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Opinion: Help women in science by supporting international collaborations

Photo of a women conducting scientific research in a lab.

This piece by Kathrin Zippel, associate professor of sociology, appeared on April 22 in The Washington Post. Professor Zippel is the author of Women in Global Science: Advancing Academic Careers through International Collaboration (Stanford University Press, 2017).

This piece by Kathrin Zippel, associate professor of sociology, appeared on April 22 in The Washington Post. Read the article in its entirety here


This week’s March for Science on Earth Day is also drawing attention to the importance of international collaboration for scientific advancement. The organizers are calling people to “defend the vital role science plays in our health, safety, economies, and governments.” These protests are expected in hundreds of cities worldwide, showing that science and academia cannot be confined within national borders. The very production of academic and scientific knowledge is global. Science is based on needs and thrives on international collaboration.

Much cutting-edge research in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields occurs in international groups of scientists. International research collaboration is considered necessary to tackle some of science’s biggest questions, such as the Human Genome Project or basic questions in particle physics at CERN.

U.S. researchers don’t collaborate internationally as much as many Europeans do. Even so, one-third of all journal articles published by U.S. science and engineering researchers are co-authored with international collaborators. Internationally co-authored articles tend to be placed in higher-impact journals and receive more citations. But while 33 percent of male doctoral recipients in academic positions report having participated in international collaborations, only 23.5 percent of women report having done so.

That’s true not just in the United States but internationally as well. According to a just-released comparative study of 12 countries and regions, women co-author less with international colleagues than men do. Most strikingly, even as international co-authorship has increased since the 1990s, a gender gap in that cross-national collaboration persists — despite the fact that there are only small gender differences in rates of collaboration overall.


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