The Problem With Sir Tim Hunt’s Comments About Women in Science

The trouble with girls in the lab, as Nobel Prize Winner Sir Tim Hunt is reported to have said this week, is that you fall in love with them and they fall in love with you and, when you criticize them, they cry.

I realize that Sir Tim Hunt probably thought he was being light-hearted or funny, but in a world where women still face real discrimination in science it is spectacularly inappropriate for someone so prominent to say the things he has said. It betrays a certain mind-set and one that is particularly worrying when you consider that academic interview panels, funding boards and government advisory groups are often dominated by senior male scientists.

I’m certainly not saying that all senior male scientists are misogynists. Indeed I have many senior male colleagues and friends in the scientific community who I admire and respect and who have helped me immensely in my career. But I also have anecdotes of situations where a senior male scientist has behaved inappropriately.

These have generally involved minor comments and slights. For example I was once working on an electron microscope and a male professor came in and said ‘hmph, a woman driver.’ But the fact that even in the 21st Century comments like this are being made, shows that women in science are still not being treated the same as men.

Worryingly, it’s not even confined to the ‘old professors.’ When reviewing their instructors in an online course, students rated male identities higher than female ones even when it was the same person doing the teaching (Innovative Higher Education, DOI: 10.1007/s10755-014-9313-4). Given that UK universities place such high weight on student feedback, this is yet another example of life as a female scientist still being made more challenging. Add to that the difficulty (and —> Read More