by Helena Witzke
Megan Grunert, WMU assistant professor of chemistry and Mallinson Institute for Science Education faculty member, has published a paper in Science Education International on women’s career choices and gender issues in chemistry.
Grunert focuses on pressures faced by female graduate students considering professions in chemistry. Many academic research institutions traditionally have low numbers of women in their chemistry departments. Noting the little research done in this arena, Grunert studied how traditional gender roles and work cultures influence women’s career decisions.
“This work is an important first step in understanding the persistent shortage of women choosing to pursue academic chemistry research careers,” she says.
Grunert exposes several hurdles women scientists face in the chemistry field. She cites several responses from the study indicating participants’ expectations of being the primary caretaker in their families, and their struggles in maintaining a scientific career while balancing more traditional female gender roles.
This creates a dilemma for research institutions trying to create a strong, diverse faculty: recruiting women in the chemistry field remains difficult, due to their perceived or desired obligations not only to their career but their families. Her research also discusses the consistent pressure to avoid traditional feminine behaviors in scientific research settings, thereby creating an environment that does not support the lifestyles and goals of its subjects.
While some institutions are making moves to become more family-friendly to their faculty, Grunert argues that this support is not adequately shared with graduate students, and many still feel they have to delay, or ultimately sacrifice, having a family for the sake of their careers.
Grunert recently was awarded the Stanley Kirschner Award from the Michigan College Chemistry Teachers Association. She won the award for her presentation “Re-setting: How the Pedagogical Ecology of Academia Influences the Development of Women’s Self-Efficacy Beliefs in Chemistry,” which was voted the best presentation of the meeting.
Grunert joined the WMU faculty in 2011, after earning her doctorate in chemistry from Purdue University.