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Is it sex bias? I see many more female assistants in labs than males.


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In my university (for the biology program), I keep noticing the general trend that there are many more female research assistants in the labs than male research assistants.

I've read that there is about a 1:1 ratio for male:female Ph.D graduates in US biology programs. But when I look around, I keep seeing a large number of female research assistants.

I've been around these labs plenty of times before, too.


The situation is often like this:


A professor who has more than two research assistants has more women than men.

Most of the time, it would appear to be a 4:1 female:male ratio.

I know it's not significant, but what if you see it around in the various labs around campus? A bias toward hiring/allowing females in the lab to do research?


Often when I see there being only one person working with the professor, it's a person of the same sex of the professor.

So, sometimes a professor will take on only one Ph.D student. Of those I have seen, those individuals are males when the professor is male.

I'm starting to think this is in order to prevent any possible sexual harassment charges (if but lies) that may come around from having a female graduate student around for years.


When I see the large female:male ratio, it often seems to be a male professor leading the lab. That's why I start to think it's sexist.

Of the female professors, I notice that they tend to have a 2:3 or 3:2 male:female ratio.. So, it's not perfect, but not abundant in females.

Furthermore, with the male professors, it often appears that they rotate out females and rotate back in females rather than males.


I recently went to a graduate open house where the department displayed photos of all of their grads and undergrad researchers. About 75% were female.

Again, there was a heavy bias of females in a male professor's lab.


Am I seeing sexism? Some kind of sex bias?

Is there any way I can really test this?


I see a lot more females in the labs than males.

I know that much.


Going through undergraduate years, I always had trouble getting into a research lab.


But in retrospect, I believe there may have been some kind of sexist pig mentality going on in the professors that inspired them to hire female graduate students as pretty toys to look at while doing their research. I'm unsure, but in the past few months, I've considered this to be a real possibility.


For instance, I know this one professor who has three undergraduate females in his lab. Many people have asked to do research with him, but he turns them down. Instead, he has hired females (some I know to not be the brightest students; I've had classes with them). One girl in the lab is very bright, so I give her credit. Of the males I've seen work in his lab, one worked there but for a couple of months. As did another male who was hired into the lab. Nothing was wrong with these two males, as both were decently intelligent with a decent background. Something seemed to have pushed them both out.


This professor has been known to have female graduate students in the past. I never heard of a single male graduate student getting a graduate degree under him. As such, I can't help but assume there is definitely a sex bias to this individual professor.

Edited by Genecks
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How likely is it that you have a confirmation bias?


Am I seeing sexism? Some kind of sex bias?

Is there any way I can really test this?

Get a dataset of all labs and the gender of each lab assistant for the past several years. See if there is a bias toward one gender or the other, or if you're merely affirming your own preconceptions when you look around.

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People have often asked me if I have confirmation bias.

More times than not (and those times are much fewer), I'm right about what I'm observing but it's extremely hard to prove such with documentation, and people do not want such information proven.

People start noticing after a while.


But ok, iNow.

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I work in a lab run by a female boss and I have mostly female coworkers. At my school grad students have the final say (save department chair intervention) on whose lab they work in if there is room for them. I'm sure it's no coincidence that my lab is full of female grad students. Could it be that your professor in question is simply an attractive (in the professional sense) boss to work for from the standpoint of female students? Women seem to value good communication skills more than we men. Maybe this guy is just compatible with female workers in some non-sexual way.


I kind of like working for a female boss as it does away with the whole "mine is bigger than yours" machismo territorial pissing that often arises between stern bosses and ambitious students/employees.

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Why the harsh undertones? iNow simply answered your post with a likely suggestion of bias. He then proceeded to tell you how to confirm if a sex bias REALLY DID exist. He covered both bases while being polite and cordial.


The phrasing of my statement was not meant to be harsh.

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There's been lots of studies done about this (sorry, too brain mashed to find the link I was looking for, but you can find plenty of stuff on google) show the number of women in science academic jobs tailing off the higher you get up the tree (possibly due to family commitments).

I work in molecular biology, and there are more men than women at post-graduate level.

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As a rule of thumb in the lower levels (i.e. students and postdocs) the female to male ratio is higher in biology (with over 50% of women in many areas), then drops from chemistry, engineering, physics and mathematics (very roughly).


Within individual groups a lot of factors play a role whether one joins a given group, though gender rarely plays a role. I have been working in groups where I have been the only male, though it happened during that time that not many males approached the group and the women just happened to be better.

Depending on the PI some try to get a balanced group (to avoid the impression of gender bias), but a good fit is still the most important issue.

In addition, it is often that one is approached by a group of students who want to join for undergrad research (and these are then more likely candidates to be accepted for grad research). These groups tend to be all-females or all-males, for some reasons.

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As a rule of thumb in the lower levels (i.e. students and postdocs) the female to male ratio is higher in biology (with over 50% of women in many areas), then drops from chemistry, engineering, physics and mathematics (very roughl


In mathematics, groups in the sense that you mean are rare. There are certainly collaborations, but good research tends to follow tastes of the indvidual with collaborations being informal and often for short periods of time focusing on a single specific issue. Papers with a large number of authors (say more than three) are very rare indeed. There tend to be more men than women, but no particular bias that I have noted. People are noted for what they accomplish. Plumbing is a non-issue.

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With groups I meant the composition of people under a given PI (or, in short, the one who provides the money). However, also in biological sciences collaborations (resulting in multiple authorships) are often limited. Often authorship are shared not due to the actual work done, but e.g. by providing resources, such as samples, instrumentation, etc. Exceptions (more than in mathematics) exist, though.

Edited by CharonY
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  • 2 months later...

I don't mean to resurrect a problematic thread,but I wouldn't say this is something that is hard to test.

Surveys like these that check for the presence of women and men in labs and workplaces, in multiple fields in science, exist.


For example, this research from AIP Statistics about female physicists: http://www.aip.org/statistics/trends/gendertrends.html shows some increase in female physicists, but the increase is rather small still.


This, while a bit older, is also interesting:




This might be true for the other fields.


I wouldn't say that the genders are becoming equal, at least not in physics and astronomy, at least not yet, but the sitation seems to be improving slowly.

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Interesting graph, but limited to physics.



This one is perhaps more rounded and provides a more complete picture: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/wmpd/pdf/nsf11309.pdf


Overall, more women than men graduate from college with a bachelor’s degree; however, men earn a higher proportion of degrees in many science and engineering fields of study. Women’s level of participation among these fields varies, but within fields it is consistent over every level of degree.




In most fields women’s participation has risen over the two

decades that ended in 2008. The general increase in the

share of degrees women earn reflects rising numbers of

degrees for women and level or declining numbers earned by men.

Women’s participation is highest in psychology and medical sciences.




In the 20 years since 1989 women’s participation in the

social sciences and in biosciences has increased at all

degree levels. In the last 5 years, this growing trend has

stabilized at the master’s and bachelor’s levels.




Compared with men, women earn degrees at medium to

low levels in physical sciences and mathematics. Growth

in women’s share of mathematics degrees at the master’s

and bachelor’s levels has not kept pace with growth at the level of

the doctorate.




Women’s participation is lowest in engineering and

computer sciences. In the 20 years since 1989, however,

the proportion of women in engineering has increased,

mostly at the master’s and doctoral levels. Women’s participation

in computer sciences has increased at a rapid rate at the doctoral

level (although numbers remain small) but has declined at the

bachelor’s level.

Edited by iNow
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If your only observing male professors I would say they are forming a defacto harem. j/k

If it still applies to female professors, perhaps they are being sexist. j/k


More likely it's based on merit and the sexes aren't equal in every way. (Can the feminists really beat me up on that one since I'm saying women are better at something).


IMO at the age (during undergrad) when people are choosing research assitant posistions young males are motivated by other things than (sucking up to) a professor's research assistant position.


Actually do I sense a hint of jealousy, perhaps a bruised ego was inspiration for this post?


Edit: btw I've talked to a few feminists about this kind of thing before and they told me that Women don't use their sexuality to gain advantage. Just happened they were very unattractive and I presume secretly very jealous of smart attractive females. lol. Funny thing with feminists and equality they assume all members of their sex are also equal to them lol lol lol.

Edited by Sorcerer
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It depends on what you define as merits, but certainly it is not equal to, say, scientific abilities. Inequalities are somewhat self-perpetuating, and I am pretty sure that it is harder for a female to become member of a male-dominated faculty. I am not talking about overt sexism, but more about other aspects as e.g. differences in communication (which can include things like body language and voice).

In the end, hiring is also highly dependent on fit (or the perception of it).


IMO at the age (during undergrad) when people are choosing research assitant posistions young males are motivated by other things than (sucking up to) a professor's research assistant position.


Does not really correspond to my experiences.

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All science is either physics or stamp collecting. – Ernst Rutherford


"A poet once said, 'The whole universe is in a glass of wine.' We will probably never know in what sense he meant it, for poets do not write to be understood. But it is true that if we look at a glass of wine closely enough we see the entire universe. There are the things of physics: the twisting liquid which evaporates depending on the wind and weather, the reflection in the glass; and our imagination adds atoms. The glass is a distillation of the earth's rocks, and in its composition we see the secrets of the universe's age, and the evolution of stars. What strange array of chemicals are in the wine? How did they come to be? There are the ferments, the enzymes, the substrates, and the products. There in wine is found the great generalization; all life is fermentation. Nobody can discover the chemistry of wine without discovering, as did Louis Pasteur, the cause of much disease. How vivid is the claret, pressing its existence into the consciousness that watches it! If our small minds, for some convenience, divide this glass of wine, this universe, into parts -- physics, biology, geology, astronomy, psychology, and so on -- remember that nature does not know it! So let us put it all back together, not forgetting ultimately what it is for. Let it give us one more final pleasure; drink it and forget it all!”


-Richard Feynman

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  • 1 month later...

This article was just published in PhysicsToday. I thought it is relevant to the discussion:




Women in physics: A tale of limits


A newly completed survey of 15 000 physicists worldwide reveals that women physicists still do not have equal access to the career-advancing resources and opportunities enjoyed by their male colleagues.

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