Thursday, August 30, 2012

Ponderings of a PhD Student - Advancing in a Male Dominated Field

Two things on my mind right now.

1. I should have a bit more content related to aspects of my life as a graduate student.
2. This article over at the everygirl 'How to advance in a male-dominated field'

So here we go, what I have to ponder on the topic of advancing in a male dominated field.

Science is an old boys club, you absolutely cannot deny this.

My supervisor is male, 2 out of 3 of my committee members are male, our research group of 16 PIs...13 are male, our department is at about 23 out of 30.

They try to make things eaqual, but from my experiance equal means this:

  • When picking your committee members be sure to pick at least one woman.
  • When inviting speakers to a symposium, be sure to invite at least one woman.
  • When you attend a full day of talks, there will always be at least one woman.

Now what does this often result in, a woman being selected not for the quality of her research, but just to be the token female. In many cases her contribution won't be at the level of the males (chosen first for being exemplary in the field) and her presence there does less for promoting women in science than her absence would be. Don't get me wrong, there are many women who will get up there and sweep the floor with their male colleagues....I'm just pointing out that there are sometimes hazards to picking a woman, just for women's sake.

What does science try to do about this?

Well just about every conference, retreat, symposium I've attended thus far, has had a section or seminar promoting women in science. Usually of the format of getting all the female PIs in attendance to talk about their own experiences and give advice to the female trainees. Additionally, basically every University will be constantly running women in science type events (we have fireside meetings once a month with invited speakers). Some of these are great. Others are train wrecks that set our gender back about 60 years.

You see successful women in science often fall on either ends of the spectrum.

The bitter: These ladies sacrificed hard to get where they are. Back in their day mat leave was as long as it took you to drive back to the lab from the hospital. You simply didn't take any breaks from experiments and publishing for any reasons. And if that meant giving up family, romance, personal hygiene and appearance, well you did it. And they expect this out of our generation as well and often see women who leave the academic realm to take industry or government jobs (often providing stable income, benefits, less overtime, and mat leave) as having failed.

The forever chipper and optimistic: These ladies may not have had it all for themselves (many often aren't married or have kids) but they are determined to make it clear that our generation of scientist can have it all, without any sacrifices at all....why it's the universities that should have to make changes. So you wanted to take 3 years off to start your family and don't have any publications since your post doc, clearly you deserve to be just as hire-able as your male counterpart who worked 60 hour weeks for the past 3 years and has a half dozen nature papers to show for it. This is the future people, you can have it all!

Of course these two groups of ladies immediately begin bickering, and instead of reassuring, and providing positive examples for the trainees...they just leave us more confused than ever, and embarrassed to be a woman.

So what's my plan to advance in a male dominated field?

Forget about everyone else. I try to come to the lab every day and be the best that I can be on that day, which is hopefully better than I have on previous days. When I first talked to my surpervisor about starting grad school, and whether it would be a smart choice (especially in light of how difficult it has become to get tenure track positions... or even constant funding) He said:

The cream always rises to the top.

Which means it doesn't matter if men typically have more success than women. It doesn't matter if most of your peers are male. And it doesn't matter if you need to take a year off to have some babies. As long as you always focus on making yourself into cream, you'll rise to the top, regardless of what else might be going on around you.

So go forth and make yourself into cream!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...