[THE FOUNTAIN] Being a Female Ph. D. in Korea

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[THE FOUNTAIN] Being a Female Ph. D. in Korea

When describing Helen Kim, the leader in women's education in Korea, we often call her Korea's first female Ph. D. For many years, Helen Kim and the word Ph. D. shared the same meaning. After graduation from Ewha Haktang, which later became Ewha Woman's University, she served as a professor at her alma mater. Uwol, the nomme de plume of Helen Kim, left for the United States to study and received her Ph. D. from Columbia University. Her niece, Kim Jung-ok, a former Ewha Woman's University professor, wrote, "My Aunt Helen Kim," a biography of Helen. She noted that "Helen Kim received great compliments after she returned to Korea in 1930, becoming the country's first female Ph. D. Her lectures were flooded with audiences, and people whispered to each other that 'she, an unmarried woman, lectures so well.' "

Helen Kim lived a busy life filled with bright moments for many years, from the Japanese colonization period and the Syngman Rhee and Park Chung Hee administrations after liberation until her death in 1970. She served as president and honorary president of Ewha Woman's University for 25 years and attended United Nations General Assembly meetings six times, representing Korea. She also served as a chairman of the Korea National Council of Women. She could have been appointed Korea's first female ambassador and accredited to France. Lee Dong-won, then foreign minister, recalled in his memoirs that she was strongly recommended because Charles de Gaulle, then French president, favored intellectual women. President Park gave consent, but because of ill health she never served.

According to a report on utilizing high-quality female human resource announced by the Ministry of Education and Human Resources a few days ago, 12,500 Korean women have received a Ph. D in various fields since liberation from the Japanese occupation more than half a century ago. In particular, female students have largely entered universities since the 1980s and the increasing rate of female doctorates has reached 22 percent, twice the rate of men. Last year, 1,503 women received a Ph. D. degree, of whom 1,264 were from domestic universities, with the rest from foreign schools. However, the employment rate of a woman with a Ph. D. is only 34 percent, half that for men. According to the "1998 Education Report" by the OECD, only 56 percent of female university graduates in Korea participated in economic activities, ranking lowest among the 29 OECD member countries.

Not every woman holding a Ph. D. can become Dr. Helen Kim. But how lamentable it is that 66 percent of our female doctorates are wasting their abilities and being stripped of employment opportunities.

by Bae Myung-bok

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