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Parents a Boost to Women Entering Science

PARENTAL encouragement does more to get women to pursue careers in science and mathematics than sexual harassment and discrimination do to get them to leave, according to a report released last week.

A three-year study by the Center for Research on Women at Wellesley College, Wellesley, Mass., followed groups of women as they chose and pursued careers. The center looked at the experiences of current juniors at the college and 1983 to 1991 graduates who majored in sciences.

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``We are looking at why there are so few women in the sciences and particularly why this is continuing in the 1990s at a time when more and more occupations are requiring technical literacy,'' says Paula Raymond, Wellesley College associate professor of sociology.

``One of the key findings is that mother's encouragement is as important as father's encouragement,'' she says. ``Having the support of one is good. Having both is better.''

The study found that those who majored in life sciences, physical sciences, and mathematics, and remained in those fields, were likely to have parents with careers in science and strong support from them and teachers, advisers, and mentors of either gender. It also found that most students faced discrimination and harassment in graduate schools and jobs, but few left the field because of it.

``These women felt they had put a great deal into their studies and work and were not going to give up easily,'' the study reports. ``Moreover, a number of alumnae spoke directly of fighting back and gaining empowerment through being resilient.''

Raymond says other studies did not find that, and she plans to look into it further.

STUDENTS say science demands a special calling and large commitment but do not regard it as a male field, the study found.

But one in four alumnae thought science work was not compatible with raising a family. Those who left science felt that more strongly.

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The study was financed by a $250,000 grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which gave the center $334,000 to continue it for an additional three years.

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