Professor: short academics get short shrift.

Physics colleagues Katherine Aidala and Spencer Smith. Photo by Grace Fitzpatrick

Katherine Aidala, associate professor of physics at Mount Holyoke College, describes herself as “a five-foot-tall female physicist.” In an essay for Inside Higher Ed on being short in the world of academe, she writes that both her gender and her stature have affected how she experiences the world.

“Being a woman in physics can be hard, but being a short physicist seems even harder to me,” she writes. “Why don’t we ever talk about the challenges of being short?”

The challenges range from not being able to look most colleagues in the eye without craning her neck to not being able to reach things on high shelves in labs to not having cleanroom coveralls that fit.

Teaching at a women’s college means that Aidala is surrounded by female scientists and science students, but she is short wherever she goes.

“While I intellectually recognize that being a woman in physics has presented challenges, I viscerally know that being short is difficult,” she wrote.

Aidala concluded, “If we all make an effort to . . . to recognize that the categories by which we sort people are limited, and that talent comes in all shapes and colors and follows many different trajectories through life—then perhaps an essay like this will someday simply start with the statement: “I am a physicist.”