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A Study on the Status of Women Faculty in Science at MIT, 1996–1999

When Professor Nancy Hopkins decided to begin research on the development of zebrafish, she made a simple request for an additional 200 square feet of office space. Repeatedly denied, Hopkins used this tape measure to compare the size of her research space with that of her colleagues. The results were shocking. Male junior professors averaged 2,000 square feet; full professors ranged between 3,000 and 6,000 square feet. She had 1,500 square feet. The ensuing struggle to get that extra 200 square feet would transform the experience of women scientists at MIT and elsewhere. Following the 1999 release of MIT’s faculty study and President Charles Vest’s bold public admission of discrimination at MIT, other universities began to study the problem using similar methods. MIT has made a significant commitment in the past decade to transforming its policies and practices first on gender and most recently for under-represented minority faculty as well. It remains a work-in-progress because, even as all of the recommendations made in the 1999 report have been implemented, the numbers of women and minority faculty remain low.

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