Interview with: Theresa Myra, Acting Director – Science Co-operative Education
We spoke with Theresa about females within the science co-op program at Dalhousie University, how females compare to the males within the program, and most importantly the changes she has witnessed throughout the years.Q: There used to be this large stigma (that to some degree still exists) that females enter the humanities and have careers with a nurturing focus such as nurses, etc., while it is the males who enter the math, science and engineering fields, do you find this still to be the case at Dalhousie from what you’ve seen with your work in the co-op office?A: Oh, I think it’s definitely changing. The majority of co-op students in our programs are female. For the fall term – 98% of females going out on Science co-ops are females. I can honestly say in the last while, this has been the case. This summer (2012) of those currently on co-op is over 95% female. I’ve been here [Dalhousie] for 7 years, and I’ve noticed a trend with females in the sciences. Physics and atmospheric science still tend to be males, but I’ve noticed in a lot of the other disciplines: biology, chemistry, economics, statistics, the full list on our website, no question over 90% of our co-op students are females. I can confidently say that.Q: The science co-op program at Dalhousie is optional; do you think that could be a contributing factor to why the number of females in the program is so high?A: You’re right, it is optional, but females and women are keen, we’re taking over the world! It’s interesting, females are always thinking ahead of males. I’ll give you an example to back up what I’m saying: a student, who was male, came in one day wanting to do co-op. He was in his third year and at that point it was too late. You need to declare a co-op by the end of first year otherwise it becomes too late in the process to add it in. So females are always thinking ahead. In many ways they’re smarter. Females, I noticed, in my general observations are more mature. When we go to schools to talk about co-op, the females are always more keen. Both male and females students understand that co-op will help you in the future, but the overall rating in general of students in this program – well over 90% are female.Q: Why do you think the co-op program seems to attract more female students than males?
A: I think males can be very stubborn, maybe they don’t think they need help, maybe they’re not looking ahead, or maybe they’re not thinking ahead at that time. They don’t know how to connect the economics and see the bigger picture of how the co-op program will help you in the future. We hear a lot of students regretting not joining the co-op. Students at the end of first year are really just not thinking ahead, they just want to be done. The purpose of university is two-fold, you go to learn and then you go to learn what your passion is, and that’s where co-op lies – it lets you experience and open your eyes to that. A lot of them aren’t looking ahead past four years and they should be; things are getting more competitive. You can’t just be smart these days, you have to be technical; you have to be able to communicate and be well-rounded. We still have a long way to go with women in engineering, but it’s happening!
Q: Are the females who are interested in science co-op at Dalhousie, are they able to keep up/compete with the males or do you find they struggle academically?
A: Oh my god, for sure. In some places, they excel. Females can definitely compete if not do better. These female students are keen. To be considered for the science co-op program at Dalhousie in the first place you must have a 3.0 GPA requirement or higher.
Q: Is there an area within the science fields a Dalhousie where you see fewer females? More?
A: Physics and atmospheric science – are still both primarily male, but the rest seem to have a good mixture. Outside of science, numbers are still dominating for males within engineering, but it has still come a long way.
Q: Have / do you notice any discrimination (directly or indirectly) when it comes to hiring co-op students? For example male students are receiving jobs before females, or the male students are receiving the higher ranked student jobs or the more well-paid jobs?
A: Not necessarily, especially with this program in particular, the majority are female. There are a lot of females, not males. There has actually been a lot of research done surrounding this and we do still have a long way to go, because the senior researchers are mostly males. We are hearing a lot that these males though are the ones who are hiring and want to hire the females. Male employers have said that they like to hire females because they pay more attention to detail and are more focused, and in science and research that is very important. A lot of times males won’t ask questions because they think they’re going to look stupid, but females always ask I find when they don’t know. Employers are looking for the best students, regardless of sex, I find at least now.
Q: Focusing on the science/math faculty, is there more science/math male faculty/co-op advisors than female and why? (Because of family obligations, etc.)
A: Co-op advisors in the department are mostly male. Which is interesting, 7/11 are male. Co-op advisors are faculty and/or instructors who have both the time and interest to be a co-op advisor, they want to do it, and they have the time to take on extra role. The females, within our office 3 out of 4 of them do not have kids.
Q: Do you think women in science is evolving? Has there been a big jump in science / math / engineering in the last decade?
A: Out of the last 4 years of 7 that I have been here, I have been seeing so many females, it leads me to wonder where are the males! Programs such as Techsploriation have helped a lot. I do a lot of outreach in schools as part of my job, and for a lot of males being in the classroom with the females is the only exposure they get sometimes to our program. I’ve done some research around this before and women tend to go and get a second degree more than men, so yeah, it has definitely changed. Now that women are getting educations, a lot of us are promoting lifelong learning and the importance of thinking ahead. Most women are going back for a second degree and doing further education more-so than their male counterparts.