The Only Woman in the Room

Why Science is Still a Boys' Club

 

 

Eileen Pollack

 

Beacon Press, 2015

 

ISBN: 978-0-8070-4657-9

The dearth of women is science is something that has been on the minds of many educators and scientists alike for quite some time now. I approached this book avidly hoping to get some insight on the underlying causes and more importantly possible solutions to this problem. The book is divided into three parts, where the author, herself a physicist by training (although currently a full time writer and creative writing professor) shares her own journey through the maze that is scientific training. The first two sections of the book focus on her personal journey, first through high school and later through college, as she becomes a bona fide scientist. Richly described, and eloquently written, the book is quite readable and entertaining and the reader quickly learns to like the author and feel her frustration. Her experiences are undoubtedly informative, but in the end anecdotal, so there is little to extract that might be useful in a broader context. More specifically, I sometimes found it difficult to separate which of her struggles were due to the generalized chauvinism that permeates academia and which were due to her own personal quirks. The third part of the book is much more relevant for those interested in understanding some of the hurdles that women have to overcome to succeed in science, and it is full of views and opinions from other female (and some male) students and scientists, which the author interviews. This last section also includes some data from relevant studies, but it feels like more research could have been conducted. Unfortunately, in the end there are few novel insights and no apparent solutions. For a book spanning almost 260 pages, you get more emotion and less substance than might have been expected. You will definitely not get a groundbreaking exposé on the gender gap in science, but in the end I do think that reading the book will make you more aware, and possibly more sensitive to this issue.