'Women need a push to go into science'

Israel Academy of Sciences president says female interest in science dwindles in higher grades for social reasons.

March 9, 2012 01:39
3 minute read.
Israeli scientists receive awards

Israeli scientists receive awards 390. (photo credit: National Academy of Sciences)


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Girls are interested in science when they are in elementary school but interest dwindles in higher grades, apparently for social and not cognitive reasons, the Knesset Science and Technology Committee was told this week.

Israel Academy of Sciences president Prof. Ruth Arnon said that there were very few other girls studying science when she studied in the Gymnasia Herzliya high school.

Even in the world, she said, only two women scientists have received a Nobel Prize in physics and four in chemistry – including one Israeli, Prof. Ada Yonath, in chemistry.

Arnon suggested that competition with boys may be to blame, and it could be ameliorated by having gender- separated classes in the sciences when schools are mixed. She bemoaned the fact that the academy she heads was “not a good example” because even though she was president, few other senior women scientists have been appointed to the body.

MK Rachel Adatto (Kadima), who is a gynecologist by profession, noted that there are many more women in the lower ranks of medicine, but it would take time until they reach senior administrative positions.

Moshe Vigdor, director of the Council for Higher Education, said that next week, a new council will be sworn in, and that its powerful planning and budgeting committee will act to encourage more women to do postdoctoral work and seek jobs when they return from abroad. This accomplishment is critical to moving ahead in academia.

MK Ronit Tirosh (Kadima), who heads the Knesset Science and Technology Committee, concluded that there is “hope for gender equality” and that steps are being made in the right direction. She asked all the universities to appoint paid advisers on the status of women to promote this.

Meanwhile, the US National Academy of Science’s Kavli Frontiers of Science program launched a new symposium series with its counterpart in Israel. The academies initiated the partnership this year following Arnon’s visit to the US to strengthen scientific and technological collaboration between researchers in the two countries.

“Scientific research is expanding across multiple disciplines, and collaborations are crossing national boundaries,” said US academy president Ralph Cicerone. “The Kavli Frontiers of Science symposia provide opportunities for young scientists from many fields to learn about one another’s work, and we are excited by the creation of new international networks and the potential for interdisciplinary partnerships that the Israeli-American program will bring.”

Scientific collaborations between Israeli and American scientists have been strong ever since the establishment of the State of Israel, Arnon said.

The symposia series are designed for outstanding early career scientists – typically less than 45 years of age – to share ideas across disciplines and to build national and international networks that will serve them as they advance in their careers.

Unlike a discipline-specific scientific meeting, Kavli Frontiers of Science symposia provide many opportunities to explore ideas and techniques from a variety of disparate fields. The first symposium took place in 1989; the joint program with Israel is the latest in a set of bilateral symposia that have connected young US scientists with their counterparts in China, England, France, Germany, India, Indonesia and Japan.

More than 4,500 researchers have attended a Kavli Frontiers of Science symposium. Among these alumni, 136 have been elected to the US academy and 10 have received the Nobel Prize.

The US-Israel symposia will take place biennially, alternating between the US and Israel, and will be attended by 70 distinguished young researchers representing universities, government laboratories and private industry. The first symposium is expected to take place in 2013 in Irvine, California.

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