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

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Nautilus

Nautilus11 min readScience
A Novelist Teaches Herself Physics: To explore loss and mystery, Nell Freudenberger journeyed into the atomic world.
Helen Clapp, a professor of theoretical physics at MIT, recounted the biggest news of 21st century physics, the detection of gravitational waves by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), an international collaboration of scie
Nautilus7 min read
Is Tribalism a Natural Malfunction?: What computers teach us about getting along.
From an office at Carnegie Mellon, my colleague John Miller and I had evolved a computer program with a taste for genocide. This was certainly not our intent. We were not scholars of race, or war. We were interested in the emergence of primitive coop
Nautilus5 min readScience
In Brain’s Electrical Ripples, Markers for Memories Appear
Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. It’s very easy to break things in biology,” said Loren Frank, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco. “It’s really hard to make them work better.” Yet agains