Friday, August 3, 2012

Scientess Varve

  Last week I detailed my interactions with a cross-section of women in science, from high school on up. This past weekend I interacted with women that represented one layer of women in science – a varve, if you will.
I love that word. It was the wedding for a friend with a Ph.D. in chemistry, and I sat a table with an M.D., a Ph.D. in psychology, a Ph.D. in physics, and a defending-Ph.D.-next-month in neuroscience. And those were the degrees of the women (include the men and you’ve got alphabet soup).
  We are all young scientists completing internships, residencies, and post-docs, looking for a permanent position in our field. I’m happy to say that one woman just recently found a permanent position in her field in a place she’s excited to live in. But the rest of us are still trying to figure out what we want to do when we grow up and where we want to settle, perhaps to raise a family. It doesn’t look all that good for us, to be honest. Although my M.D. friend will find a job, Ph.D.’ers face a culture of cost-cutting. In 2009, for example, only 30% of faculty in the U.S. had a tenure-track job versus 57% in 1975. Visiting professors, adjuncts, and other part-time teachingpositions increased from 30% to 51%. And as the Washington Post recently reported, the jobs aren’t there for lab scientists. A startling fact? Only 14% of folks with a Ph.D. in biology/life sciences lands an academic job within 5 years. Now, that may be due to the fact that folks do more than one post-doc, but that may in turn be due to the fact that there aren’t positions to move to after the first post-doc. We end up in post-doc purgatory…and positions outside our field start looking more attractive. So at this table you’ve got intelligent, accomplished women trying to figure out what the next step will be. And we’re all competitive, willing to go after what we want. The comment “no, we’re not competitive at all!” became a bit of a running joke as the weekend continued. We don’t want to become part of the ‘leaky pipeline’, but we’re anxious about the future. We know what we’re capable of, we know we want a stable job and home, but we don’t know how far we’ll have to deviate in order to make a living.

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