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Book Review: The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science is Still a Boys’ Club

The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science Is Still a Boys’ Club by Eileen Pollack

Please don’t read the entire book. Just read the review. The essence of the book can be summed up in two quotes:

“…women don’t know how good they are at science or math because no one tells them.”

(Pollack, 239)

“We’re the women who don’t give a crap…” about “what people expect us to do. If you’re not going to take my science seriously because of how I look, that’s your problem.”

(Four physics postdocs at Yale, Pollack, 226)

According to Pollack, first-hand experience, a literature review, and research indicate even high-achieving women avoid or leave STEM because of:
• inadequate support, role models, extra tutoring, praise, or encouragement
• professors were discouraging or didn’t offer praise
• advisors and professors were more responsive to male students
• professors and teachers didn’t scold students who teased girls in the class
• girls didn’t want to look dumb and ask too many questions
• girls worried about their image and datability

Her searching honesty makes this otherwise frustrating book readable and I cannot discount her experiences. However, Pollack’s own example proves that STEM women are unapologetically different. The women who made it through STEM education had the attitude of the second quote.

Takeaways for increasing the number of girls going into and staying in STEM – mine

• Encourage questions and adequate wait time
• Acknowledge the mental space between not knowing and understanding
• Up the praise, especially for girls
• Find ways to acknowledge small accomplishments (honestly, it sounds like babying girls, but if that’s what it takes…)
• Emphasize the difficulty of the material (so they know it’s hard for everybody)
• Colleges must stop accepting less qualified students to fill quotas and appear diverse. It is a disservice to women and minorities with lower scores and less math and science courses who compare themselves to more qualified students. They would flourish if matched to a college and student body with comparable academic backgrounds and scores.
• Administrators, advisors, and counselors should clarify the academic rigor, time, commitment, workload, and fields of work upfront, at the beginning of the program, to increase the number of successful graduates and contributing, satisfied alumni.

Takeaways – author’s

• Single-sex education may be preferable to eliminate classroom bias or dating worries.
• Girls taught to defend their position, interrupt, and sometimes be argumentative may fare better in mostly-male classes and fields

View all my reviews

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