The Scientific Men's Club

I serve on the senior appointments and promotions committee of a medical school. Over the years, I've come to recognize something that is as disturbing as it is undeniable: as a group, male basic scientists sail through the committee effortlessly. Many work in fields so specialized that they have only ten colleagues in the entire world, half of whom are their mentors or one-time fellow graduate students. These are their "peers," and they readily provide laudatory letters of recommendation establishing that the applicant has attained "national and international recognition." In contrast, applications by clinical faculty and women provoke far more discussion.

I don't resent the ease with which basic science faculty are promoted; after all, I am sure that I also enjoyed the perks that come with this designation. Nonetheless, the system seems blatantly unfair. We rely on external referees for promoting basic scientists, who publish their work in national or international journals. By contrast, it is difficult to quantify how good clinical scientists are. Indeed, we struggle--more or less successfully, I think--even to define what a "scholarly" practicing physician is, because a clinician's reputation rests on local interactions that are often difficult to document.

The issue of women faculty members, especially in basic sciences, is far more complex. I suspect that here the problem reflects fundamental differences between the way women and men approach science as a microcosm of life. Most of my fellow male faculty members are not muscle-bound, testosterone-driven types, but in their scientific careers, they display two types of typically male behavior.

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