Race & Gender in Science: Marder speaks in summer ethics series

July 25, 2007

Dr. Eve Marder '69 of the neuroscience department spoke to chemistry researchers in the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at Brandeis, administered by Irving Epstein of the chemistry department. Professor Marder's talk, "Race & Gender in Science," was part of a four-part series examining ethical issues in science and scientific research.

Professor Marder is an accomplished scientist; her honors include president-elect of the Society for Neuroscience and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Despite overt discrimination because of her gender while in school in the 1960s and 70s, she was determined to succeed. "Things like that don't happen today," she said, "but the gender gap continues. Nevertheless, it's important to draw on all the talent in the workforce to carry us into the science of the future."

The turning point towards gender equity in graduate schools was the Vietnam War. In 1968, a law was passed eliminating graduate school as a valid reason for deferment. As men were drafted out of graduate school to go to war, schools welcomed women to fill their classes. Within two to three years, the former quota system for women was replaced by a gender-neutral system.

The turning point for educational opportunities for minorities in science was the civil rights movement in the late '60s and early '70s, opening a variety of opportunities in many areas of society. However, efforts towards balance have been less successful for minorities than for women. While some fields of science are nearly gender balanced, minorities are still disproportionately represented.

"The science recruiters who are most successful follow the football recruiting mode: they go to homes and deal with family concerns," said Marder. "The students who have the most trouble are first-generation college students who get a lot of pushback from their families who don't understand higher education."

The most successful retention tactic is for women and minorities to have a white male peer to query when problems arise. "I could call my colleague in a similar stage of his career at another institution and ask, 'Did this happen to you?' Ninety-five percent of the time it had nothing to do with my gender," Marder said.

Other speakers in the REU ethics series include Kosta Tsipis and Henry Linschitz, speaking about ethical dilemmas of applied science, and Dan Terris, speaking about organizational ethics, as illustrated in his book Ethics at Work, an examination of ethics training at Lockheed-Martin.

Participants in the 10-week REU summer experience come from a variety of undergraduate institutions from New Mexico to Germany.