From Motherhood the Elephant in the Laboratory, Introduction:

….one needn’t look far to find programs, studies, and books aimed at solving the case of the vanishing woman scientist, a phenomenon sometimes referred to as “the leaky pipeline,”[i] if women really are leaving the sciences, where are they going? We’re talking about thousands of women. Do they seek alternative paths? If so, do they continue to contribute to the scientific community or to science in some way? If they leave, what impact does this have on science and society? Though these critical questions have been addressed by two recent National Academy of Science publications they provide few answers to the question, “Where are they going?”[ii]

This book contains essays written by thirty-four mother-scientists whose stories provide insight into the choices they have made to create balance in their lives. Contributors to this book work part-time or full-time, opt out, and opt back in. They’ve become entrepreneurs, they job-share, and they volunteer. They work in academia, industry, consulting, state and federal government, and on their own. Some of these women who have chosen to stray from the straight and narrow road paved by mentors, advisers, and scientists before them; who work part-time; or who no longer coax data from the bench or the field, have a sense that they have become an invisible, underutilized, and misunderstood workforce. They often feel marginalized when they attempt to return or interact with the more traditional workforce. Their feelings are summed up by M. T., who has worked as an editor, research associate, and volunteer:

I find myself constantly rehearsing and drafting what I will say to people I meet at meetings and in professional settings about my unpaid research situation and all the volunteer work I do to promote programs for government agencies, professional societies, and education.(M. T., PhD)

M. T. is not alone. There are others, women in particular, who seek alternatives and who contribute to the sciences in nontraditional ways, their choices driven in large part by a desire for an acceptable work-life balance; they could use some support and encouragement from the larger scientific community. As one graduate adviser responded to the original e-mail:

The graduate students in our department frequently complain about not being educated about career options outside of traditional academic careers. When, as graduate studies chair, I talked one-on-one with female students trying to figure out how to make life work (this happened a lot- I always wondered whether the male graduate studies chairs were approached about this as well), I tell them about women who are tenured, or who teach high school or who work part-time as examples of different ways to have successful lives when children arrive after PhDs. . . . I also talk to students about not letting themselves define their goals and success by their adviser’s (or their perception of their adviser’s) ideas of success. (Libby Marschall, PhD, Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology, Ohio State University)

My motivation for compiling this book was to highlight the accomplishments, challenges, and choices made by women scientists as they combine motherhood and career….In all cases, when there is family involved, there is a story to tell. Sharing these stories serves others by reassuring, encouraging, or cautioning them as they seek the balance that works for them. My goals- for this book are twofold: to initiate discussion on redefining the concept of “career” scientist and to examine the many different ways in which women have managed to combine motherhood with their science careers. Writes R. S., another early e-mail respondent:

I can only hope that by continuing to have the discussion, that ultimately policies and society will change to become more egalitarian and family friendly. (Rachel S., PhD)….

[i] Yu Xie and Kimberlee Shauman, Women in Science: Career Processes and Outcomes (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press: 2003). The term “leaky pipeline” is discussed by Xie and Shauman in the introduction to their book, pages 6<N>9.[ii] National Academy of Sciences, Beyond Bias and Barriers: Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future (Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2007.)


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