Jan 25, 2018 in Research

Discussion Leader Summation

The discussions for Unit 4 dealt mainly with the issues facing women as part of the peer review process and as candidates for the Nobel Prize.  In all there were eight discussion threads and one Voicethread involving different aspects of these two issues.  While much of the discussions were personal opinions and examples, many students were given an opportunity to voice their concerns about the current systems and possible ways of changing them to more equally recognize women scientists for their achievements. 

A key focus of this unit’s discussion involved the practices of the Swedish MRC and competency scoring for men versus women.  Overall, the vast majority of students did not think that the current system of evaluating women in peer review was fair.  Interestingly, although there was consensus about the system’s capacity for unfairness towards women, an overwhelming majority of students, especially female students, noted that they personally would not be discouraged by the current system.  Perhaps this is a testament to the personal character of the students, but there was no denying that the current system presents an “unleveled playing field” in which women are forced to make up for their gender in other parameters of the peer review process.

As a discussion leader, I noticed in several posts that many students were concerned that the system would never be perfect because it was administered by human beings.  I took that opportunity to introduce the idea of revamping the system to focus more on complex computer programs for generating the applicants’ scores.  There was a little feedback on this notion.  The complexity of the program’s algorithms as well as the capacity of a program to produce qualitative analysis served as primary shortfalls of the proposed computer review system.  While students entertained the idea of totally revamping the current system, most students agreed that a possible solution to the problem could be to allow for more anonymity for the applicant in the review process.

The second major focus of this unit’s discussion involved the Nobel Prize and the lack of recognition of women for scientific achievement.  Several questions were asked of the students including why they thought fewer women were receiving the Nobel Prize, if the time-gap issue denied due credit for scientific achievement, and how the students would confront such a time-gap between achievement and recognition.  Although there were many individual answers to these questions, I saw trends in the answers. Most students pointed to “History” to answer the first question.  While they acknowledged that women were not receiving due credit for their scientific achievements, many students showed optimism that history and culture are changing in a way that more women will be awarded the Nobel Prize in the future. The trend also showed that many students did not believe that the time between achievement and recognition took away from the accomplishments of the women scientists.  When each student was asked how they would confront the time-gap issue, the interesting aspect I noticed was that many of the answers were similar with respect to promoting awareness, but the answers varied with degree of passion and emphasis.

In conclusion, I believe the discussions went very well.  All of the students were courteous, thoughtful, and respectful of each others opinions.  While I believe that a general awareness of the bias present in both the peer review process and Nobel Prize system has been made, more analysis in terms of solutions to the problems will undoubtedly need to be addressed in the future.  For now, bravo to Group A for the willingness to discuss a true problem that faces today’s women of science.


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