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Women in sciences, engineering to share views on gender gap

When fourth-year UCLA student Amy Lin thinks about her future as a computer science engineer, she envisions a career brimming with potential.

With her academic background and training at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, she sees opportunity everywhere — from cloud services, online businesses, business management and law to the fashion and sports industries.

Davitian Karagozian lab4-prv

Professor Ann Karagozian (left) confers with Juliett Davitian, who received her Ph.D. in aerospace engineering in 2008. She was the first female Ph.D. student in a lab run by Karagozian and Professor Owen Smith at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science.

But as a woman in a field still dominated by men, Lin, who is president of the campus chapter of the Society of Women Engineers, knows there are subtle biases against women in science and engineering. In her experience at UCLA, however, she said, “I have been completely welcomed as a woman in engineering. I haven’t seen or experienced prejudice stemming from my gender. Rather, I’ve been welcomed as a regular member when embarking on team projects.”
Yet a Yale University study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) shows that physicists, chemists and biologists are likely to view a young male scientist more favorably than a woman with the exact same qualifications.
Robin Garrell

Robin Garrell, vice provost and dean of graduate education as well as a professor of chemistry.

On Tuesday, Nov. 5, Lin will be able to hear a wide range of viewpoints and analyses about the opportunities and challenges of pursuing careers in science and engineering at a symposium open to all. A panel of senior scientists and engineers from UCLA and USC will be joined by keynote speaker Cheryl Martin, deputy director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. Moderated by Robin Garrell, UCLA vice provost and dean of graduate education and a chemistry professor, the symposium is set for 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Faculty Center’s California Room.

Among the panelists will be Andrea Ghez, UCLA’s Lauren B. Leichtman and Arthur E. Levine Chair in Astrophysics and professor of physics and astronomy; Diana Huffaker, UCLA professor of electrical engineering; Ann Karagozian, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering; and Hanna Reisler, USC’s Lloyd Armstrong, Jr. Chair for Science and Engineering, professor of chemistry and the Dornsife director of faculty development.

Organizers said they hope the symposium will draw men as well as women. Local high school students have also been invited to attend.

While women remain a minority in some areas of engineering and the physical sciences, said Karagozian, who is former chair of the UCLA Academic Senate, “there are certainly more opportunities today for women … The more women there are who work in a wide range of technical areas, the more likely they are to be in important and visible positions.

“In chemical engineering and bioengineering in particular,” Karagozian said, “undergraduate student populations are approaching parity in terms of the female-male balance. So the proportion of female practicing engineers is relatively high in these fields. This is not the case in many other areas, such as aerospace or electrical engineering.”


UCLA professor of electrical engineering Diana Huffaker

The culprit may lie partly in the pre-college years. Many high school students don’t take physics, which is the foundation for most engineering and science fields, until their senior year, Karagozian said. So a high school senior with little exposure to physics and engineering who is considering majoring in these fields needs some insight and encouragement from friends, relatives and counselors, she said.

“Most of the visible engineering leaders today are male,” the professor noted. “So there are plenty of role models out there for young boys to emulate, even if they don’t know precisely what engineers do, but there are far fewer female role models.”

The fact that there are increasing numbers of young women participating in outreach programs for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields is a hopeful sign, Karagozian said.      

The symposium, which is being held to build a community of professionals dedicated to advancing the careers and goals of women in science and engineering, is being hosted by the UCLA Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, the Office of Federal Relations, the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the UCLA Graduate Division.