Nautilus

The Parallel Universes of a Woman in Science

I spent years in graduate school where terrified students would desperately try to make small talk with Stephen Hawking in the corridors. There were few other women and no one else who was not brilliant, or at least capable of convincingly acting the part. When we walk by one professor he averts his eyes and, facing the wall, mutters fervently and kneads his sweaty palms. We assume he is religious. As it turns out, he is simply frightened of women.

It is fortunate for him that there are so few of us. Another professor is reluctant to advise girls who will only get married and leave the field. Another refers to all women as Anna, what, in physics, we call a simplifying assumption. It doesn’t matter anyway.

The women speak to the department chairman, a litany of small complaints: An elderly Fellow tried to kiss me. Someone grabbed me, I don’t know who, they all laughed about it. Do we belong here? He sits back and shakes his head and says, helplessly, what do you want me to do?

In another universe we are terrifying and brazen, Amazons with

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