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Women scientists and physics

The reasons behind why less and less female scientists are sticking to science careers vary from country to country. Several reports have underlined the cultural differences and pivotal issues in this respect.

Climate Change and Environment

Recent studies have revealed that fewer graduates, especially females, are embarking on careers in natural sciences, such as physics. In the meantime, qualified female scientists are often abandoning the research system early in their career, prompting researchers to work on identifying the cultural or historical reasons behind this phenomenon. This was the objective of the EU-funded project 'Understanding puzzles in the gendered European map brain drain in physics through the cultural looking glass' (UPGEM). Looking closely at the European gender map, the project team found that more female students choose physics careers in eastern and southern European countries than in northern Europe. It identified informal aspects that shape career choices in academic workplaces, focusing as well on how scientific careers are interwoven with social and cultural changes. The project team compiled national reports with studies from Denmark, Estonia, Italy, Poland and Finland, investigating aspects such as career path, identity, competition and work environment. It looked at the lack of female scientists as a 'glass ceiling', examining how high or low this ceiling is hanging in every country. UPGEM then recommended stronger policies to address the lack of female career physicists to overcome cultural patterns that obstruct female scientists' career progression. Another way that UPGEM looked at the connection between women and physics was by identifying three different culture types, namely the Hercules culture, the caretaker culture and the worker bee culture. It showed how these scientific cultures shape the female physicists' career paths and revealed how 'class' versus 'gender' societies contribute to different possible career paths. Overall, the project has yielded valuable information on the work environment of female and male academic staff at physics institutes in over 20 European universities. It disseminated numerous reports and results online and through several publications, bringing the EU closer to understanding and supporting women's important roles and career choices in natural sciences.

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