Here in Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh, 50% of our named chairs are female, as are 36% of our professoriate (well above the UK average).

But… our mid-career female academics keep being poached to prestigious chairs around the world. And when we try to recruit new younger academics, we’re still not getting the female applicants pushing themselves forward from universities across the UK and abroad.

When half our undergraduates are female, and getting better grades than the men, why can we not convince them that a career in science is stimulating, rewarding, can be flexible, and is even sometimes well paid?


action points for academia

  • Monitor our numbers
  • Mentor our people and make sure the best are applying
  • Create a workplace that supports everyone and allows flexibility
  • Reclaim the meaning of feminism


  1. Rachel Evans
    August 9, 2013

    There appears to be a mindset that “science” only happens in Academia. What is happening in thousands of R&D laboratories in industry? Maybe the women are moving there because there is less discrimination in an environment where the bottom line is profit not number of papers and citations.

  2. Laban
    August 13, 2013

    Didn’t a Harvard chap called Larry Summers make a speech a few years back addressing this very issue, for which he became an Unperson ?

    As the father of a daughter about to embark on A-level Physics, Chemistry, Maths and Biology, I don’t want to see her discriminated against, but I beseech you also to consider the possibility that we are not all Blank Slates waiting to be written on by our prevailing culture.

    We now have more than 50% female representation in medical school. We’re also running out of surgeons. Back in the bad old days when 90% of medics were male, a sufficient percentage of them were drawn to surgery to keep numbers up. The percentage of women drawn to surgery seems to be smaller. It maybe those evil sexists, or it may be that being a sawbones doesn’t appeal to women compared with being, say, a GP. Maybe there are differences between male and female which are not culturally determined.


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and why we care

Prof. Polly Arnold

Polly is the Crum Brown Chair of Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh, and the executive producer of A Chemical Imbalance.

The Filmmakers

This is the first collaboration between filmmakers Siri Rødnes and Marie Lidén, both of whom are Edinburgh College of Art alumni.

The Author

Cameron Conant is an American writer and journalist with a master’s degree in Creative Writing from the University of Edinburgh.