Helping Women Pursue Science

The scientific journal Nature is opening a discussion Thursday on its Web site, about what can be done to increase the number of women scientists. CBS This Morning Health Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay reports.

In this age of technology, more scientists are being sought in the workplace. However, studies show that girls lose interest in science and math in middle school, and more than half who want a science career when they enter college change majors in their first two years. Many who do get science degrees don't pursue scientific careers.

In the United States, women are half of the college age population and earn more than half of all bachelor degrees. However, the latest report from the National Science Foundation found that while women earn 35 percent of bachelor degrees awarded in science, they hold only 22 percent of the jobs in science and engineering. Women represent only 12 percent of physicists and 9 percent of engineers.

One reason may be the scientific workplace. An investigation released this year by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) of its own dealings with female scientific faculty members found that it was unintentionally discriminating against them, giving them fewer promotions, smaller work spaces and less money.

Girls still aren't encouraged by teachers and parents to stay with science and math in school. When they enter college with less science and math experience, it's often harder for them to catch up. Those that do reach the higher level science and math courses are often in a heavily male environment, which can make them feel uncomfortable. Even when they get science jobs, they can be shortchanged as the M.I.T. study showed.

In addition to figuring out how to get more women interested in science careers, the participants in Thursday's internet discussion want to find ways to make sure those careers are successful.

To encourage more young women to enter science and math careers, colleges and businesses have started mentoring programs. Through these, girls can have role models and internships so they can see how research is done and how a scientist's career can be interesting. This spring, a government commission is expected to present recommendations for programs and policies that could encourage girls to stay with science.

The discussion on women and science can be found at http://helix.nature.com/debates

Reported By Dr. Emily Senay