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[Opinion] Women in Science

Posted May. 01, 2006 03:34,   


Pilots, racing drivers, flight controllers, billiard players, insurance probability experts, architects, and accountants all have the common denominator of spatial sense and computation skills. Women are also underrepresented in these occupations. Ninety-eight percent of those who work as flight controllers are men. The logic holds that the difference in cranial functions accounts for the relative differences of performance areas of men and women.

During the past six years at Seoul National University, the College of Engineering has always recorded the lowest in the percentage of female students. In 2000, the female acceptance rate was 13 percent, while in 2002 the rate plunged to a one-digit number, followed by an increase to 15.1 percent in 2005. After the College of Nursing, female students are concentrated in the colleges of Human Ecology, Music, Art, Education, and Pharmacy. Sectors that are unpopular with female students are the College of Engineering, followed by natural sciences and business. All are related to science or mathematical skills.

Widespread discussions are being held on whether fewer women participate in science and engineering due to differences in nature or nurture. Feminists assert that at an early age, boys are socialized to build bridges, while girls are instructed to play with dolls. This assertion contains elements of truth. Many female students face opposition from their parents when entering the field of engineering. The social stigma that discourages women qualified in science and math has not disappeared completely. The claim that men are better at science and engineering is merely an average statement.

In commemoration of producing 1,000 female graduates, the College of Engineering at Seoul National University held an alumna homecoming day. Those gathered agreed that the phrase that disturbed them the most was the question: “Why are you, as a woman, studying engineering?” In an era where men have assumed decision-making and research roles, they have tended to use science and engineering as a means to war, development, and demolition. Science philosophers have claimed, however, that should women participate in these roles, science and engineering may be used more for peace than war, harmony than development, and healing in lieu of demolition.

Hwang Ho-taek, Editorial Writer, hthwang@donga.com