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What’s it all about?

05/04/2009

This blog is dedicated to exploring the apparent contradiction between being a scientist and being a woman (especially one with a family). By this point, from a sociological standpoint, I’m hoping no one will post comments about how women lack the physical capability, desire or drive to become scientists; that is not the topic of discussion!

Rather, what are the causes of the “leaky pipeline” problem? There seem to be a fair number of women in undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields; there are slightly fewer in graduate studies. By the time one counts the number of women in tenured faculty and research positions, especially at top universities and labs, the difference is staggering. Contrary to some naive assumptions, this is NOT due to a lag in the process of reaching permanent positions; it’s not that the ratio of women studying science in college was smaller 15 years ago, and the current number of undergraduate women will eventually increase the proportion of women in faculty positions – unless something in the system changes. No; the pipeline problem has existed for decades, although the numbers have changed at each stage.

I’ve been married just over a year. I’m not exactly in a rush to have kids, but it’s definitely in the plans. I want to believe that it’s possible to have a family and a realistically successful career before menopause. There are plenty of success stories, but can I do it? Can I be a good mother and a good scientist simultaneously? Does it take a woman substantially more gifted and driven than I am? I don’t want to be a perennially absent, working mother, although I understand that this can work out. But if that’s what it takes to be a great scientist, is it worth it? What’s really important here?

The goal is to explore whether it’s really as hard as it seems to have family and career, especially in science, and whether this is a driving force that causes women to leave stellar science careers (no pun intended). Hopefully other benefits will flow.

If you’re wondering about the title of this blog, it comes from the fact that some of us hate being called “women scientists,” as if any other status is subsidiary to our being female. Of course being a woman is an important part of who I am, but I want to live in a world where scientists are not generically male, and standouts therefore do not require an extra adjective.

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