gender imbalance in the sciences by her grandmother’s experiences trying to pursue a career in science in the 1950s, after completing undergraduate work in biology.

Kratzer said, “When I realized that [my grandmother] had worked in a lab and really pursued something that I thought paralleled my life, I was really upset by the fact that she had been forced to leave it just because she was a woman.”