What with the recent celebration of International Womens Day 2009 and the forthcoming Ava Lovelace Day I have been thinking about what it means to be a woman and a scientist. And I am certainly not alone. This week, a book review in Nature was a variation on a theme, and I met a celebration of 100 Women in Science every time I entered college.
Twice recently, in conversation with people older and wiser than myself, came up the question of belief in one’s own abilities. A number of my peers struggle, like me, to internalize the fact that they are able. We surely are able. We would not have been awarded a degree, would not have gotten a job, would not have been offered a place on the course if we were not able.
When I described this incongruence between the evidence and the feeling, the feedback was “yes, but you are all women.”
Which brings me to the above quotation, which caught me by surprise when I was listening to the (typically PG-rated) Guardian Tech Weekly Podcast. In an edition entitled women in technology, Alex Krotoski  quoted Leah Culver in a panel at SXSW 2008.
I had thought that this lack-of-self-belief was a function of being at the beginning of a demanding course, with its workload and its ups and downs. Can it, at least in part, be attributed to being female?
And is there anything practical that can be done? After all, even good science faces knockbacks. Academia is a tough environment to be in. Are there any practical steps that can be taken towards toughening up?
1 From Alex’s profile, she is a PhD student too. I hadn’t realised that.