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A Prominent Example


Katharine Duderstadt: From the Peace Corps to a PhD

Scientific American likes to do “Where Are They Now” type articles on Westinghouse finalists and winners.  Their most recent was very relevant.  Katharine Duderstadt was a Westinghouse finalist in 1985, studying the amount of carbon dioxide produced by yeast.  She then went on to graduate from Harvard, serve in the Peace Corps, and eventually get a PhD studying the chemistry associated with global climate change.  Where is she now ?  Well, the article points out that during her graduate work she got married and had two children and…

After a while, Duderstadt realized she was having difficulty balancing her research work with the demands of motherhood.  So she started a new career as a stay-at-home mom for several years while her husband worked as a space scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Tex.

“For me it was a huge challenge,” she says, comparing full-time motherhood with the Peace Corps’s slogan: “The toughest job you’ll ever love.” She missed working outside the home quite a bit, and so after her family relocated to Massachusetts for her husband’s new job at Boston University and her youngest child started school, she decided to apply for teaching positions.

It’s frustrating that even such a high profile female scientist had to sacrifice her career for her family, but that her male partner did not. I’m not complaining about her decision to stay home, but it’s clear that she would have loved to keep working AND be a mother.  This anecdotal evidence matches up with long-term studies of female graduate students; they are more likely to leave academia if they have children and are less likely to get tenure if they stay.

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