Letter to the editor: In response to ‘Physics department looks to add female faculty’
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I spent two years taking undergraduate upper division classes, several more years studying for my Ph.D. and then almost three years as a post doc researcher in the Washington University physics department. It was a good place to be a woman. Of course, sometimes I was the only woman in the room—but “so what?” I asked lots of questions in class—and was appreciated for it. Later, when I had research results to present, I was sent to all-expenses-paid conferences in my field, and (again all expenses paid) to a supercomputer training course that still is relevant to me today.
At the time, we had a “woman-in-physics” weekly brown bag lunch. I never remember hearing a single complaint about any professor mistreating any participant. Uniformly, professors spent much time mentoring all their students: mentoring women in the same ways as they mentored men. Among the graduate students—male and female together—there was a camaraderie, which didn’t discriminate on the basis of sex—except that there were a few marriages between graduate students.
I’m frankly mystified at the latest brouhaha about the physics department. Is it really likely that over the last couple of decades a pleasant place has become a hotbed of sexism? The department has been trying to hire women, but the worst possible outcome for female physicists would be a woman hired because she is the “best woman” rather than the “best candidate.” That is a recipe for fostering real discrimination against women, not the sort of discrimination that is anonymous, and non-specific so that physics department members cannot defend themselves.