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A bracingly honest exploration of why there are still so few women in the hard sciences, mathematics, engineering, and computer science In 2005, when Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard, asked why so few women achieve tenured positions in the hard sciences, Eileen Pollack set out to find the answer. In the 1970s, Pollack had excelled as one of Yale’s first two women A bracingly honest exploration of why there are still so few women in the hard sciences, mathematics, engineering, and computer science In 2005, when Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard, asked why so few women achieve tenured positions in the hard sciences, Eileen Pollack set out to find the answer. In the 1970s, Pollack had excelled as one of Yale’s first two women to earn a bachelor of science degree in physics. But, isolated, lacking in confidence, and starved for encouragement, she abandoned her lifelong dream of becoming a theoretical physicist. Years later, she thought back on her experiences and wondered what had changed in the intervening decades, and what challenges remained. Based on six years of interviewing dozens of teachers and students and reviewing studies on gender bias, The Only Woman in the Room is an illuminating exploration of the cultural, social, psychological, and institutional barriers confronting women in the STEM disciplines. Pollack brings to light the struggles that women in the sciences are often hesitant to admit and provides hope that changing attitudes and behaviors can bring more women into fields in which they remain, to this day, seriously underrepresented. Eileen Pollack is the author of the novels Breaking and Entering (a New York Times Editor’s Choice selection) and Paradise, New York, as well as two collections of short fiction, an award-winning book of nonfiction, and two creative-nonfiction textbooks. Her work has appeared in Best American Essays and Best American Short Stories. She is a professor on the faculty of the Helen Zell MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of Michigan. She divides her time between Manhattan and Ann Arbor, Michigan.


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A bracingly honest exploration of why there are still so few women in the hard sciences, mathematics, engineering, and computer science In 2005, when Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard, asked why so few women achieve tenured positions in the hard sciences, Eileen Pollack set out to find the answer. In the 1970s, Pollack had excelled as one of Yale’s first two women A bracingly honest exploration of why there are still so few women in the hard sciences, mathematics, engineering, and computer science In 2005, when Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard, asked why so few women achieve tenured positions in the hard sciences, Eileen Pollack set out to find the answer. In the 1970s, Pollack had excelled as one of Yale’s first two women to earn a bachelor of science degree in physics. But, isolated, lacking in confidence, and starved for encouragement, she abandoned her lifelong dream of becoming a theoretical physicist. Years later, she thought back on her experiences and wondered what had changed in the intervening decades, and what challenges remained. Based on six years of interviewing dozens of teachers and students and reviewing studies on gender bias, The Only Woman in the Room is an illuminating exploration of the cultural, social, psychological, and institutional barriers confronting women in the STEM disciplines. Pollack brings to light the struggles that women in the sciences are often hesitant to admit and provides hope that changing attitudes and behaviors can bring more women into fields in which they remain, to this day, seriously underrepresented. Eileen Pollack is the author of the novels Breaking and Entering (a New York Times Editor’s Choice selection) and Paradise, New York, as well as two collections of short fiction, an award-winning book of nonfiction, and two creative-nonfiction textbooks. Her work has appeared in Best American Essays and Best American Short Stories. She is a professor on the faculty of the Helen Zell MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of Michigan. She divides her time between Manhattan and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

30 review for The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science Is Still a Boys' Club

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ellie

    I won this book from LibraryThing (in exchange for an honest review). When it arrived, I had a sudden crisis of doubt. Why had I thought I wanted to read this? Was I interested a book about women in the sciences or math? What did that have to do with me? Would it, like another currently popular book, claim that all women needed to do was be more aggressive, more committed? As it turned out, I loved this book, disturbing as it is in many ways. It is a fascinating look, through examining the autho I won this book from LibraryThing (in exchange for an honest review). When it arrived, I had a sudden crisis of doubt. Why had I thought I wanted to read this? Was I interested a book about women in the sciences or math? What did that have to do with me? Would it, like another currently popular book, claim that all women needed to do was be more aggressive, more committed? As it turned out, I loved this book, disturbing as it is in many ways. It is a fascinating look, through examining the author's own experience (as well as the experience of many other women) at the ways in which women from an early way are led, or sometimes pushed, away from careers in sciences like physics or math, away from those STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields that are being proclaimed as in dire need of more participants. Pollack is about my age and her experiences resonated with mine, although I moved away from sciences and math very early (although I was doing very well in high school math and my teachers insisted I take calculus, I dropped out because I was afraid it would be too hard and bring my average down). She moved from a working class family in a small town to Yale-and still lacked confidence! Pollack shows how her isolation, surrounded by men who assume they can "do the math" even when they can't, was a common experience for women in physics; sadly, to a great extent, it still is. Although numbers have improved, women still represent a minority in all the STEM fields despite studies that indicate that there is no biological basis for that difference and that even simple changes in the type of examples used in textbook problems (not just military or sports) can make a huge difference. Men-specifically white men-are still supported by the images that surround them of male scientists and the societal expectation that of course they will stay with something that is difficult whereas despite all the progress women still have fewer role models, fewer visible examples, and much more encouragement to go into "easier" fields. I loved reading Pollack's personal experiences. She is a wonderful writer who communicates her life poignantly. If the book were only about her, it would still be worth reading. But the larger story her experience points too makes the book not only interesting but important. Pollack makes a compelling case for more active support for women, specifically in physics and math. She cites many studies and complements them with absorbing stories from the lives of other women who are in-or have dropped out of-these fields. She only touches on the experiences of people of color, people who are gay, and people who are poor and I would welcome more coverage of those challenges and how they can be supported as well. The emphasis in this book is on women and gender discrimination. How do we keep our middle school and teenage girls involved in something that can result in their being a social outcast while not accepted even within the group of other "nerds" and how can we support those who stay with these subjects through the grueling ordeal of college and graduate school? How can we offset the many negative responses they receive from male students and professors as well as combat their feelings of isolation and insecurity? It is difficult to sum up such a rich book. Pollack left physics to become a writer and succeeded brilliantly in that career. But it is also true that her decision haunts her and that she sacrificed a part of herself in making that decision. Although she has had, by her own account, a fulfilling and happy life, I felt feeling torn: clearly we as a society gained a gifted writer (which is something I value and believe important) but we also lost something, something we continue to lose each time a woman gives up because she feels, often incorrectly, inadequate to the task. It's not that I value one field over the other (if anything, I probably tend to honor writing above other choices), it's that I think the choice should be a freer one than it appears to be. This is a wonderfully written and important book. We should want all our children to develop their talents in the areas they love. Pollack's description of the life of a physicist makes me wonder why anyone would make the sacrifices it seems to entail but certainly women should be able to do so if they wish. Of course, I'm not a scientist but I was certainly someone who was raised to believe "girls are not good at math" (or science). My daughter had a better experience than I did and I hope that my children's children will have even more doors open to them than me or my daughter. But progress seems to be slow. I strongly recommend this book, as a terrifically written personal narrative. But I also think it's subject is something of importance to us all, as a society, and worth reading and thinking about. the Only Woman in the Room is a fascinating book that is as gripping as a well-written novel. In the interests of full disclosure, as stated above, I won this book from LibraryThing. The opinions in this review, however, are my own honest responses.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jordan

    Originally posted at Musings of an Incurable Bookworm I'm feeling conflicted about this book. I honestly think that if I'd had a more clear picture of what the book was about going into it I might not feel as disappointed as I do. Then again, I also probably wouldn't have requested or read it in the first place. I'll start with the things that I liked, which was basically the final third of the book. I appreciated hearing from other women struggling to survive in the sciences, especially the voice Originally posted at Musings of an Incurable Bookworm I'm feeling conflicted about this book. I honestly think that if I'd had a more clear picture of what the book was about going into it I might not feel as disappointed as I do. Then again, I also probably wouldn't have requested or read it in the first place. I'll start with the things that I liked, which was basically the final third of the book. I appreciated hearing from other women struggling to survive in the sciences, especially the voices of women who are undergrads or graduate or PhD students. These women are clearly right in the thick of it, and this section helped to legitimize the anecdotal "evidence" that comprised the first two thirds of the book. As several other reviewers have noted on both LibraryThing and Goodreads, the title and the subtitle are incredibly misleading. First, the title implies that Pollack is the only woman in the room, which seems to imply a present tense, when in reality Pollack is not even in science anymore. Second, the subtitle makes it seem as though it's going to be a thorough, researched examination of why women have a hard time breaking into the boys' club of science, when two-thirds of the book is more an autobiography of Pollack. Not only is the title misleading, but so is the description, at least to me. The description included in the Early Reviewers batch info was this: "Why are there still so few women in the hard sciences, mathematics, and engineering? Eileen Pollack sets out to answer this question by interviewing dozens of women, drawing on the latest research, and telling her own story about giving up on a promising science career after being one of the first women to graduate with a B.S. in physics from Yale. A personal investigation for women in the hard sciences, engineering, computer sciences, and mathematics—especially those who know firsthand the limitations of academic studies on women and science." To me, the order of the list implies order of importance/focus. So when I saw that the description first said Pollack set out to answer the question by interviewing dozens of women, I thought that would be the primary focus. Overall, I probably would have respected the book and hypotheses included within the book if that had been the case. In my mind, if somebody is trying to answer the question to a systemic problem, the most helpful thing to do is to get as much data as possible in order to be able to adequately extrapolate a possible cause. This is especially true when Pollack's experiences—the majority of the content in the book—are nearly thirty years old, taking place during her time as an undergrad at Yale studying physics. How much can the world change in thirty years? Not to mention, the book seemed full of humblebrags interspersed with whining about how nobody recognized quite how special she was. For example, when she relates how she missed getting a perfect score on her AP exam in English because she misspelled boulevard, and then excuses herself by asking, "But where would I have seen the word? Liberty [her hometown] had avenues, and streets, but not a boulevard." Excuses, excuses. It's called studying. The nature of the book had me asking myself if I would think the same thing if the same words came from a male author; overwhelmingly, I found myself answering yes. To some extent, I can understand where she's coming from. Societal structures are set up to create a system where, generally, men feel confident enough to not feel they need validation. But at some point, as a woman, you can't expect to always get praise and support and encouragement. Or you have to learn how to specifically ask for what you need, instead of assuming that it's not being given to you because it doesn't exist. I actually found Pollack herself sexist and demeaning and stereotypical at times. She seems to tear down other women, most often those who decided to pursue Bachelor of Arts degrees, which Pollack deems as "cheating." Pollack seems to only remember the instructors who she had a "crush" on (her exact words, when she can't recall much about a particular professor because he was the only one she didn't have a crush on), which only serves to perpetuate the stereotypes about women in science. It was frustrating to read this book, which may be taken by many at face value, as I initially took it; women obviously do experience this systemic sexism, as relayed in the last third of the book, but the often whiny, entitled autobiographical content that precedes it may turn many off to the legitimate struggles that women still face in the STEM fields today. It was quite poignant to have finished reading this about the same time as the backlash after a Nobel-prize winning scientist, Sir Tim Hunt, remarked that women scientists don't belong in labs because three things happen: the men fall in love with the women, the women fall in love with the men, and when you criticize the women they cry. This is the perfect epitome of what I imagined the book was going to examine, on a large scale—rather than the incredibly micro scale that was offered. If you're interested, you can find out more about the backlash on social media following Sir Hunt's remarks here. (I received this ARC through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program in exchange for a review.)

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jean

    I was just a decade ahead of the author and was also the only girl in the class; but, I have spent my life in the field of science and have witnessed some changes in attitude. There still is a big room for improvement, but as more women enter science it will continue to change. The book is well written. The author is an excellent writer and maybe she was right in changing her profession from science to writing. The book is an interesting read and could be helpful to a young woman wanting to go in I was just a decade ahead of the author and was also the only girl in the class; but, I have spent my life in the field of science and have witnessed some changes in attitude. There still is a big room for improvement, but as more women enter science it will continue to change. The book is well written. The author is an excellent writer and maybe she was right in changing her profession from science to writing. The book is an interesting read and could be helpful to a young woman wanting to go into the STEM field. I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. The book is eleven hours and thirty-seven minutes. Gayle Hendrix does a good job narrating the book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Angie Reisetter

    The last third of this book was more or less what I was hoping the whole book would be. It's an overview and dicussion of the different theories as to why there is still a lack of women in some STEM fields. The author's focus is on the upper echelons of academia -- I'm afraid that the fact that I have a tenure-track physics professorship would not interest her. She is mainly concerned about Harvard and her alma mater, Yale, and she shares the elitism of her home institution. But she has heard fr The last third of this book was more or less what I was hoping the whole book would be. It's an overview and dicussion of the different theories as to why there is still a lack of women in some STEM fields. The author's focus is on the upper echelons of academia -- I'm afraid that the fact that I have a tenure-track physics professorship would not interest her. She is mainly concerned about Harvard and her alma mater, Yale, and she shares the elitism of her home institution. But she has heard from many women in technical fields at all levels, and she shares some of their opinions and stories with us, which is helpful. She also summarizes the arguments from a few published books on the topic. It was the first 2/3 of the book that disappointed me. This first part of the book is a heartfelt, honest memoir of her own path to writer-dom. She grew up liking science, majored in physics at Yale, and then decided to become a writer. Nothing at all wrong with that, and it seems that in writing this memoir, she is addressing her own demons in a way that is absolutely necessary for her as a person. But the telling lends too much self-importance to the author, and it seems she has been desperate to prove that she was smart enough to make it since then -- she doesn't miss the science, just the stature of being in a smart field. She spends too much time in the last third of the book knocking the innate abilities argument, which is a rare one these days. She really really wants us to think she's smart. And she really really wanted to be told so more often, then and now. It is certainly the case that her story has something to do with why there are not more females in science today, but not enough to take up 2/3 of a book with title that this one has. Her journey is intensely personal and her decisions equally so. I think she makes the mistake of thinking that all women are like her. Since I myself double majored in Physics and English as an undergrad, I bristled at statements like "Every girl who ends up majoring in English instead of physics does so because she has a teacher like Barry Talkington". She then goes on to describe how she had a romantic relationship with this high school teacher. She may have just been trying to be folksy, but of course it's not the case that every girl, well, anything. Certainly having a romantic relationship with a teacher is not the norm. And she seems to have a crush on most of her young male professors in college, relying on a desire to please them more than any intrinsic desire to do well and learn physics. I don't want to invalidate her experience, but it doesn't match mine and it doesn't match what my female students have shared with me. I think that having a crush on a professor/teacher is a terrible reason to go into that field, no matter what field we're talking about. Eileen Pollack has heard from many women from many different backgrounds because she had an article published in the NY Times, and lots of women told her they found something in her story they could relate to. That's wonderful and true, and, like I said, I wish she had spent more time sharing their stories. But we also need to realize that this sort of study is the kind that invites corroboration but not dissent. There are other stories out there. And the tone of the last part of the book admits that. But the first 2/3 of the book contradicted this. She mentioned in the course of her memoir that one of the difficulties in being a female science major is that male students don't get crushes on their teachers, so they don't have to deal with that additional layer of complication. Ummm. That actually offends me. If it's not clear why, then maybe I'm the weirdo. But does this mean that when I'm in front of my intro classes full of primarily male engineering students, I'm making life more difficult for them? I'm really not sure where the heck that argument goes. I'm willing to believe that I'm an abnormal person in many ways. But Pollack seems adamant that she is not, and I wonder whether that's really true, or whether it has to be true for her account to be meaningful. I don't think so, but she might disagree with me. But okay, I've made my point. The last third of the book is very good. The first 2/3 is well written and intensely personal, which wouldn't be a problem except for the hubristic implication that she speaks for all women. I got a copy of this book from the publisher through Net Galley, and I'm sure they got more of a review than they bargained for in return.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Yuki

    As other reviewers have said here, the title is terribly misleading. The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science is still a Boy's Club implies: 1) that this is a dissertation of some sort; 2) that the author is a woman and still works in a science field. None of that is true. This was a very personal read - as I continue, I can easily see myself in it. And even though my mind has been filled with the "don't complain and work hard" mentality as an immigrant, it's impossible not to acknowledge that sex As other reviewers have said here, the title is terribly misleading. The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science is still a Boy's Club implies: 1) that this is a dissertation of some sort; 2) that the author is a woman and still works in a science field. None of that is true. This was a very personal read - as I continue, I can easily see myself in it. And even though my mind has been filled with the "don't complain and work hard" mentality as an immigrant, it's impossible not to acknowledge that sexism exists, particularly in male-dominant fields like physics. As time goes by, I've learned that the best way to deal with it is to not care and move on, though I can't really complain - after all, the discrimination in the US has been the least intense, and I appreciate it. Then again, it's not as if anyone encouraged me to continue reading science fiction. One afternoon, I wandered into Krug's Stationery, the only establishment in town that sold books, and picked out a trilogy by Isaac Asimov and a paperback called One, Two, Three ... Infinity by George Gamow. When I carried these to the register, the owner said, "Oh no, dear, those books are boys' books. The girls' books are in the back." Puzzled, I went to see what books she meant, only to discover that the "girls' books" consisted of a rack of romance novels. There are some parts I'm concerned about: Then, on a debate trip to Boston, Barry drove me to MIT. "Jesus," he said. "Are you sure you want to go to a school where the buildings have numbers instead of names?" Lost, we dead-ended in an alley surrounded by engineering labs. When Barry asked if I wanted to get out and look around, I said, "Uh, no," then tried to figure out how I was going to break the news to my father that I wanted to give up a scholarship to MIT. If I did poorly, I would prove women never did finish their degrees in science or math; if I succeeded, I would be even more unpopular than before. bad enough to be a girl who had gotten all As in high school; how much more of an oddball would I be if I earned all As as a physics major at Yale? The only way to escape this paradox was to do well on my exams and lab reports but remain quiet and present myself as a lovable clumsy clown in lab. In this way, Greg joined the long line of men upon whom I would have gladly bestowed my virginity, if only he had consented to accept it. The next semester, I signed up to take Applied Calculus for no reason except Professor Howe was teaching it. The professor, a young Hungarian named Peter Nemethy, was so charming I began to wonder if Yale had cornered the market on handsome young male physicists. Perhaps the university went out of its way to recruit charismatic physicists as a strategy for attracting women to the major, along with preppy men, who could rest assured that a career in physics needn't exclude them from membership at the club or the ministrations of the female sex. I was the only woman in the lab, although I felt unfortunate in having as my partner a brawny chemical engineer named Al. I found myself hoping Al would ask me out; when he didn't, I consoled myself that I had snagged a partner who knew what he was doing and didn't seem to mind I was girl. In truth, I was as much in love with our writing professor as I had been crushed out on Michael Zeller and Peter Nemethy, the difference being that Hersey was too old for me to consider him a romantic partner. Honestly, the majority of us wouldn't care whether Pollack was yearning for male attention and approval - she can do whatever she wants. But what about the young readers who are reading this book? What would they think when approached with the stereotypes the Pollack, a woman, sets out for her own gender? What would they think when they see how Pollack continues to belittle liberal arts major, and thinks that women of those majors don't work as hard as she did (a reminder: at the beginning of the book, Pollack blames missing on a vocabulary question on the AP English test because she's never seen the word before, aka exactly the point of the test having an obscure vocabulary list)? To me, that behavior is terribly irresponsible. 1 star. I can see where she's coming from, but writing a book about your own experiences with discrimination and not-so-called-discrimiation doesn't make it a quality book, more like a comfort one.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Bateauxmouches

    Truly painful to read, and not in a good way. In the 70's, the author was one of the only two female undergrads in her class to receive a BS in physics at Yale. She relates to the reader how she had endured both overt and micro-aggressions to a degree unheard of today, quoting statements like: "Even at Yale, the boys won't date a physics major!" or "We all know one cannot be both sexy and smart." Unfortunately, the author seems to have even internalized the misogyny that she writes about ("I shu Truly painful to read, and not in a good way. In the 70's, the author was one of the only two female undergrads in her class to receive a BS in physics at Yale. She relates to the reader how she had endured both overt and micro-aggressions to a degree unheard of today, quoting statements like: "Even at Yale, the boys won't date a physics major!" or "We all know one cannot be both sexy and smart." Unfortunately, the author seems to have even internalized the misogyny that she writes about ("I shunned the company of other girls and hung around with the roughest boys."). I couldn't help but suspect that in writing this book, the author was trying to justify to herself her own decision to not pursue graduate school in physics and become a writer instead. As if by surrounding herself with so many anecdotal and research-supported statements about the biases that women have to put up with in the sciences, she would feel better about herself for not trying for a PhD in physics. Despite its nonfiction-esque title, this book falls clearly in the memoir genre of the most self-serving kind, with a #humblebrag hashtag implied in too many passages for comfort. While it must have been cathartic for the author to share with the world her formidable/traumatic undergraduate story, and while her experience is both valid and valuable as a testimony, the way she executed her memoir is disappointing and discouraging to the reader. This is a book-length rant of science as a boy's club, and at some point it comes off as a self-fulfilling prophecy. I'd urge readers to pass over this book and read instead: 1) Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In" 2) Rebecca Solnit's "Men Explain Things to Me" 3) Ashcroft's "Solid State Physics"

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kadri

    I'm still collecting my thoughts on this. I could relate to the author's experience eerily well. She studied physics in Yale in 1980s, and was the only (or one of the few women) woman in the room in a lot of classes that she took. In this book she looks at her experience before and during her studies at Yale. Some of the things she brought out in her book were, that women might need more encouragement than men to study or keep studying a STEM field. There is a group of people who are encouraged t I'm still collecting my thoughts on this. I could relate to the author's experience eerily well. She studied physics in Yale in 1980s, and was the only (or one of the few women) woman in the room in a lot of classes that she took. In this book she looks at her experience before and during her studies at Yale. Some of the things she brought out in her book were, that women might need more encouragement than men to study or keep studying a STEM field. There is a group of people who are encouraged to study science just from the example of history of science and technology - how much more do you need, when the scientist's stereotype is a white man? There are a lot of little things that add up to lessen women's interest in science starting from textbook problems that might not be as engaging for girls as they are for boys... and then there's the age-old strange cultural idea in some places that no-one really likes smart women... according to myth even smart women themselves... But the book also seems to me like Pollack is trying to prove that she made the right decision in studying physics and then going into creative writing instead... More here.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Maron Anrow

    I care about the under-representation of women in STEM fields, and it pains me to give a book on this topic a low rating. Pollack expertly describes many of the subtle obstacles and pervasive barriers that deter women from STEM, but... These accounts were presented in the context of her own experiences, and I found many of her statements (and her own motivations) counterproductive to the stated mission of this book. Many things she said were outright insulting. The first sign that something was w I care about the under-representation of women in STEM fields, and it pains me to give a book on this topic a low rating. Pollack expertly describes many of the subtle obstacles and pervasive barriers that deter women from STEM, but... These accounts were presented in the context of her own experiences, and I found many of her statements (and her own motivations) counterproductive to the stated mission of this book. Many things she said were outright insulting. The first sign that something was wrong appeared in the book's preface: "Even women who grow up to be feisty, successful feminists spend much of their adolescence obsessing about their appearance, romance, sex, and their popularity with female friends. ...girls may dumb them themselves down, hide or repress their interest in classes or activities their peers deem nerdy. They may develop crushes on their teachers and other older men, who don't see them as threatening and are all too happy to reciprocate their affection. A boy might pursue a subject because he respects the man who teaches it, but unless he is gay, he won't fall in love with that teacher, as so many young women do." (p. xx) My reaction: WHAT?! Her words reminded me of biochemist Tim Hunt's offensive statement that female scientists shouldn't work with male scientists because "You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticize them, they cry." Pollack's statement implies not only that sexual attraction will create problems for female students of science, but that such problems are common. That will only deter male scientists from mentoring female students! It only got worse as Pollack revealed again and again that romantic attraction motivated much of her scientific pursuits. While I appreciate her honesty, in this context honesty is damaging, especially because she portrayed her own motives as commonplace instead of unique to her personality. Her story creates the impression that many women pursue science for male attention, and that romantic tension is a regular occurrence in interactions between male professors and female students. That is not only inaccurate (from my experience, anyway), it is incredibly counterproductive to the mission of getting more women in STEM fields. This was such a theme in Pollack's story that I started a document to record unsettling and/or offensive quotes from the book. I nearly stopped reading altogether when I reached page 35, when Pollack reveals she had a romance with her high school debate teacher. I was disgusted. Three pages later, she describes how she visited Yale after receiving an offer of admission, and she decided to go there because she was attracted to a male physics professor after watching him lecture. The last few chapters of the book depict solidarity among women who want to pursue STEM until they're discouraged or turned away, but this comes too late. Earlier in the book Pollack made it clear she disliked and felt competition with other women as a student. She had awe and respect only for men and wanted nothing to do with other women: "But the women's movement seemed to mean women ended up spending more time with other women, and something called 'consciousness-raising groups,' and the last thing I wanted was to spend more time with women. If women ran the world, society would be less competitive. But I loved competing. How else could I prove to the brilliant, powerful men who ruled the world that I was as smart and strong as they were?" (p. 21) This passage was particularly offensive: When describing the only other female physics major: "And as much as I enjoyed the sight of her shining, smiling face, I can't say we were friends. If a person's self-worth derives from being the only woman in the field, how much affection can she feel toward another woman who might challenge that claim to fame? Erika's decision to pursue a bachelor's of arts degree rather than the more demanding bachelor of science struck me as cheating. It was as if we had signed up to be marines, and here we were at boot camp, each wearing the same uniform, but Erika got to stay in the barracks and buff her nails while the rest of us jogged fifty miles in the rain." (p. 47) Holy shit! Majoring in physics isn't easy, even if you're pursuing a B.A. instead of a B.S. The analogy she used--Erika buffing her nails, Pollack jogging fifty miles in the rain--was so insulting. Clearly Pollock thought very well of herself. Far from being a proponent of female representation in STEM, she wanted other women to abandon the field. She wanted to be the only woman in physics because it made her feel smart and special. At this point, I was disgusted by Pollack, and I often paused my reading to vent to my husband whenever I encountered another offensive passage. But I kept reading, and it became more and more obvious that Pollack's pursuit of physics was at least partly motivated by a desire to attain men. "Could anything be more exciting than carrying a pristine notebook embossed with 'Lux et veritas' to a lecture hall where I would finally begin the life I had been waiting eighteen years to start? My status as one of only two women in the auditorium struck me as less frightening than erotic; it was like going to a movie with 118 dates. I was even more excited when the professor turned out to be the same dark, bearded young man whose class I had visited the spring before." (p. 53) "My new powers of understanding might have flowed from nothing more than Professor Zeller's voice murmuring seductively in my head: 'You can do it. Stick it out.'" (p. 58) "My attraction to my professors kept me working to please them long after I might otherwise have given up." (p. 128) Despite these criticisms, there were many things I did like about this book. Pollack describes the subtle ways women are discouraged from pursuing STEM, and the firsthand accounts of other women's struggles were great. I heartily agree with the message of this book, and more people need to know why we have too few female scientists. But at the same time, Pollack's own story could be counterproductive. Normally I appreciate honesty, but I wish she hadn't disclosed these things about herself. If readers assume her romantic motives are present in other women, it will exacerbate the problem. In addition to her apparent disdain for other women (she only respected men's opinions), Pollack also derogates scientific disciplines that aren't physics. This passage angered me: "As to why there are more female chemists then physicists, my hunch is most chemists aren't looking to explain the universe, only to produce a fabric that doesn't wrinkle or absorb odors, a vanilla pudding that tastes more vanilla-y, a bacterium that eats up oil." (p. 202) She just insulted the ENTIRE FIELD OF CHEMISTRY! That is so offensive! As if physics is the only real science, the only one that truly requires intelligence and passion. My last complaint about this book is how woefully it covers scientific research on gender disparity in STEM fields. (Ironic, isn't it?) There are hundreds of psychology experiments on this very issue. She briefly mentioned one study on stereotype threat (without describing the phenomenon of stereotype threat itself), but she completely ignored a vast literature whose inclusion would only bolster her arguments. For example, social psychologist Amanda Diekman has conducted terrific research on why some women avoid STEM and how to change this. But you know what? I bet Pollack doesn't even consider psychology a science. Again, I'm totally on board with the mission of this book, but I wish it had a different flag-bearer.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Suni Jo

    This book was near to my own experiences majoring in astrophysics and was almost hard to read at times because of my own messy breakup with the sciences. I did not continue on in astrophysics but like Pollack, questioned whether that was because I just wasn’t gifted in the subject or because I was more interested in another subject (in Pollack’s case this was writing). The Only Woman in the Room invited me to consider a third suggestion: as a woman in science, I was not encouraged and supported This book was near to my own experiences majoring in astrophysics and was almost hard to read at times because of my own messy breakup with the sciences. I did not continue on in astrophysics but like Pollack, questioned whether that was because I just wasn’t gifted in the subject or because I was more interested in another subject (in Pollack’s case this was writing). The Only Woman in the Room invited me to consider a third suggestion: as a woman in science, I was not encouraged and supported throughout my courses in this male dominated field. Pollack chronicles her journey throughout childhood and college studying science and deciding to pursue Physics at Yale. She graduated from Yale with impressive grades and solid research but received very little encouragement from her professors. She notes that after telling one professor she wanted to go to Princeton he replied, “if you went to Princeton, you had better put your ego in your back pocket because those guys were so brilliant and competitive you would get that ego crushed.” Pollack also highlights the encouragement she received in her writing classes and contrasted that with the absence of it in her physics classes. Pollack writes, “Hersey provided me with a way to see and hear myself as a writer, as I could not see or hear myself as a physicist.” This point speaks to the many examples we see in our society when scientists are depicted as men or when women’s contributions to science are minimized or erased or when science problems in textbooks talk about guns, rockets, or football pointing to the conclusion that "science is still a boys' club." One big thing I took away from this book is that there needs to be more equity in the STEM fields- not just equality. Pollack asks a group of female students whether girls who want to become engineers need more encouragement and support than boys. The answer: Like, duh. “Society tells us all along we’re not supposed to be smart, just grow up and be trophy wives and be happy with that so of course girls need more emotional support than boys.”

  10. 4 out of 5

    Alyson Hagy

    I can't wait to share this book with friends and students and colleagues. Eileen Pollack, who has written a number of remarkable books of fiction and nonfiction, has taken her experience as a math/science whiz who was regularly discouraged from pursuing her intellectual dreams and spun them into true, and poignant, cultural gold. Much of the book tracks Pollack's personal trials and tribulations with honesty and sharp humor. Women who have worked in the world of men in any capacity, whether as s I can't wait to share this book with friends and students and colleagues. Eileen Pollack, who has written a number of remarkable books of fiction and nonfiction, has taken her experience as a math/science whiz who was regularly discouraged from pursuing her intellectual dreams and spun them into true, and poignant, cultural gold. Much of the book tracks Pollack's personal trials and tribulations with honesty and sharp humor. Women who have worked in the world of men in any capacity, whether as student or professional, will find themselves comparing Pollack's tales with their own. The book ups the ante in the best, most urgent, way when it asks serious and smart questions about what all of us should be doing NOW to improve a situation that's not much better than it was 30 or 40 years ago. I've spent enough time in higher education to be all too familiar with the stories and the data. Many American efforts to support women and minorities in STEM fields aren't working well enough. So what can we do, one-by-one or collectively, NOW to change this? That's a crucial question this fine book begins to answer, and I'm grateful for it.

  11. 5 out of 5

    AJ

    This memoir definitely stirred up a lot of memories for me. I have a PhD in engineering, and I could fill this review up with a lot of stories of the bullshit I had to get through to get as far as I have. And even now, when I tell some of those stories, invariably the guys around me will gaslight me and tell me I must have been making it up. So it never ends. I definitely belong to the "don't give a shit" club, but that doesn't take away the sting of having to work twice as hard to be taken half This memoir definitely stirred up a lot of memories for me. I have a PhD in engineering, and I could fill this review up with a lot of stories of the bullshit I had to get through to get as far as I have. And even now, when I tell some of those stories, invariably the guys around me will gaslight me and tell me I must have been making it up. So it never ends. I definitely belong to the "don't give a shit" club, but that doesn't take away the sting of having to work twice as hard to be taken half as seriously. Honestly, I thought the memoir was... just okay. I couldn't tell if it was a memoir or a book about women in science and sometimes it was both and sometimes it was neither. I didn't love it. I thought it went on too long, and the anecdotes in the last chapter and epilogue were just tacked in at the end. Maybe I am in the minority of women in STEM, but I never had crushes on my professors, or cared about how I dressed and looked, or gave a flying you-know-what about my marriageability. Do women care so much about finding a man (the book was really heterosexist and didn't even bring up the concepts of lesbians until like the very end) that they really would jeopardize their careers? I guess so, but it seems foreign to me. Maybe we need to smash the picture of women getting married and having babies as the default view of what women are supposed to do. Finally, I thought it was strange how infrequently the word "engineer" or "engineering" came up in this book. Engineers were swept into the corner, and not really examined until the last chapter or so. I'm not sure if the author meant to include engineer in the word science, but engineers are not scientists. We go through a lot of the same bullshit as scientists, so I don't see why the need to ignore us. That said, my issues with the book are minor compared to the topic it discusses. This is still an issue. I will teach 100s of students in my engineering classes before I get a single woman sitting in my classroom. It's exhausting teaching to a bunch of male faces. The women who do sign up for engineering don't do electrical, and maybe it's because electrical has a reputation for being the hardest, or they feel that they needed to have experience playing around with circuits as a kid (experience that I never had either). Either way, the lack of women in STEM is a big issue, one that I hope will see remediation in my lifetime. Edited to add: several days after I wrote this review, it occurs to me that something has been nagging the back of my mind. At more than one occasion in this book, the author mentions that quantum particles can tunnel through infinite potential wells. This is distinctly untrue, as the walls of infinite wells act as nodes, and the answers are sinusoidal functions with 0's at those points. A finite well, however, has results where the wave-function actually does penetrate into the boundary. A simple Google search would have cleared up this misconception. The academic in me cannot let this go. The part of me that hates being corrected by academics thinks I should go easy on the author.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Halli

    I established when I was 7 years old that since my test scores on the state's standardized testing weren't high for math, I felt that it was eliminated before any interests even began because I wasn't "good" at it. Fast forward to the age of 12 and the theory behind conceptual math learning and I was completely lost with the yellow cubes and bars in front of me. The instructions from the teacher did not make sense and because of something as yet unidentified I could not understand the words comi I established when I was 7 years old that since my test scores on the state's standardized testing weren't high for math, I felt that it was eliminated before any interests even began because I wasn't "good" at it. Fast forward to the age of 12 and the theory behind conceptual math learning and I was completely lost with the yellow cubes and bars in front of me. The instructions from the teacher did not make sense and because of something as yet unidentified I could not understand the words coming out of my father's mouth when he attempted to explain mathematical concepts. It made me hate math even more because this one thing that I didn't get along with at school was dividing my father and myself. Full out yelling matches. It was horrible. I don't remember being encouraged towards anything specifically. At home it was always "just graduate with something even if its in basket weaving." Yea, not helpful. In high school I remember two females involved in AP classes and admired how "smart" they were to understand what they were being taught. Junior year of high school I dropped Algebra II because my male teacher, while tutoring me outside of normal class time, touched my leg and left it there till I quickly moved away, lied that I understood the concepts and escaped as quickly as possible. Choir proved to be the safer choice and quickly dropped the class. Algebra II, round 2, was taught by a teacher that I always felt I was imposing on with my questions and since I wasn't one of the chosen "few," outside of class tutoring was minimal and I would not have survived that class had it not been for my amazing classmate tutor who shed a bit of light on those devilish numbers and letters that I was convinced enjoyed altering themselves to become unrecognizable and therefore unsolvable (Looking at you AHull). I enjoyed reading so why wouldn't I "naturally" become an English major in what I call "college round 1"? After Psychology, Nursing, and finding myself a History major even after the switch from English. None of that worked out and now I find myself in an undergraduate program, married, in my early 30's, pursuing a career in a field which lies in a male dominated environment. I think the question I have for myself after reading this book is "do I currently possess the grit needed to succeed"? 4 stars is a high rating for me, and I think I will try to re-read this book in a few years and see if I don't have a more emotional and/or different reaction. The first two parts of the book I enjoyed because I love reading people's stories and Ms. Pollack's wasn't any different but the third part's statistics, notes, and other women's stories resonated most with me. As some family members keep reminding me, my "healthy" child bearing years are quickly receding and another question I find myself currently pursuing is "can I have it all and if I can't, what do I sacrifice"? This quote, found on page 233 is a beautiful reminder: "...[P]rove that if you want to become a physicist - or anything else - you need to do it for yourself. You need to do it for the little girl who couldn't stop thinking..."

  13. 4 out of 5

    Gigi

    I received this book from a Goodreads First Reads giveaway. When requesting the book, I had assumed it would be a book filled with some pages of boring data, but that it would still be an interesting, informative read. What I did not expect was the masterful and incredibly accurate account of Pollack's own arduous experience as a woman constantly trying to prove her worth in the sciences. It brings up the unfortunate reality that society still splits academia and success by gender, and Pollack's I received this book from a Goodreads First Reads giveaway. When requesting the book, I had assumed it would be a book filled with some pages of boring data, but that it would still be an interesting, informative read. What I did not expect was the masterful and incredibly accurate account of Pollack's own arduous experience as a woman constantly trying to prove her worth in the sciences. It brings up the unfortunate reality that society still splits academia and success by gender, and Pollack's own encounters with teachers, principals, professors, and peers will resonate with many women, and not just the ones in the STEM fields, but in the arts and humanities as well. It is written more as a memoir than a traditional scholarly examination of the issue. But Pollack's own experiences give a better answer better than pages of graphs and percentages ever could. Starting from Pollack's youth to her time at Yale, the reader can easily and vividly imagine each frustrating scenarios and unfortunately see that attitudes have not changed as much as they should have. Overall, this was a book I could not put down, and Pollack's mastery of creative writing creates a unique and powerful statement of how STEM fields treat women and minorities.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Carolina

    DNF I finished the first part of the book and I am afraid I cannot continue. The subtitle and blurb are misleading, pointing to more of a study than a biography. Even then I continued reading, but so far there seems to be no answer to the question Pollack asks (why science is still a boy's club), but rather a telling of her personal experience. As a woman in science myself, I know that it can be hard, but a lot of the examples she uses to show how ostracized felt forced (She got a B on a project DNF I finished the first part of the book and I am afraid I cannot continue. The subtitle and blurb are misleading, pointing to more of a study than a biography. Even then I continued reading, but so far there seems to be no answer to the question Pollack asks (why science is still a boy's club), but rather a telling of her personal experience. As a woman in science myself, I know that it can be hard, but a lot of the examples she uses to show how ostracized felt forced (She got a B on a project and the teacher expresses disappointment, this for me reads as he was expecting more from her, a good thing, but the author makes it sound as the most misogynistic thing to say). Giving up a scholarship to MIT of all places, just because her boyfriend didn't like the buildings? really? I've gathered from other reviews that maybe part 3 of the book would be what I was expecting from the book, but so far the book is not giving me enough reasons to continue.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Alyssa Hassan

    I'd recommend parents get this for their teenage daughters (and for the parents to read themselves!). Also for women in STEM fields or in college studying those fields. Anyone really who has a role in guiding, raising, teaching, or working with women, this is a book to read. (Note: I work for the publisher so I'm refraining from giving it a star rating) I'd recommend parents get this for their teenage daughters (and for the parents to read themselves!). Also for women in STEM fields or in college studying those fields. Anyone really who has a role in guiding, raising, teaching, or working with women, this is a book to read. (Note: I work for the publisher so I'm refraining from giving it a star rating)

  16. 4 out of 5

    Blue

    I think much of what could be better about The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science is Still a Boy's Club have been told by other reviewers, so I'll cut to the chase. The expectation is that the author, in some way or shape, will answer the question of why there is still a lack of female scientists. Reading the detailed account of Eileen Pollack of (mostly) her singular experience, which is then somehow generalized and perhaps holds true for some women, I concluded that the answer is: women have I think much of what could be better about The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science is Still a Boy's Club have been told by other reviewers, so I'll cut to the chase. The expectation is that the author, in some way or shape, will answer the question of why there is still a lack of female scientists. Reading the detailed account of Eileen Pollack of (mostly) her singular experience, which is then somehow generalized and perhaps holds true for some women, I concluded that the answer is: women have low self-esteem and lack self-confidence. I conclude this, and I am alienated from these women. I do not know who they are. OK, maybe I know some, but really, most of my science colleagues did not "panic" at the sight of a difficult problem in the lab or in the classroom, did not have crushes on every other male counterpart, and did not "feel like failures" every time something they tried failed. Who are these women who feel uncomfortable with boys or men in the classroom? Coming from a developing country where the power struggle between the sexes (only two sexes recognized, I'm afraid) is much more apparent, I thought it was strange that all these bright-eyed, privileged girls in my science classes were too timid, too much in need of constant assurance. The boys were not much better. Socially awkward, desperate to drink and lose inhibitions, mostly quiet or annoying in the classroom. I spent many a modern algebra class in my freshman year yawning, and finally having to decide which one of us (we were two foreign girls in a class full of American men) would finally raise our hand and answer the damn question so the awkward silence would end and the professor would continue the lecture (he had a habit of just waiting and waiting and waiting...) Perhaps we were immune, because we had not gone through the "trauma" of junior high in the USA? Does that sound like I just unloaded a bunch of my personal experience in a book review. Well, I did. One can only expect that for a book that is marketed as a study, yet is mostly a memoir? So long story short, America (and perhaps the rest of the world) needs to raise their girls with more oomph. Girls who don't care so much about what everyone else thinks, girls who are immune to peer pressure, girls who don't just go cry in a corner when someone calls them names or tells them they are stupid, girls who are not emotionally so desperate to have a crush left and right... I am not saying there is anything wrong with crying, or having crushes, or getting upset at people calling you names, etc. I am just saying that boys endure these things to. To ignore this fact would be sexist. Everyone copes differently. But coping must be done. So what if girls cry when angered or frustrated and boys become violent when their ego is challenged (regardless whether the reason is nature or nurture for this difference)? Ah, the problem is that we, as a society, interpret crying as weakness and breaking things and screaming as strength. Well, that does come from somewhere: the former hurts only you, so is harmless to others, and the latter can hurt others, so is harmful, therefore dangerous. And danger equals strength and power. Now, why are there more men than women in the sciences. First of all, in biology, there are more women than men! That is, up until professorship... Then there is a big drop off, and you get closer to the other sciences. I can tell you that most Americans who are not that good at math but like science choose biology. That's my impression from years of being in academia, specifically in the life sciences. This is bound to change and is already changing with the advent of genomics and systems biology (and whatever the new buzz word is today...) Second of all, there are VERY good reasons why fewer women are in the sciences, and I doubt that this will change much: the academic career has gotten to be this ridiculous creature! Basically feminism and post-feminism managed to get women in the door just at the time the academic career in the sciences became almost impossible to sustain for most humans. Which leads to the third point: women are the ones who have to give birth. Unfortunately, we are NOT all created equally. Men cannot have babies (yet), women can... I imagine there are many careers out there that are exceptionally grueling for people with young children, and discriminate against humans who have the potential to bear children (i.e., women) like being a police detective or certain types of surgeons or heavy duty manual labor (I don't see a lot of books about the obvious lack of women in construction. Any recommendations?) This seems to be getting better overall in the west. But in general, it would be very naive to assume that men and women are equal. We are not. Not biologically, and not in terms of nurture. So nature and nurture contribute to make us different. I would doubt that any smart person will argue that there is a clear duality here; it is more like a bimodal distribution where the two peaks kind of merge into one another... lots of women who can do math and lots of men who can multitask. Lots of men who would love to stay at home and look after babies and lots of women who prefer to commute two hours each day to some job... But the burning question in my mind is: who is crazy enough to have an academic career in the sciences anymore? Back in the day (yes, the 1970s!) my PhD boss (the lab head, or P.I. [principal investigator]) would take off for a few months in the summer to go "study wine yeast" in Europe. Yeah, nice life. Even when I was doing my PhD in the early 2000s, one professor had a girlfriend in Germany and was there half the year, leaving the lab to one of the senior post-docs to run. Gone are those days! The newly minted professors in competitive institutions work as hard, if not harder, than they did in their post-docs, and guess what, they worked their asses off in their post-docs. Now, nobody can get grants, not the newbies, not the well-established people who fetch millions (for research, not for personal spending...) to migrate from one institution to another (if they can manage it, and cope with losing a good year during re-location). So you work 80 hours a week, you get paid nothing like a junior partner in investment banking, and this after putting off your "adulthood" during the PhD and post-doc (because, let's face it, you could not earn enough money to buy a house, have children, or even have time to date and find a partner...) The women I see still getting professorships in the life sciences are those who have very supportive husbands and partners who don't mind the 80-hour-a-week schedule their wives/partners keep, or they are single without worry of having a life. Because there is no work-life balance. It's work, and more work. The thing is, this lack of self-esteem and confidence, these years of training to try to appease men in high places, actually produces very strange results for female faculty in the sciences. Even the most "normal" and "non-crazy" female P.I. I have known had one major fault, which I saw in ALL female P.I.s I have ever worked with: she loved her boys! Meaning, the men working under them could do no wrong, had great ideas, and were, in general, held to lower standards, while the women, though usually harder working with great ideas and skills, could never quite be as good as the boys. (I noticed that I call the men "boys," perhaps my feeble attempt to ridicule them, but what for, as they have done nothing wrong but be biological males...) I personally observed this in several top labs in some of the most prestigious institutions in the US (but I wasn't a victim of it, not directly.) So, my two cents to all those women out there: don't do it! Not because men/others think you can't, but because I've been there and done that and it's not worth it! (I am half joking, of course, one should do it, if one wants, but seriously, think long and hard about it before you commit your youth to it!) Is science a boy's club? Yes, indeed it is. Is it special in this regard. No, absolutely not. It is just like everything else in the world. In fact, I would argue that, because it involves highly educated people and institutions dedicated to education, it is much more self-aware of these imbalances than, say, investment banking or the construction industry. Now how do we raise self-confident, self-assured, headstrong, curious girls (and boys!)? That's the real question. And who are all these boys and men, but not sons of mothers who raised them to be who they are? Someone once said, and I can't remember who or where it was, something like: the biggest power women have in the world is that they raise the boys who become men. This is a a realistic statement, and underlines the fact that children are raised mostly by their mothers in the world. So mothers need to raise their boys to respect women and reassure all those girls who need reassurance and encouragement in the sciences... But perhaps, lacking self-esteem and confidence, a person cannot raise a boy to see girls as his equals? All children see who does all the house work and who comes home, brings the money, sits at the table expecting dinner (OK, big generalization, but not by numbers; most of the world still operates like this, but it is not necessarily the home life of academics here in the USA.) Pollack's memoir is valuable for just that: it is the account of a female scientist's education experience starting in the 70s. I am sure many can relate to her experiences at different levels and there is a lot of personal lessons to be learned in these pages. Diversity is very important for science, because even the questions one sets out to answer, even the assumptions made and hypotheses tested are influenced by personal experiences and the unique knowledge pool of the scientists working in a project. And for that, we must wonder what more could we achieve if we had more diversity in the sciences: more women, more racial and ethnic diversity, more LGBTQA presence, more creative types, more generalists... I am glad I read this book. Do read it with different expectations than those set out in the marketing material. Thanks to LibraryThing and the publisher for a free copy of the book in exchange of my honest review.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Shelby McCubbin

    I expected this to be the classic story about how women are perceived to be underrepresented in science because they are unwilling to sacrifice their family, and therefore need to work harder in order to overcome the stigma that they simply are not intelligent/committed enough. Instead, it explored the various cultural and sociological barriers that prevent women from pursuing higher ed in STEM, mainly their need for more encouragement to keep going. Not because they are any less capable than me I expected this to be the classic story about how women are perceived to be underrepresented in science because they are unwilling to sacrifice their family, and therefore need to work harder in order to overcome the stigma that they simply are not intelligent/committed enough. Instead, it explored the various cultural and sociological barriers that prevent women from pursuing higher ed in STEM, mainly their need for more encouragement to keep going. Not because they are any less capable than men in the same fields, but because they have been raised to lack confidence that comes naturally to many men in scientific and mathematical fields. Pollack explores both her love for the humanities and her love for the sciences, as well as the fine line of trying to balance both, particularly the defeat she felt in walking away from physics to instead pursue the "easier" task of writing (though she does realize that the reputation of the humanities as easier is not indeed fair). She addressed women in STEM from a different perspective than what I am used to, as well as discussed a wide number of related topics that I didn't realize I had been needing to hear.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Minh Vu

    This book gives me mixed feelings as I cannot relate to the author sometimes and she made me question my abilities. However, she brought up the important questions and write them well, especially the last chapter. 3.7/5

  19. 4 out of 5

    Katie/Doing Dewey

    Summary: I found some of the author's anecdotes moving, but I was disappointed this wasn't a more research-based exploration of the problem. Although author Eileen Pollack was one of the first women to graduate from Yale with a BS in physics, she decided to pursue her love of writing instead of going on to get her PhD. Decades later, she decided to explore why so many women drop out of math, science, and engineering at every level of achievement. She briefly discusses some studies on women in sci Summary: I found some of the author's anecdotes moving, but I was disappointed this wasn't a more research-based exploration of the problem. Although author Eileen Pollack was one of the first women to graduate from Yale with a BS in physics, she decided to pursue her love of writing instead of going on to get her PhD. Decades later, she decided to explore why so many women drop out of math, science, and engineering at every level of achievement. She briefly discusses some studies on women in science and anecdotes from others, but mostly revisits her own experiences. Given the subtitle of this book (Why Science is Still a Boys Club), I hoped for a rigorous analysis of this question and maybe even a partial solution to the problem. My expectations meant I was disappointed when this turned out to be yet another book that's actually a memoir. The first third of the book especially disappointed me because it was the story of the author's childhood in the sixties, which was unrelatable to me. I also desperately hope the description of the blatant sexism she faced is largely irrelevant today. The second third of the book told the story of her time at Yale. Her experience was still very different from mine, but I found it interesting for that reason. In the final third of the book, I found the modern anecdotes from women the author interviewed more interesting still. I also enjoyed the few studies the author cited, but many were studies I'd heard of before. I actually would not want to get rid of the memoir section, but I do wish the book had been long enough for there to be a more thorough exploration on research in this area. Have you read any of the recent nonfiction books that have surprised people by being memoirs (Spinster, Galileo's Middle Finger, etc)? This review was originally posted on Doing Dewey

  20. 5 out of 5

    Anita

    Eileen Pollack single-handedly convinced me with her 2013 NYT article on women in science that women (and minorities) must be differentially supported in their ambitions because everyone is just a little bit sexist. Yep, both male and female scientists at Ivy League universities want to hire and pay men more, despite have identical resumes to women (as demonstrated by a randomized study). While there is much in this book that is deeply personal to the author - a bright, sore thumb kid from the B Eileen Pollack single-handedly convinced me with her 2013 NYT article on women in science that women (and minorities) must be differentially supported in their ambitions because everyone is just a little bit sexist. Yep, both male and female scientists at Ivy League universities want to hire and pay men more, despite have identical resumes to women (as demonstrated by a randomized study). While there is much in this book that is deeply personal to the author - a bright, sore thumb kid from the Borscht belt - that I couldn't always relate to, it's instructive to see how her experience shapes her learning trajectory at Yale and beyond. Her curiosity, in and out of the lab, led her to interact with the brightest minds in physics (Peter Parker) AND writing (John Hersey) at Yale. It has paid off as a memoir and critical compilation of evidence and experience in why we still need to encourage women (and minorities and LGBTQ) to pursue science

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bryan

    If you are a scientist, a teacher, a university student or a parent, you need to read this book. Eileen Pollack crystallises so many unspoken ideas, zeroing in on some deep set problems in how we teach ideas, differentiate between boys and girls, and train the next generation of scientists and engineers. This book is full of stories of tragedy and lost opportunity in physics and astronomy - an unflinching indictment on me and all my colleagues who love this field and who claim to want to pass tha If you are a scientist, a teacher, a university student or a parent, you need to read this book. Eileen Pollack crystallises so many unspoken ideas, zeroing in on some deep set problems in how we teach ideas, differentiate between boys and girls, and train the next generation of scientists and engineers. This book is full of stories of tragedy and lost opportunity in physics and astronomy - an unflinching indictment on me and all my colleagues who love this field and who claim to want to pass that excitement onto others. However, there is hope for the future, both in the small things we can all do to mentor and encourage, and in the deep societal changes needed to meet the challenges of the future.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Henrietta Farr

    This book was recommended to me by my mother who has seen my own constant doubts through the first year of my PhD. Certainly I would recommend it to women starting in research but also to researchers and supervisors of both genders. I slowed down halfway through the book as in some ways it was depressing me as I struggled through my confirmation, however, the last part of the book really addresses why talented female scientists are not managing to stay in their respective fields and this is cert This book was recommended to me by my mother who has seen my own constant doubts through the first year of my PhD. Certainly I would recommend it to women starting in research but also to researchers and supervisors of both genders. I slowed down halfway through the book as in some ways it was depressing me as I struggled through my confirmation, however, the last part of the book really addresses why talented female scientists are not managing to stay in their respective fields and this is certainly a well needed ongoing discussion.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    This book really made me think about my own experiences as a woman in science (resulting in probably the longest review I've ever written). The first two-thirds of the book is a memoir of the author's childhood and college experience as a girl who was gifted in math and science (as well as the humanities) and loved thinking about the big questions of the universe. She faces a lot of discouragement in her pre-college years, but ends up majoring in physics at Yale and becoming one of the first few This book really made me think about my own experiences as a woman in science (resulting in probably the longest review I've ever written). The first two-thirds of the book is a memoir of the author's childhood and college experience as a girl who was gifted in math and science (as well as the humanities) and loved thinking about the big questions of the universe. She faces a lot of discouragement in her pre-college years, but ends up majoring in physics at Yale and becoming one of the first few women to get a BS in physics there. I found this section interesting more in the contrast between our experiences, and what a big difference that can make. The last part of the book involved looking at how things have changed (and not changed) since the author's college years and why women are still so under-represented in the sciences. I thought this part was really interesting, and it gave me some ideas about how to help my own kids and other young people in my sphere of influence. I don't think it's a tragedy that some women who study science don't end up staying in the field IF that's what they want to do. I do think it's a tragedy when women who want to pursue a career in science find themselves leaving the field because of discouragement, discrimination, or obstacles like child-care. I am grateful for what I learned at Caltech not just in chemical engineering, but also in life lessons like problem solving, working really hard at things that seem impossible, collaborating with others to solve really difficult problems, and learning the fine art of "good enough." While I didn't work as an engineer for very long, those skills have served me well in all of the things I've done since then. This book made me think a lot about my own experiences and how I can help empower the next generation of scientists and engineers. Mostly, I am grateful for the differences between my experience and the author's. I know many people are not as fortunate as I have been. If you feel like reading on in my treatise, here were the main similarities and differences (mostly differences) in our experiences: 1. She is about 20 years older than me, so she truly was trailblazing in a lot of areas. While women were still under-represented in my generation, it was not nearly on the same scale as in hers. 2. While we both came from families that didn't have a science/math background, I think my parents were much more encouraging of my interests. 3. I was incredibly fortunate to have teachers who nurtured my interests and encouraged me to excel. I can think of only one teacher in my whole experience who seemed to have a disdain for girls in science (he was the junior high shop teacher), but we were equally dismissive of him. (That's another interesting side note. In my junior high all students (boys and girls) took both Home Ec and Shop). My Calculus teacher was a female graduate of Harvard and my Physics teacher encouraged me to apply to Caltech because he was enamored with the school and I was the first student he'd had who he thought could get in. I applied just to humor him, and ended up going there. The author's pre-college years were filled with teachers telling her that girls don't do science and steering her away from math and science classes. I was really lucky to not run into that at all. 4. I can't speak for other generations, but Caltech in the early 90's seemed like a much better environment for not just women, but for all students to succeed. I've read a few memoirs now from people who went to Harvard, Princeton, Yale, etc., and the environment sounds very different and much more cut-throat. Like the author, I found myself in way over my head from day one. Unlike the author, everyone around me seemed to feel the same way (boys included) and we all worked together. Caltech encourages a very collaborative environment, and it was expected that we would work through problem sets together. I never felt mocked for not knowing as much as some of the other students, and I don't remember the guys projecting a know-it-all image. A couple of things that helped a lot with this were the small number of students (only around 225 in my class) and the common curriculum. No matter what your major, everyone took the same core classes (math, physics, chemistry), so it wasn't hard to find people to work with. In our day, freshman year was also pass/fail, which also took a lot of pressure off on the grades as we made the transition. This also really helped with leveling the playing field for kids from vastly different high school backgrounds. 5. While the numbers were still small, there were a lot more women in my college generation than the author's. The male-female ratio in my class was 2:1, and there were a couple of female chemical engineering profs teaching core classes in the department. 6. Another major difference was temperament. I think the author really lacked confidence in herself, and that made her experience much more difficult. While I often felt way out of my league, I always thought I could do it with enough effort. I think some of this is just personality, but a lot is also because of the encouragement I had always received and the environment at Caltech. I remember during the first week, we were all explicitly told that we probably thought we didn't belong there and that the admissions committee had made a mistake, but that every one of us did indeed belong there and we could succeed. Also, I am a bit oblivious, and I'm betting that there was quite a bit of discrimination that I just simply didn't notice. I know my roommate had a very different take. 7. Unlike the author, I really never had a desire to pursue a graduate degree. I always intended to get my BS and get a job in the industry. Senior year in my major, students had the option of taking a lab class or doing a thesis. I planned to do the lab option from day 1. Through a fluke, though, I found myself needing a summer job after my junior year and asking one of my profs if I could work in his lab. After summer was over, he suggested I continue the work as my senior thesis, so I ended up doing that option after all. However, I loved my internships in industry, and I really disliked working in the college lab (it just wasn't very interesting to me), which confirmed to me that my original plan to not go to grad school was the right one for me. Unlike the author, I got unsolicited encouragement from my advisor. After writing my thesis, I was expected to present my results to his group of graduate students. I thought what I had done was really basic and kind of worthless, but after presenting to the group, my professor said that the results I had found were great and really useful for the overall work they were doing. That was very affirming for me. This may have just ended up being a big advertisement for Caltech. I don't know if my experience there was common or if the environment is still the same another 20 years on. After reading this book, I'm grateful I ended up there and for so many other things, too.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Wendi Lau

    The essence of the book can be summed up in two quotes: “…women don’t know how good they are at science or math because no one tells them.” (Pollack, 239) “We’re the women who don’t give a crap…” about “what people expect us to do. If you’re not going to take my science seriously because of how I look, that’s your problem.” (Four physics postdocs at Yale, Pollack, 226) According to Pollack, first-hand experience, a literature review, and research indicate even high-achieving women avoid or leave ST The essence of the book can be summed up in two quotes: “…women don’t know how good they are at science or math because no one tells them.” (Pollack, 239) “We’re the women who don’t give a crap…” about “what people expect us to do. If you’re not going to take my science seriously because of how I look, that’s your problem.” (Four physics postdocs at Yale, Pollack, 226) According to Pollack, first-hand experience, a literature review, and research indicate even high-achieving women avoid or leave STEM because of: • inadequate support, role models, extra tutoring, praise, or encouragement • professors were discouraging or didn’t offer praise • advisors and professors were more responsive to male students • professors and teachers didn’t scold students who teased girls in the class • girls didn’t want to look dumb and ask too many questions • girls worried about their image and datability Her searching honesty makes this otherwise frustrating book readable and I cannot discount her experiences. However, Pollack’s own example proves that STEM women are unapologetically different. The women who made it through STEM education had the attitude of the second quote. Takeaways for increasing the number of girls going into and staying in STEM – mine • Encourage questions and adequate wait time • Acknowledge the mental space between not knowing and understanding • Up the praise, especially for girls • Find ways to acknowledge small accomplishments (honestly, it sounds like babying girls, but if that’s what it takes…) • Emphasize the difficulty of the material (so they know it’s hard for everybody) • Colleges must stop accepting less qualified students to fill quotas and appear diverse. It is a disservice to women and minorities with lower scores and less math and science courses who compare themselves to more qualified students. They would flourish if matched to a college and student body with comparable academic backgrounds and scores. • Administrators, advisors, and counselors should clarify the academic rigor, time, commitment, workload, and fields of work upfront, at the beginning of the program, to increase the number of successful graduates and contributing, satisfied alumni. Takeaways – author’s • Single-sex education may be preferable to eliminate classroom bias or dating worries. • Girls taught to defend their position, interrupt, and sometimes be argumentative may fare better in mostly-male classes and fields

  25. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

    I rate this book as influential to my thinking as a woman as Quiet was to my acceptance of my introverted self. As the daughter of a PhD chemist and the mother of two scientist daughters I used to say the genes skipped my generation but now I see the many ways I was discouraged from pursuing any kind of hard science or mathematics. Ms. Pollock’s book is based on actual research, not just anecdotal discussion used to excuse the widespread lack of support and encouragement to continue high level m I rate this book as influential to my thinking as a woman as Quiet was to my acceptance of my introverted self. As the daughter of a PhD chemist and the mother of two scientist daughters I used to say the genes skipped my generation but now I see the many ways I was discouraged from pursuing any kind of hard science or mathematics. Ms. Pollock’s book is based on actual research, not just anecdotal discussion used to excuse the widespread lack of support and encouragement to continue high level mathematics and hard science of female students. In my day (1960s) at a good public school system in suburban New Jersey, physics and calculus were not available to me. Girls didn’t want to be known of as smart and beating a boy at anything labeled you un-feminine. Those were the times when the high school dress codes required skirts for girls and there was no sports except intramural for girls. It’s no wonder few girls bucked the system with very little upside.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Linnea Lamøy

    very good book enjoyed 9/10😁

  27. 5 out of 5

    Debbie

    The description for this book is a bit misleading. The first half is Pollack's memoir of her own experiences as a student from childhood in public school in a predominantly Jewish area through college at Yale as one of the few female physics majors. The second half of the book is more in line with what I had been expecting given the description, and includes anecdata from other women who Pollack had known or interviewed from her own generation and the later generation of female science majors an The description for this book is a bit misleading. The first half is Pollack's memoir of her own experiences as a student from childhood in public school in a predominantly Jewish area through college at Yale as one of the few female physics majors. The second half of the book is more in line with what I had been expecting given the description, and includes anecdata from other women who Pollack had known or interviewed from her own generation and the later generation of female science majors and scientists, as well as recaps of interviews with her former professors and teachers who we had met in the first half of the book. This is a deeply personal story for Pollack, but at the same time it is also deeply personal for every girl who thought she wasn't smart enough, or every woman who decided to drop out of a science major, or every student who didn't even try for a science degree in the first place. This book was deeply personal for me. Pollack's experiences are not every woman's or minority's experiences, but they are similar enough that many can relate. One of my criticisms of this book is Pollack's weakness in connecting women's experiences with the similar experiences of minorities and economically disadvantaged students. She does mention that several times, but it is definitely a message that can be strengthened. Towards the end of the book, Pollack noted that some students, even if they enter into college at the top of their high school graduating class, find themselves floundering and behind other students because they were not privileged enough for their schools to offer certain courses. I wish Pollack had highlighted that more because it's a problem that systemically places students from under-served, poorer schools at a disadvantage in college. I write this review the day after a 14-year-old Muslim boy with brown skin was detained by his school and arrested for bringing in a homemade clock to show off to his science teacher, which another teacher reported as a bomb. That is an extreme case of the educational culture discouraging a minority from entering a STEM field, but it highlights the challenges that some students face by virtue of their sex or ethnicity. Pollack's story is an important one, and both its strength and weakness is its reliance on anecdotes (what I referred to as "anecdata" earlier) from her own experiences and gleaned from interviews or missives with other women or minorities. She does mention the results of a few studies of bias against women in STEM, but the bulk of the book are anecdata rather than empirical controlled studies. The anecdata bring the problems to life in a way that pure numbers don't, yet at the same time anecdotes are easy for those in the sciences to discount because they are not data (hence why I have been referring to them as "anecdata"; because, well, it can be argued that the plural for anecdote is data). Given the larger conversation that has been on-going for the past few years of women in the sciences, and the blatant misogyny that I keep running up against from big names (Google "Richard Dawkins women"), The Only Woman in the Room is an important book, and very timely. Remember in June when Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine Tim Hunt said at a science conference in South Korea, "Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab: You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them they cry"? Or last November when European Space Agency Rosetta Project scientist Matt Taylor gave public interviews after the Philae space probe landed on a comet while wearing a shirt covered in nearly naked women? It is heartening, I guess, that all of these incidents have lead to huge public outcries and public apologies (in the case of Taylor) or firings (in the case of Hunt). A decade or two earlier, they would have been the status quo. I hope that Pollack's book inspires change in STEM education at all levels, and I hope that it also inspires women to pursue STEM educations and careers. Review copy courtesy of the publisher via Netgalley

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jen

    As many other reviewers here have pointed out, the title of this book is very misleading. It should instead be something to the effect of, "Why Elaine Pollack, despite being very smart and capable in Physics, did not go on to become a Physicist despite high academic achievement, mostly because she needed more reassurance and encouragement from her professors, which she did not get." Granted, this lack of reassurance is perhaps a factor in why women in general tend to not go on to careers in STEM As many other reviewers here have pointed out, the title of this book is very misleading. It should instead be something to the effect of, "Why Elaine Pollack, despite being very smart and capable in Physics, did not go on to become a Physicist despite high academic achievement, mostly because she needed more reassurance and encouragement from her professors, which she did not get." Granted, this lack of reassurance is perhaps a factor in why women in general tend to not go on to careers in STEM, but this book is not an examination of why that is. Do not expect analysis of scientific studies here. Instead, expect a personal story (essentially a memoir, albeit a bitter and humblebrag-laden one) that largely seems to be driven by the writer's need to process through some hurts from her past that she hasn't been able to let go of. Despite shifting to a (presumably successful) career in science writing, she seems haunted by the fact that she didn't go on to become a theoretical physicist, and she clearly feels that had her professors explicitly called out her above average talent and capability, that might have happened. So this book feels a lot more about why her own experience vs. the experience of all women. Did she deal with discrimination and a challenging environment in her physics program at Yale? Yes. So many do, though. This was not the experience of all women, this was the experience of Eileen Pollack. She finally does look outside of her own experience in the last couple of chapters, but she doesn't seem to have the heart to really dig in. She actually tells us that while interviewing some bright high school students planning to go on in physics that are attending her hometown school in Liberty, New York that she is so distracted she doesn't even remember their names. Instead, she focuses on the fact that they are blonde and pretty and seem confident, which makes her resent them. WTF? Aren't you perpetuating the same anti-women issues you are trying to rail against by discounting and ignoring these bright young women? Another disappointing part of the chapters where she's minimally examining other research is that the one piece of writing that she does spend quite a bit of time dissecting is one of her own pieces that she wrote for the New York Times. My guess is that this piece was the seed of the idea for this book. So after finally looking up from her college diary, for many many pages, what she cites most heavily are not actual studies done by researchers looking into the challenges facing women in STEM. No. Instead she spends pages and pages walking through specific comments people made on her NYT article, treating each one as if it represents a vast ocean of hard data from which to extrapolate everyone's experience. This got very tiresome. Since I am not in the sciences, perhaps I'm missing something essential, but I would not recommend this book.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Brandi

    Eileen Pollack's "The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science Is Still a Boys' Club" is interesting enough, but for the most part, is not quite what I thought it would be. The first part of the book is more biographical than anything. Whereas it was rather interesting, it was not quite what I was expecting. Eventually the author did start exploring theories about why more women were not entering STEM fields, and that part was more interesting, but the explorations of these theories were not quite as Eileen Pollack's "The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science Is Still a Boys' Club" is interesting enough, but for the most part, is not quite what I thought it would be. The first part of the book is more biographical than anything. Whereas it was rather interesting, it was not quite what I was expecting. Eventually the author did start exploring theories about why more women were not entering STEM fields, and that part was more interesting, but the explorations of these theories were not quite as in-depth as I would have liked them to be. During my undergraduate studies, I noticed that as the classes became more advanced, the number of female students decreased. Even many female students who had excelled in previous studies seemed to discontinue their studies and change majors, whereas many males who performed more poorly did continue in their fields. I'd really liked for the author to touch on possible reasons this may be happening. Overall, an informative read, just not quite what I was hoping for. Overall, I would rate this book 4.3. My copy was won from the Goodreads.com website and I appreciate the opportunity to read and review this book.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Colleen

    A fantastic book that should be required reading for female undergraduates. This book resonated with me in so many ways--I began college as a math major, struggled in a class I did not have the background for, and switched to a safe course load in English and history. I love my career, but this book made me wonder what would have happened if I had stayed in the sciences. Half memoir and half investigative reporting, Pollack raises questions I've been afraid to ask myself for years. This book is A fantastic book that should be required reading for female undergraduates. This book resonated with me in so many ways--I began college as a math major, struggled in a class I did not have the background for, and switched to a safe course load in English and history. I love my career, but this book made me wonder what would have happened if I had stayed in the sciences. Half memoir and half investigative reporting, Pollack raises questions I've been afraid to ask myself for years. This book is going to stick with me for awhile. Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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