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A possible problem

05/07/2009

I’ve been speculating as to what it is that causes women to leave science careers. I think part of it has to do with the experience of going to grad school.

I wish I had figures for what fraction of women who start grad school end up with Ph.Ds, especially compared to men. My suspicion is that a larger fraction of women are intimidated by grad school than men. It might just be the dynamic between my advisor and I, but I have realized that I need SOME sort of positive feedback. I tend to get beaten down by the “buck up and deal” attitude of many of the established male faculty, who most likely think (perhaps secretly), “If I made it without support, then you should too.”

In my experience (I hate to stereotype, but there it is), women just don’t work that way. Most of the males in my program seem to just think they’re awesome without anyone doing anything to reinforce that opinion, and that’s great, since they are awesome. But so are we, and I think women generally have less unfounded confidence. It might just be one less instance of being slighted, told you’re stupid, or ignored in a meeting that would make the difference. Yes, it still happens.

It’s part of the reason I want to work with a female Ph.D advisor (two, actually); they seem to better understand my need for feedback, especially the occasional positive word. If there were more women in faculty positions, I think more women would want to stay in graduate school and become faculty members. But alas, with two tenured female faculty in my department, I’m not sure when that ball will start rolling.

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