Women “fall in love” and “cry” when criticized in laboratory: A light hearted comment on Women in Sciences

Published on 12 Jun 2015 . 4 min read

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Tim Hunt he Nobel-winning scientist expressed his trouble while working with girls in a laboratory in a room full of high-ranking scientists and science journalists at a global conference in South Korea. He told “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.” He added that women in lab bring an emotional entanglement with a male scientist and that is disruptive for science. This was an unwelcome comment, although he later accepted his mistake and mentioned that the comment was to be taken light heartedly. In this age of social media soon strong reaction by women and men in Sciences (they better do) started trending. In most countries, being a scientist is highly prestigious position, it is a position of knowledge and power, and historically it was considered “Holy Grail” for men. Women who have tried to break it have faced strong discrimination in the past and the sticky comment from a senior scientist in 2015 shows that the humiliation still continues. Back home our own Nobel laureate C V Raman refused to take Kamala Sohonie a 1933 undergraduate topper from Mumbai University, because she was a woman, she later joined Indian Institute of Sciences but not as a regular student. A book called Lilavati’s daughters – the Women Scientists of India captures the intricacies of being women scientists in India. At present, Indian women are entering in larger numbers in scientific research but a casual negligence towards women is clearly visible. Many popular laboratories and their heads don’t prefer women cadets in their labs due to reasons: women cannot work till late night (because roads in India are really unsafe), male scientists (read drones) would get distracted while working with a woman because they are not habituated of seeing a girl as an equal, and supervisors find it hard to deal with girls and their sensitivity because they don’t know how to do that.  They don’t have the time to learn that empathy.  A male supervisor is quick in judgment that a female PhD student if sits quietly in a group meeting means she does not understand anything. He is short sighted to understand that girls are conditioned to be quieter and a group full of only men must be daunting for her too. She needs to be encouraged to talk. Women being fewer in number in Sciences are conveniently concluded by male faculties that they are not worth being in Sciences. The few who are there are not because of their Scientific aptitude but her being woman is more to do with it. Unfortunately even brains who receive Nobel prizes are not able to see the piles of prejudices lying under their nose against a woman in science. Or more suitably they don’t want to understand that. Scientific research often becomes a power game and a man prefers to have another man in the battle field of scientific research. The knowledge sharing, training, team spirit, fair play takes back seat and it becomes a hierarchical field to work in.

It is still a long way to go for women and only way to reach an optimum for women are to avoid leaving sciences once started. Things are improving for sure in spite of such occasional bursts of sexism. The positive factors thriving in this scenario ensures women lobby in Sciences have gone stronger year by year, thanks to social platforms where female scientists can voice out their feelings without requiring approval from their (male) bosses. The news of resignation of Tim Hunt certainly bears the seed of positivity and assurance that a woman in science is not going to listen to false acquisitions anymore however light hearted that is. 

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Chandrima Pal
Chandrima is a scientific researcher turned Science writer. She has experienced working in academics and corporate world with science as her major interest. She has observed her career twisting and turning at different domains and through relocating in different countries and cities. She has also tried into various models of working, part time, full time, remote, office based and lab based

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