The 2013 GGNB Women’s career network meeting!

This year I was fortunate to attend the second Women’s Careers and Networks meeting organized by graduate students from the Göttingen Graduate School for Neurosciences, Biophysics and Molecular Biosciences (GGNB) as part of their Women’s Career Network or WoCaNET, organized by an incredibly energetic group of PhD students (representing an amazing diversity of countries). I have no doubt these women will help shape the future of science in many ways, and it is inspiring. (While the students described many of the sessions as “inspiring” – it was their energy, curiosity and interest in making their own futures that I found most captivating and hopeful.)

The line-up of speakers was impressive if not for their current positions as scientists and academics then for their own career paths.  While the head of Exploratory Pathology, Pharma Research and Early Development at Roche Diagnostics, Suzana Vega Harring discussed her part-time (80 or 85%; I don’t exactly recall) work situation, and the three years she had taken to be home for her kids, Dame Carol Robinson, Royal Society Research Professor and the first female professor of chemistry at Oxford University, captivated the audience with a very personal presentation about her own pathway through the sciences: taking eight years off after completing her PhD in two years, to stay home with her children before returning to full-time science and a highly accomplished career.  Talking to students after, it was clear these stories and others calmed concerns that following the straight and narrow, post-PhD is not the only route to a rewarding career – that one could work part-time and have a fulfilling science career, take time off for children and return to academia (not that it is easy, but it can be done as long as one is willing to start off on a lower rung), or follow a range of career options from industry, to academia, patent attorney, regulation. Also of interest was their own survey of the graduate student body (with a return of some 300 surveys for roughly 1000 sent out) which suggested many students both men and women were concerned about achieving suitable work-life balance – with 25% of respondents indicating they may opt to leave academia in part seeking a better balance.

For my own presentation about Motherhood the Elephant and Re-envisioning the Pipeline, I wished I had taken a bit more time to tell some of the stories of each contributor AND suggest that they NOT WORRY SO MUCH about the future.  It is great they are taking such initiative, as long as it doesn’t scare them away from venturing out. I think if one is willing to work hard, knows how to use her brain, and is patient (and perhaps flexible), things will work out!

Below are a few websites I thought might be helpful for students and postdocs thinking about nontraditional routes:

AAAS Nontraditional Career Webinar

Putting your PhD to work

Part-time science in Perspective

There is a timely edition of Nature (just published today) focused on Women in Science; and here is an interesting interview, The Heart of Research Science is Sick, by Peter Lawrence.

Finally, while in Göttingen, besides the great group of graduate students I met, I noticed a few other things:

  • Grade school boys could easily outmaneuver a team of middle school boys on the soccer field
  • The number of men strolling babies in carriages was noticeable
  • Bicycles are everywhere (though few helmets in sight.)
  • Teens do not appear to be obsessed with their phones!
  • They have a great tradition for newly minted PhDs, which I was fortunate to witness and made me wish I’d had my camera as they are carted through town to place flowers and kiss the bronze Gänseliesel (Goose girl).
  • And, there is nothing like a good sandwich on fresh German bread from Cafe Hermer (thanks for the tip!)

I have no doubt each one of those women I met will be kissing Gänseliesel in the near future, before setting out on her own adventure in science!


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