I recently finished my Ph.D. in the sciences. I’ve been lucky – I always wanted to get an advanced degree in something sciencey, so planning my life was easy for many years. High school + college + university + post-doc (+ some time wandering around) = about 15 years. But now I’m in the post-doc part of life and wondering what comes next. It’s always been vague and misty, involving a high percentage of research, perhaps some teaching, at an institution of some sort, oh and perhaps a family as well. It’s been a great experience so far, but now I wonder what that vague “early career” will entail. Do I indeed want to jump into the tenure pipeline, or do I want to enjoy a family and be a part-time scientist?
Part of my indecision stems from my perceived debt to those women scientists who’ve paved the way. These ‘giantesses’ put up with overt and covert sexism from colleagues, institutions, and the public who believed that women were inherently bad at math and science and were indeed less intelligent than men. Their persistence in the face of discrimination proved that we are intellectual equals with men. They pushed their way into a hostile community, making the path easier for the rest of us. Of course, this wasn’t just women in the sciences. This was women everywhere, at every time in history. But I owe even the possibility of my career to the work and intelligence of women scientists (giantess scientesses?) of the 20th century.
Given this struggle for recognition, is it selfish for me to think about not using my Ph.D. for an academic career? I’m not alone in asking this question. Although the number of M.S. and Ph.D.s awarded to women has steadily increased, this hasn’t translated into increased numbers of female professors. In a widely read piece in the American Scientist, Wendy M. Williams and Stephen J. Ceci (2012) describe the path of many women as they choose a career other than traditional tenure-track/academia. Reflecting on the dearth of female professors, and the important impact my professors made on me, is it selfish not to take up the mantle? Shouldn’t I keep on fighting the good fight, in debt to those women before me, and push for increased recognition and support? The fact that I still reply ‘I don’t know’, even after the full Ph.D. experience, is the reason I’m writing this blog.
In this blog I’ll investigate the current state of women in science, and explore the options available to a young scientist who wants to have it all: first author papers, well-attended conference talks, and time to build family of my own. I welcome comments about your own experiences in the sciences!
Williams, W. M. and S. J. Ceci (2012). "When Scientists Choose Motherhood." American Scientist 100(2).