Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Encouragement Isn't Enough; Reality Interferes

Mr. S was recently at a conference. His field has many famous female scientists- in part because back in the day, it was considered trivial and boring. PIs kept coming up to him and asking what was he doing next year and was he looking for a postdoc? Maybe with them? And he kept explaining that he'd stay at Snooty U another year while I finished. And they'd say, 'Oh, is she looking for a postdoc too? I know those dual-scientist job searches can be hard.' And he'd say, 'No, she's not.'

To a woman, the female PIs said, in tones of horror, 'Oh no! You must encourage her to stay! Can't you change her mind? We need more female faculty!'

I think that many women, myself included, love research and want to do it. But we don't want it twice as much as our husbands. We don't want it enough to see women passed over or denied tenure because we took time 'off' to have a baby and didn't publish anything that year. We don't want it enough to earn $10,000 less than the male junior professor in the next office over.

Aside from the purely financial, childbearing is a very real barrier. When I see the obstacles, especially in academia, to having children, it does not make me want to postdoc so I can be faculty one day if I'm a very good girl. Yes, women have children in college, in grad school, before tenure, whenever. Sometimes it's fine, professionally. But especially at places like this, women with children pay a heavy professional as well as economic price for their children. This on top of the inherent disadvantages of being female in a world run by 60-year-old white men.

When I look at all these factors together, I am left with utterly no desire to be faculty. I, and all the women I know whose career plan is 'run away', have already eaten all the condescension and slights and obstruction that we want to for just now. We want to go somewhere else, where there is a chance for professionalism and respect. We already know what it's like in here. We don't want it.

I applaud the women who want more women to do postdocs and come to the academic-research world. It's wonderful to tell us we can do it and we should do it. Their encouragement to stay in the academy is lovely. But it's not what I need. I need things to change. Yesterday, ideally.

(P.S. Yes, my sister's baby is due like tomorrow. What? An obsession with offspring? Who, me?)