A new scientific organization appeared last weekend: Women in Learning (WIL: www.womeninlearning.com). The group is the product of hard work and productive fund-raising by graduate students and post-docs in Learning, most notable Moriel Zelikowsky, Marieke Gilmartin, and Janine Kwapis. Spurred by the perception that the field is dominated by males (peruse the photos of major contributors in any text on Learning to validate this perception) these scientists organized the group, created an excellent web page, and pulled off an inspiring and well-attended inaugural luncheon (in Milwaukee and corresponding in time with the meeting of the unrelated but supportive Pavlovian Society). The luncheon speaker, Tracey Shors, epitomizes excellence in science, working at the cutting edges of the neuroscience of learning.
In my view the field of neuroscience has been fairly gender-neutral for years, at least at the entry level. Women have faced problems of advancement in the field, as is true in many academic disciplines, but women have risen to senior and leadership positions. The first woman to serve as President of the Society for Neuroscience was Bernice Grafstein in 1985-1986; since then 7 other women have served in this capacity (8/26, or about 30%, of the Presidents since 1985 have been women). Compare this to the Pavlovian Society, a premiere professional society concerned with Learning, in which only 2 women have ever served as President (Jaylan Turkkan in 1993-1994, and Tracey Shors in 2000-2001). For whatever reason, women are under-represented in leadership positions in this discipline, so the need for WIL appears strong.
I expect big things to come out of the new society, and I wish the organization and its founders well.