Physics department offers faculty position to female postdoc for fall 2018 semester

Jessica Bigley | Contributing Reporter

Washington University’s physics department made an offer to Maria Piarulli, a postdoctoral in the Argonne National Laboratory, to join the department as professor in the fall of 2018.

The physics department has recently been at the center of discussion concerning the lack of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) faculty positions at Washington University. If Piarulli accepts the position, she will be joining the ranks of the few female faculty in the department.

“We have made her an offer of a faculty position, non-tenured, because she got her Ph.D. just three or four years ago,” physics department chair and professor Mark Alford said in an email to Student Life.

In spring 2016, senior and mathematical physics major Stella Schindler passed a Student Union resolution that presented statistics to the administration, detailing the composition of the faculty. It became apparent that the percentage of women faculty members significantly deviated from the amount of females getting Ph.D.s in the field.

“This was pretty much all-the-sciences-wide at the University, and we also saw that departments were not inviting speakers that were representative of who was getting Ph.D.s,” Schindler said.

Student Life published a series of op-eds submitted by both students and professors in the department that discussed the reasons behind the lack of women in physics.

The Society of Physics Students (SPS) wants to make the physics department at Washington University more representative of gender distribution in the field.

Vice president of SPS and junior Tyler Orden has been pushing for this diversity for the past few years, along with a number of other students.

“After months of campaigning, advocating, letter writing and flyering, we managed to elicit a strong response from the department, when the faculty search committee actively acknowledged the need for a more diverse faculty,” Orden said.

The faculty search committee decided Piarulli was one of the strongest candidates after the recent hiring process.

“This is indicative that the University is making steps forward in creating the type of environment that [would make] these women would want to apply to the department and want to take this [offer] over other offers at other universities,” Schindler said.

Many students are optimistic about what it means for the University’s future to focus on hiring faculty representative of the diversity in their fields.

“This is a major step forward for the physics department, which is pretty far behind everyone else in the country in terms of diversity,” Orden said.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to clarify that Piarulli works in the Argonne National Laboratory.

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