Re: PSYCH: Women and Math

Date: Wed Mar 07 2001 - 05:34:42 MST

On 2-25-2001 Gerhard Haak wrote:

>An informal survey of a law firm where a friend of mine started work last
>year showed that he was the only person (out of 30 odd) whose parents
>weren't professionals.

This certainly isn't true in my firm, which is among the largest in the US.
Without doing any sort of formal review of the data, but based on 18 years of
personal experience, I'd say the figure is probably about 50%. This probably
varies somewhat from firm to firm, based on "institutional culture": Some
firms will tend to have "personalities" that are more welcoming to diversity
in different ways.

> In general, amongst the lower socio-economic groups
>(whether white or otherwise), you'll find that very few children will
>eventually enter into the professions (or sciences for that matter).

Based on my experience, I don't think "very few" is justified, but certainly
a smaller percentage than one would expect if the kind of social and personal
mobility you're discussing were randomly distributed. As it turns out, in
the legal profession in the US, the competition for talent is so intense that
 the economic or educational background of a candidate's parents per se is
irrelevant to hiring and promotion decisions. The "great filter" is the
candidate's own academic performance and personality. Because of the hunger
for diversity in large firms like mine (something we've developed because
we've come to realize that diversity is an element of creativity in our "firm
culture", which is an economic value that goes straight to our bottom line),
qualified candidates from traditionally "disadvantaged" backgrounds end up
having somewhat greater opportunities than those who come from "professional"
family backgrounds.

>As an aside, consider the following. Typically, the pure sciences and
>mathematics don't pay as well as law and medicine, and tend to have a lower
>status in society. Show me a well-to-do mathematician, and I'll either show
>you a mathematician with wealthy familial support, or a mathematician who's
>become a financial analyst.
>If one wants to make a career out of science, then a PhD is an absolute
>prerequisite. PhD's take time - and lots of it. And you need to be
>top-notch to actually carve out a career, whereas a so-so degree in law
>medicine will still (almost) guarantee a reasonable income over ones
>lifetime. Combine these two facts, and avoiding the sciences appears, to
>me, to be a perfectly rational course of action if you're concerned with
>making a living.
>My wife has an MS in biochemistry, but will soon be graduating in law and
>starting work in an IP firm. Why? you may ask. Answer this question, and
>you'll have the answer: if you've got two equally interesting vocations
>you could move into (and both of which you enjoy), but one tends to pay
>substantially more, which would you choose?

All of which is true, which is one reason I think it would be nice to develop
ways for folks to be able to both do science and make more money. The recent
trend toward creating university commercialization vehicles that allow
academic scientists to reap more economic rewards from their work is a very
good trend, IMO.

       Greg Burch <>----<>
      Attorney ::: Vice President, Extropy Institute ::: Wilderness Guide -or-
                                           ICQ # 61112550
        "We never stop investigating. We are never satisfied that we know
        enough to get by. Every question we answer leads on to another
       question. This has become the greatest survival trick of our species."
                                          -- Desmond Morris

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Mon May 28 2001 - 09:59:39 MDT