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Searching information about this subject often leads to personal stories from women making the choice to live childfree and women stating they either always wanted to have children or experienced a sudden 'baby fever'. Often this baby fever is understood to be a biological urge.
In this article a link between hormones and the need for own offspring is made a couple of times, but also contradicted.
In the context of evolutionary adaptedness, all women were exposed to babies and infants, and the 'default' setting for the female body is to have experienced both nurturing and pregnancies by the early twenties. Rotkirch therefore suggests that longing for a baby develops out of hormonal changes evolved to prepare women for motherhood. These might be triggered by falling in love; the 'nesting' behaviour associated with settling down; exposure to infants or the aging process. Conversely, however, Kravdal has found evidence in Norway of a demographically significant cohort for whom reproduction and finding a long-term partner and 'settling' down' are quite exclusive (Kravdal 1997).
In the same article, the effects of hormones on human intercourse and attractiveness between men and women is briefly explained. However, to me it seems that the urge to have sex is something different from the urge to have babies or to become a parent. I would like to know if there are hormones or other biological changes in women that cause something like 'baby fever' or if it is rather more of a more psychological or social environment phenomenon.
Other relevant articles are often not accessible to me or prove too difficult to understand with basic biology knowledge.
The biological urge to find a mate means that an innate desire for children is unnecessary. Having sex with a partner pretty much guaranteed children before contraception was available.
It's hard to imagine why an urge to have children would exist, but that's not the same as saying it doesn't -- but I also can't imagine how you'd be able to pull apart biological vs social pressures in such a complex and core part of being human.
Gender Identity is Biological, Study Says
As many as one in 100 people could have a gender identity disorder.
OITNB's Laverne Cox on Transgender Movement: 'I'm Not Alone Anymore'
-- There is growing body of evidence that gender identity is hard wired into the brain and not simply a matter of psychology, according to a new Boston University School of Medicine study.
Writing in the journal Endocrine Practice, the researchers said that as many as one in 100 people could be living with some form of gender identity disorder -- meaning they may identify their gender differently than the one they were born with.
For example, actress Laverne Cox was born a man but identifies as a woman.
This makes the case for doctors to use surgery and hormone treatment rather than psychotherapy alone to help their patients come to terms with their gender identity, Dr. Joshua Safer, the lead researcher and a professor at BUSM, said.
“The paper was a comprehensive review of the scientific evidence that gender identity is a biological phenomenon," Safer explained. "As such it provides one of the most convincing arguments to date for all medical providers to gain the transgender medicine skills necessary to provide good care for these individuals," he added.
Nearly 40 percent of medical students they surveyed said they were uncomfortable caring for transgendered patients, and 5 percent of medical students said that the treatment was not part of conventional medicine. After teaching a course that raised the medical student’s awareness about transgender medical need, the students discomfort dropped by 67 percent.
Safer and the other authors of the study said they hope to change the perception of transgendered people within the healthcare system so that they get better treatment. But because the study was small, it does have limitations, the researchers said, and there should be additional investigation to focus on the specific biologic mechanisms for gender identity.
Proper nutrition is a vital factor in a child’s overall development. Prior to birth, a mother’s diet and health play a key role. For example, folic acid intake of 400 micrograms (mcg) daily for three months prior to conception and during early pregnancy significantly decreases the risk of certain birth defects of a baby’s brain (anencephaly) and spine (spina bifida).
These birth defects occur in the first few weeks of pregnancy, which is why it is important for women in their childbearing years to ensure they are getting at least 400 micrograms of folic acid daily. Waiting until a woman finds out she is pregnant can be too late.
Why Some Women Don't Want Kids, Childless by Choice
A relatively small number of women feel no desire to have children—but why? Danielle Friedman on how a lack of maternal instinct can be seen in some girls as young as 6.
As baby fever swept her friends, and bumps and booties became staples of their conversations, Kristen Bossert stayed cool and distant. She felt a burning desire to pursue graphic design, to marry her high school sweetheart. But kids? Meh.
In her early 20s, she told her then-boyfriend plainly that she had no interest in being a mom. As a little girl, she’d never played with dolls, preferring to paint instead. She liked kids, but couldn’t imagine herself birthing one. She valued the freedom to spontaneously travel the world or sleep in on Saturdays, to hone her skills as an artist. Twenty-three years later, the happily married couple has no regrets about their family of two.
“It’s the best decision we ever made,” says the New Jersey native.
Since the dawn of birth control, more women have opted against having kids. Nearly one-in-five American women now ends her childbearing years without giving birth, up from one-in-10 in the 1970s, according to a recent Pew study. The percentage has risen for all racial and ethnic groups.
The top reason women give for not wanting kids is simply loving their life as it is, says Laura Scott, author of Two Is Enough: A Couple's Guide to Living Childless by Choice. From 2004 to 2006, Scott conducted a survey of 121 self-selected childfree women. Other leading reasons included valuing freedom and independence and not wanting to take on the responsibility. And 74 percent said they “had no desire to have a child, no maternal/paternal instinct.”
This growing community—which refers to itself as “childfree” (emphasis free) or “childless by choice” (emphasis choice)—raises a compelling question for women on both sides of the maternal divide: Why do some feel a seemingly innate, almost primal desire to procreate, while others don’t?
While we know that 1.9 million American women ages 40 to 44 were childless in 2008, it’s tough to quantify the number of childfree, Scott points out, since most studies don’t distinguish between being childless by choice and by circumstance. But in a recent study, Kristin Park, a sociologist at Westminster College, found that childfree women (and men) are more educated, more likely to work in professional occupations, more likely to live in urban areas, less religious, and less conventional.
Surprisingly, given how fundamental the question might seem to the perpetuation of the human species, the reasons for why some women want children and others don't remain fuzzy. Few scientists have actually studied women’s so-called biological drive to reproduce, so no universal explanation has emerged in the literature. Some attribute it to basic genetic variety some women are into kids, some aren’t. But with relatively few women falling into the “aren’t” category, the question of why these few women aren’t interested in kids becomes even more interesting. The only consistent biological theory is that women with no desire to parent either have a high testosterone level or were exposed to above-average testosterone in the womb.
Many scientists believe the seemingly biological drive some women feel isn’t triggered by biology, so much as culture—combined with a fertility deadline. Not only is having children more socially acceptable, says evolutionary biologist David Barash, author of Strange Bedfellows: The Surprising Connection Between Sex, Evolution and Monogamy, but for many, as a life goal, it represents a source of happiness and belonging in the same way that attending college or pursuing a career might. Evolution has bestowed upon women a desire for sex and the equipment to have a baby from here, free will steps in.
“I imagined a ticking time bomb set for some random day in my 35th year,” Laura Scott wrote in her book, “an incendiary mix of hormones and longing that would explode my being and rewire my brain.” That day never came.
One of the more intriguing notions is that, for many of these women, the lack of interest in children appears to have been in place well before their 30s—in some cases, before they could have even fully grasped the concept of parenthood.
Take Elizabeth Mannering, now 48. At 6 years old, she was already showing a lack of desire for all things infant. She felt no draw to babies or younger kids, and confesses even feeling a little repulsed by them. And she shunned dolls, “except for Barbie,” she says, “who had a glamorous life with fabulous clothes, a cute boyfriend, and no kids.”
“Over the years, people dismissed me. They would look at me knowingly—often condescendingly—and tell me I would change my mind,” she says. “People who barely knew me (mainly men) would say Iɽ make a wonderful mother.”
For these “early articulators,” not having kids hardly feels like a choice at all. Instead, it’s a defining—unchangeable—part of their identity. Many early articulators are so sure of their decision, they seek sterilization in their 20s, yet report experiencing pushback from physicians who fear they’ll regret their choice. “Fortunately birth control pills worked well for me and my age has finally convinced the medical establishment that I will not, in fact, change my mind,” Mannering wrote of her attempt at sterilization, which began at age 18.
Despite their growing visibility, such women still report feeling stigmatized. Bossert says she often doesn’t tell people about her childfree status until she gets to know them. Insensitive friends will suggest that their choice is a sign of immaturity, even selfishness—to which the childfree often point out the myriad problems with conceiving a child they don’t want.
“Being a parent is as much of a choice as being childfree,” says Alicia Marsh-Evans, 30, a childless-by-choice seminary student in Texas. “There shouldn’t be a default.”
To offer support and like-minded companionship, a thriving subculture of websites, forums, and meet-up groups has emerged. On TheChildfreeLife.com, discussion topics include childfree issues at work and “non-children” (i.e., pets), among others. The social group No Kidding boasts dozens of chapters in the U.S. and abroad. While most espouse a “live and let live” mentality, some groups take a more in-your-face approach to living childfree—a message perhaps best illustrated on this T-shirt, emblazoned with “ Why would I want kids? I’m ENJOYING my life.”
Among the many questions parents ask the childfree, a common one is: “But who will take care of you when you’re old?” Some cheekily respond that there’s no guarantee that kids will fill that role. Or that they’ll have saved plenty of money (that they didn’t spend on, say, diapers and private school) to pay for a caregiver. Several half-jokingly suggest that they’ll move to a compound in Mexico with all of their childfree friends.
But perhaps L.T. Ciaccio, a childfree lawyer in Manhattan, sums up her comrades’ ethos best: “I’d rather live the life I want to for 70 years than sacrifice that time just to hedge my bets at the end.”
Danielle Friedman is a homepage editor and reporter for The Daily Beast. Previously, she spent five years working as a nonfiction book editor for Hudson Street Press and Plume, two imprints of Penguin Group. She is a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
The girl with three biological parents
Alana Saarinen loves playing golf and the piano, listening to music and hanging out with friends. In those respects, she's like many teenagers around the world. Except she's not, because every cell in Alana's body isn't like mine and yours - Alana is one of a few people in the world who have DNA from three people.
"A lot of people say I have facial features from my mum, my eyes look like my dad… I have some traits from them and my personality is the same too," says Alana.
"I also have DNA from a third lady. But I wouldn't consider her a third parent, I just have some of her mitochondria."
Mitochondria are often called the cell's factories. They are the bits that create the energy all of our cells need to work, and keep the body functioning. But they also contain a little bit of DNA.
Alana Saarinen is one of only 30 to 50 people in the world who have some mitochondria, and therefore a bit of DNA, from a third person. She was conceived through a pioneering infertility treatment in the USA which was later banned.
But soon there could be more people like Alana, with three genetic parents, because the UK is looking to legalise a new, similar technique which would use a donor's mitochondria to try to eliminate debilitating genetic diseases. It is called mitochondrial replacement and if Parliament votes to let this happen, the UK would become the only country in the world to allow children with three people's DNA to be born.
The Science of Fatherhood
The female biological clock&mdashits tick-tock marking the decline of fertility that grows louder as a woman reaches middle age&mdashis deeply ingrained in popular consciousness. Take this scene from the film Bridget Jones's Diary: Bridget's Uncle Geoffrey reminds her that as a career girl she "can't put it off forever," alluding to her declining fertility. His wife Una chimes in: "tick-tock, tick-tock," her finger wagging like a metronome.
The biological clock, although just a metaphor, refers to a real phenomenon: Women over 35 years of age are only half as likely to become pregnant in the most fertile part of their menstrual cycle than women younger than 26.
So do men suffer from the same thing?
"For women, a biological clock is a decline in fertility and an increased chance of having genetically abnormal babies as they age," says Harry Fisch, director of New York City's Male Reproductive Center and author of The Male Biological Clock: The Startling News About Aging, Sexuality, and Fertility in Men. "And that's exactly what's happening with men."
So how did Indian farmer Nanu Ram Jogi sire a healthy child at the age of 90 last year? Such a feat would be impossible for a woman, even in an age when Carmela Bousada, 67, gave birth to twins in January 2007 after lying about her age to the doctors who gave her in vitro fertilization. Whereas fertility declines along with testosterone levels as men age, it doesn't drop to zero.
Still, Jogi is definitely the exception rather than the rule. One study found that the odds of fatherhood for those under the age of 30 was 32.1 percent compared with 20 percent over the age of 50, signifying a 38 percent drop in male fertility across that age gap.
One study examined 97 men between the ages of 22 and 80 and found that as they aged their semen volume decreased by 0.001 ounce (0.03 milliliter) per year from an average total of 0.09 ounce (2.7 milliliters) and their "total progressively motile sperm count"&mdasha rough index for the fertility potential of one's sperm based on its movement&mdashdecreased about five percent with each year they aged.
Fisch and his colleagues have also found that the children of women over 35 whose babies' fathers were also of that age were more likely to have Down's syndrome than offspring whose fathers were younger.
In other studies, older men were more likely to father children with mental illness or other deficits. Roughly 11 children out of a thousand conceived by men over age 50 developed schizophrenia compared with under three children out of a thousand for fathers under 20 in one study from the Archives of General Psychiatry. And the children of men 40 years or older were nearly six times more likely to have autism spectrum disorders than kids begot by men under 30.
So do men's sperm get staler over time? To maintain sperm levels, cells known as germ cells must continue dividing. After all, men find ways to dispose of sperm&mdashahem&mdashand once ejaculated they only survive for several days. By the age of 50, these germ cells will have divided 840 times. Each one of those divisions is an opportunity for something to go wrong. "There's more of a chance to have genetic abnormalities the more the cells divide," Fisch says. In sperm these mutations dot the genes with changes in the basic structure of the DNA&mdashand can lead to problems in the resulting offspring.
Bioengineer Narendra Singh of the University of Washington in Seattle and his colleagues compared the sperm of men of different ages. Sure enough, sperm in men older than 35 had more DNA damage than that from younger men. And although unhealthy sperm are supposed to commit cell suicide, some of the sperm they looked at had lost that ability to "take one for the team"&mdashmeaning they'd be around to fertilize an egg. "This may lead to offspring with defective DNA, which may translate to mental and physical defects," Singh says.
Can men prevent this damage? No, but they may be able to mitigate it. There are factors within men's control that can accelerate adverse effects: alcohol, smoking, drugs and environmental pollution&mdasheven coffee consumption. So avoid them, says Singh.
Still, even after correcting for various lifestyle factors, the DNA of sperm are increasingly damaged with advancing age.
"The question is, can we reverse the [male] biological clock?" asks Fisch, who is studying various ways to keep sperm healthy.
Perhaps Bridget Jones's Uncle Geoffrey and Aunt Una should have chastised her love interest, Mark Darcy, too, for procrastinating procreation. That "tick-tock, tick-tock," it would seem, applies to both sexes.
The Myth Of Biological Sex
Today, the Supreme Court ruled that federal anti-discrimination laws protect gay and transgender employees. The 6-3 majority wrote that LGBTQ employees are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination because of sex. The dissenting opinion claimed that Title VII protected only those who were discriminated because they were biologically male or female.
Many who oppose transgender rights believe that gender is determined solely by biological sex. But, biological sex isn’t as straightforward as they likely think, and there is no one parameter that makes a person biologically male or female. In fact, many conditions make assigning a biological sex quite difficult.
Despite the complexities, biological sex is often discussed as if it were obvious how to assign male or female sex. In addition to today’s Supreme Court ruling, last Friday, Trump eliminated transgender individuals’ civil rights in health care and Roger Severino, the Director of the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services said of the bill that “We're going back to the plain meaning of those terms [male and female], which is based on biological sex.” Earlier this month, Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling, was labeled anti-trans for making a distinction between biological women and transgender women. And, in April, Idaho became the first state to require that athletes competing in girls’ and women’s sports be biologically female. None explained exactly how they would assign biological sex in ambiguous cases.
Rowlings comments were in response to an article which referred to, “the menstrual health and hygiene needs of girls, women and all people who menstruate.” She tweeted , “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?’ After facing criticism for suggesting that transgender women were not women, Rowling followed up, “If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased.”
The biology of sex is real, but it’s extremely complicated, and there is sometimes no easy way to draw a line between the biologically male and female. According to the BBC documentary, Me, My Sex and I, “There are about a dozen different conditions that blur the line between male and female. They’re known as disorders of sexual development or DSDs…. Altogether, DSDs occur as frequently as twins or red hair.”
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Most think chromosomes hold the key to biological sex, but that’s not always the case. Typically, those with two X chromosomes are considered biologically female and those with one X and one Y chromosome are considered biologically male. However, a DSD known as Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS) leads some to have an X and Y chromosome, but physically appear to be girls. Without genetic testing, babies with AIS are often assigned female sex at birth and are raised as girls. They may not realize they are not biologically female until they hit puberty and don’t begin to menstruate.
The presence or lack of a penis is often thought of as another clear indicator of biological sex, but that’s not a decisive way to divide the sexes either. Some individuals are born with ambiguous genitalia and are not clearly male or female in genital appearance at birth. In fact, research indicates that about 2% of the population is born with these ambiguous traits. Those born with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), for example, are chromosomally female but may have very masculinized genitalia. Despite the ambiguity, biological sex is often assigned to these individuals within a few days of birth.
Clinical psychogist, Tiger Devore, an outspoken advocate for individuals with DSDs who was born with ambiguous genitalia, describes the process that occurs at the birth of a child with ambiguous genitals, “People create radio silence and they wait for the doctors to come up with some kind of decision about this. The doctors are looking at their chromosomes, their gonads, how their tissues respond to various kinds of hormonal influences and seeing what they think will happen if they try to give this kid a male assignment or female assignment, and that can be a messy process.”
When genitalia is ambiguous, doctors try to determine biological sex by examining many indicators. In addition to chromosomes, doctors will examine if the baby has ovaries or testes, and whether or not they have a womb. Doctors also look at the hormones being produced and try to guess how the baby’s genitals will develop. To complicate the process, the results from each of these tests may not be clearly male or female but could fall somewhere in between. A baby may have a womb and may also have testicles inside their body. Rather than take a “wait and see” approach, doctors often still feel compelled to choose one sex for the baby.
In Devore’s case, in order to conform to society’s norms for how biological males appear, doctors recommended to his parents that he undergo surgery to appear more male. His first surgery was at three months of age. He’s had fifteen more surgeries since then, ten of which were conducted before he turned ten years old.
In elite athletics, testosterone is sometimes seen as the key to identifying who is permitted to participate as female. South-African runner Caster Semenya was assigned female at birth, raised as a girl and identifies as a woman. But Semenya has a DSD, and as a result, has XY chromosomes and very high testosterone levels. In 2019, new rules were instituted to keep women like Semenya from participating in certain events unless they take medication to lower their testosterone levels. Studies of testosterone levels in elite athletes show overlap between men and women, so it’s tough to use testosterone as criteria for who is biologically male and who is biologically female.
As for the Idaho law which prohibits transgender girls and women from competing in sports Representative Barbara Ehardt, the sponsor of the bill told the New York Times that DNA tests to determine chromosomes would be the first step. “If there are questions beyond that, there are hormone, urine and blood tests that are much more common.” When asked about intersex athletes, Ehardt said, “If there was a situation such as that, that person’s doctor would no doubt already be familiar and already be in a position to solve.” It seems biological sex would once again be left to the subjective decision of a doctor.
One of the reasons most of us are unaware of the ambiguity surrounding biological sex is that genitalia is something we don’t talk about openly. Clinical Psychologist, Aileen Schast, counseled parents who had given birth to children with DSDs and explained in a documentary how difficult it was for parents of a newborn whose sex was not clearly defined. “That early feeling of shame starts to develop. ‘This is something I can’t talk about. It has to do with genitalia, and we don’t talk about that. So, I can’t tell my sister and I can’t tell my friends at work,’” she described. Since few discuss these conditions, many don’t realize that they exist.
“What’s amazed me the most is that there is such a continuum from the male to the female, and it’s really hard to draw a line somewhere neatly in the middle,” Schast added. Biological sex, it turns out, is a lot like gender identity—not always male or female, but occasionally somewhere in between.
Studies Supporting The Biological Approach on Gender Differences
- Waber (1976)
Found that late maturing boys were better at verbal ability than boys who were early developers - suggesting that boys who had less male sex hormones were better (and so more likely to be encouraged to hone their) social skills - associated with female behaviour.
- Hampson and Kimura (1988)
Women were tested at different times of the month. At the times when their oestrogen and progesterone (female sex hormones) were highest, they performed best at fine motor skills but worst in their visual-spatial tasks compared to other times when the levels of these hormones were lower.
- Van Goozen et al. (1995)
Found that transsexuals who underwent 3 months of hormone therapy adopted increased intelligence in the areas that the sex hormones were associated with: female hormone takers gained skills in verbal fluency and became worse at visual-spatial skills and less aggressive. Those that took the male hormones showed the opposite.
- Galligani et al. (1996)
Found that athletes who had taken steroids (increasing levels of testosterone) were more aggressive (a male quality) than those that hadn&apost.
Boys' And Girls' Brains Are Different: Gender Differences In Language Appear Biological
Although researchers have long agreed that girls have superior language abilities than boys, until now no one has clearly provided a biological basis that may account for their differences.
For the first time -- and in unambiguous findings -- researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Haifa show both that areas of the brain associated with language work harder in girls than in boys during language tasks, and that boys and girls rely on different parts of the brain when performing these tasks.
"Our findings -- which suggest that language processing is more sensory in boys and more abstract in girls -- could have major implications for teaching children and even provide support for advocates of single sex classrooms," said Douglas D. Burman, research associate in Northwestern's Roxelyn and Richard Pepper Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders.
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the researchers measured brain activity in 31 boys and in 31 girls aged 9 to 15 as they performed spelling and writing language tasks.
The tasks were delivered in two sensory modalities -- visual and auditory. When visually presented, the children read certain words without hearing them. Presented in an auditory mode, they heard words aloud but did not see them.
Using a complex statistical model, the researchers accounted for differences associated with age, gender, type of linguistic judgment, performance accuracy and the method -- written or spoken -- in which words were presented.
The researchers found that girls still showed significantly greater activation in language areas of the brain than boys. The information in the tasks got through to girls' language areas of the brain -- areas associated with abstract thinking through language. And their performance accuracy correlated with the degree of activation in some of these language areas.
To their astonishment, however, this was not at all the case for boys. In boys, accurate performance depended -- when reading words -- on how hard visual areas of the brain worked. In hearing words, boys' performance depended on how hard auditory areas of the brain worked.
If that pattern extends to language processing that occurs in the classroom, it could inform teaching and testing methods.
Given boys' sensory approach, boys might be more effectively evaluated on knowledge gained from lectures via oral tests and on knowledge gained by reading via written tests. For girls, whose language processing appears more abstract in approach, these different testing methods would appear unnecessary.
"One possibility is that boys have some kind of bottleneck in their sensory processes that can hold up visual or auditory information and keep it from being fed into the language areas of the brain," Burman said. This could result simply from girls developing faster than boys, in which case the differences between the sexes might disappear by adulthood.
Or, an alternative explanation is that boys create visual and auditory associations such that meanings associated with a word are brought to mind simply from seeing or hearing the word.
While the second explanation puts males at a disadvantage in more abstract language function, those kinds of sensory associations may have provided an evolutionary advantage for primitive men whose survival required them to quickly recognize danger-associated sights and sounds.
If the pattern of females relying on an abstract language network and of males relying on sensory areas of the brain extends into adulthood -- a still unresolved question -- it could explain why women often provide more context and abstract representation than men.
Ask a woman for directions and you may hear something like: "Turn left on Main Street, go one block past the drug store, and then turn right, where there's a flower shop on one corner and a cafe across the street."
Such information-laden directions may be helpful for women because all information is relevant to the abstract concept of where to turn however, men may require only one cue and be distracted by additional information.
Burman is primary author of "Sex Differences in Neural Processing of Language Among Children." Co-authored by James R. Booth (Northwestern University) and Tali Bitan (University of Haifa), the article will be published in the March issue of the journal Neuropsychologia and now is available online at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2007.12.021.
Materials provided by Northwestern University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
How do we improve this percentage, raise visibility, and promote women scientists.
Get and provide good support to fellow scientists – read other women’s manuscripts and grants proposals, invite women to speak at your institution. Here is a list of women and those from underrepresented minorities that are interested and available to speak at your institution. Thanks to Daniella Prince for this link!
“Women's Share of NIH Grants Drops With Age” by Jocelyn Kaiser on 29 April 2011
Make opportunities for women scientists, whether through mentoring or encouraging collaborations
Get involved early – start in elementary schools and high schools getting kids excited about science
Be respectful to all scientists
<<Please let me know if you think of more>>