Posts Tagged 'phd'

Creativity in Science Careers: why I love AAAS

When I first started this project I was warned by Fran the editor that by suggesting there are many options for scientists other than the straight and narrow path to academia, I may hit some nerves. I had agreed with her and even wrote about how the “science establishment,” needs to be more open to different career options. But maybe we were more pessimistic than need be (although to some extent this is what happened with the recent Nature review of the Motherhood book – more on that here.)  This month, through a number of “outlets” the AAAS and their journal Science clearly show their support for scientists who venture off the academic track, and it’s refreshing to see a major organization be so supportive and creative.

First, was the April 3 Science Editorial by Bruce Alberts who writes:

“A recent survey of more than 1000 of these young scientists at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), reveals an unusually broad range of career aspirations. Less than half select becoming academic researchers like their mentors as their first choice. One senses that we are reaching a tipping point, where students who prefer to work in the world of public policy, government, precollege education, industry, or law will no longer be viewed as deserting science. Faculty and students can then begin to talk honestly about a whole range of respected, science-related career possibilities. This is crucial, because we must promote the movement of scientists into many occupations and environments if our end goal is to effectively apply science and its values to solving global problems.”

Read it and cheer!

Next up is Science Careers upcoming Webinar, Nontraditional Careers: Opportunities Away from the Bench,  and finally, a really interesting NewFocus Profile (in Science) on Jorge Cham, researcher in neural prosthetics turned successful cartoonist, who amuses and reveals the life of PhD students and advisors through comics (see his blog at or check out his books.) Cham is quoted as saying about his career shift,  ” ‘if you have the drive and creativity, you can forge your own path,’  and ‘you can choose your own definition of success.’ ”  My thoughts exactly.

My dad always said do what you love and you’ll succeed. For many it’s a luxury to be able to do what they love, for most scientists that’s exactly what they’re doing.   We just need to appreciate and support all the different ways scientists do what they do.

C&EN review and career paths….

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this whole book process is that you’ve got to do a lot of promotion. Cornell’s been great – but for books that’s just not enough.  Even though I’m not promoting just myself but 33 other women – its not something with which I’m comfortable.

But sometimes others do the promotion for you – and I’m happy to announce a great review of Motherhood published in last week’s Chemical and Engineering News. I’m particularly pleased because 1) I’ve always liked this publication for its in depth analysis of various issues in toxicology, and 2) because I felt that the reviewer, University of Oregon chemist Geraldine Richmond, really got what I was trying to convey in both the intro and conclusion to Motherhood. That is, there are many different ways of contributing to science, and that maybe the traditional definition of success in science could be revisited, with so many workers (men and women) contributing to many different sectors – other than academia.

But for scientists, particularly for women scientists involved with improving “pathways to the professoriate” this can be a touchy subject.  I recall a conversation with the editor when first submitting the proposal. “Some people won’t be happy with this,” she’d said, followed by “but that can be good.” Meaning controversy sells books.  One thing I worried about while pulling this whole project together, which depended on the 33 other women scientists, several of whom not only pursued the professoriate but who are actively seeking to help others find their way, was that I make my position clear.  Publications like Parenting and Professing already existed. I wanted this to be different.

While this hasn’t been particularly controversial – there are undercurrents.  Last week on a conference call about a future Motherhood-related panel, one participant voiced her concern that by advocating integration of these other particularly part-time career choices into the scientific mainstream, we may be backsliding.  I truly understand this argument – and there’s not a day (well OK, maybe a week or a month) that goes by without my wondering if by choosing to do the part-time non-academia thing, while my husband does the full-time PI thing, I’ve helped to perpetuate the status quo.  Though the status quo has shifted from what it was decades ago – perhaps back then I wouldn’t have even been able to hang onto any semblance of a career – the fact is women just aren’t entering the professoriate in numbers that reflect those stepping into science with degree in hand.  And it’s something of a catch-22 for some of us, to really change, to make research and academia more amenable to parents, we need more science moms (and a few dads and husbands wouldn’t hurt either) who are truly interested in changing the academic system.

Or maybe we just need an economic disaster. Four day weeks, reduced work-time, less focus on grants, hands-on-faculty, a return to valuing teaching – who knows what might shake out?

Advice wanted for re-entry: hosed out of the pipeline at mid-career

I am posting this for Gen, a scientist who recently wrote to this site about her career, seeking advice from readers:

“As an NSF predoctoral fellow in the life sciences, I climbed pretty high up the ladder at a soft-money research institute.. It was crazy trying to balance a toddler, two pregnancies and a new baby with what has been called an “extreme” career as a laboratory head. However, I did contribute a number of significant, recognized papers to my field.

As an independent investigator I earned four research grants (2 federal and 2 private) over the course of ten years. I was awarded a five year R01 just after having my second and last baby (at age 42–don’t think it is easy–I was just lucky)! I was an Associate level researcher before my lab was shut down because my R01 wasn’t renewed after two tries. During this time I had two sons and a miscarriage. This contributed to a “productivity problem” that grant reviewers have been eager to point out as a reason not to renew my grant (we all know there doesn’t need to be much of a reason to deny a grant these days). I published three papers on a single R01 grant as my only source of funding, with only one post doc in the lab. Two more papers nearly ready to submit. Well, at least you can say I was efficient?

Now what? I have been out of work for nearly a year. I have some well-recognized publications and the colleagues I have contacted stated they regard my work highly and are really sorry that I am no longer engaged in my research.

I do want to return to my former career trajectory and become a full professor in 5-7 years time, but with certain modifications. I believe that I will need about three years to regain my publication “quantity”: my publication “quality” is excellent. I currently have a small grant, with funds I can make last for 2-3 more years. I can probably get work as a “research track” faculty member (i.e. superpost-doc) in someone else’s lab. I’m not currently competitive for a faculty position because I am a 50 yr old woman and it seems that most places would prefer a younger, “hotter” new investigator. Is it a good idea to take a downward step for a few years while my youngest (age 8 still needs Mom a lot? If so, can I get back on track…ever?

Any advice would be tremendously appreciated!”

News on the balancing act from the EU

I was scanning the ScienceCareers site today and came across an interesting blog entry – Career vs. Family: An ESOF Smackdown, by Katie Travis. For those (like me) who don’t know, ESOF is the European Open Science Forum.  Having no experience with work-life balance in Europe and elsewhere around the globe – I’d always assumed that motherhood was greener on the other side of the pond.  I’m not referring to wooden toys and cotton diapers – but rather I’d always assumed that the desire to combine work with family was better developed and appreciated over there.  Maybe that’s not so.

Writes Travis, “I heard something I haven’t heard expressed out loud in a while: Women do need to choose between a career and family.”  Baffled by women who suggested that women must choose, Travis kept looking until she found other perspectives, one offered up by a physician, field researcher and mother of four who she writes is “…. a “trailing spouse”–her husband’s diplomatic job takes the lead and takes them around the world. She’s got a self-described service mentality, so even though her husband’s career has been the most consistent, she’s applied her expertise in whatever region she’s in. “I believe it’s my responsibility to prepare myself to say yes to opportunity,” Tokola says. She adds that she’s managed work-life balance by having a husband who’s 100% supportive and by having outside help with childcare.”

For more of Travis’s observations, check out her entry Career vs. Family: An ESOF Smackdown.

And I used to think Title IX was all about sports

Back when I was in high school Title IX came along just in time for us to get our nascent lacrosse team bumped up from a club to a varsity sport. The new law also prompted one student, Jeff G. to join the women’s soft-ball team, claiming it worked both ways. Though our suburban school wasn’t known for great performances in sports (well, unless you count tennis) the softball team went to state finals that year. I’m all for fairness – but I wonder if Jeff G. has kids and if he does if he’s sharing equally in childcare and house work these days?

Title IX wasn’t just about sports, although apparently it was never really enforced in other aspects like academics or fields other than the green and grassy ones, like Science.

John Tierney explores this topic in his article, A New Frontier for Title IX: Science, published in today’s New York Times.

According to Tierney, “The members of Congress and women’s groups who have pushed for science to be “Title Nined” say there is evidence that women face discrimination in certain sciences, but the quality of that evidence is disputed. Critics say there is far better research showing that on average, women’s interest in some fields isn’t the same as men’s.”

No kidding? Although this is just a single sample, I’ve got a good college friend who’s an engineer working for a large military contractor who admits, she just doesn’t get a charge out of blowing things up like the guys do (but at this point after so many years invested, changing jobs just isn’t feasible with two kids in college.) Yes I know, there are likey plenty of women engineers out there who might feel otherwise.

But seriously, there is plenty of evidence as discussed in Motherhood the Elephant and elsewhere that at least in some sciences women now represent 50% or more of all graduate students.

Yet, as Tierney points out,

“They remain a minority in the physical sciences and engineering. Even though their annual share of doctorates in physics has tripled in recent decades, it’s less than 20 percent. Only 10 percent of physics faculty members are women, a ratio that helped prompt an investigation in 2005 by the American Institute of Physics into the possibility of bias.

But the institute found that women with physics degrees go on to doctorates, teaching jobs and tenure at the same rate that men do.”

Later in the article he refers to work by Susan Pinker, whose suggests that the disparity isn’t necessarily a question of opportunity but choice,

“Ms. Pinker says that universities and employers should do a better job helping women combine family responsibilities with careers in fields like physics. But she also points out that female physicists are a distinct minority even in Western European countries that offer day care and generous benefits to women.

“Creating equal opportunities for women does not mean that they’ll choose what men choose in equal numbers,” Ms. Pinker says. “The freedom to act on one’s preferences can create a more exaggerated gender split in some fields.””

Interestingly the greatest single field responding to the initial call for essays for Motherhood were physicists, so many that I feared if they all wrote, the book would be too slanted toward that one field!

It’d be interesting to hear their thoughts on Tierney’s article.

Mama PhD: Women write about motherhood and academic life

Hi all – here is an announcement of another new book – focused on combining motherhood with academia, edited by Caroline Grant and Erlena Evans.  There are a couple of blogs associated with it – http://www.mamaphd.com and the site announced below.

Dear all,

We’re writing to let you know about an exciting new development for Mama, PhD: Women Write about Motherhood and Academic Life!  InsideHigherEd.com is launching a new Mama PhD blog, and seven of the book’s contributors — Libby Gruner, Megan Kajitani, Susan Bassow, Dana Campbell, Liz Stockwell, Anjalee Nadkarni and Della Fenster — will be blogging regularly for them.  This is a terrific opportunity to bring the discussion of academic work/ family life balance issues out of the book, into the blogosphere and from there into classrooms and campus administrative offices.
Please check out the blog at http://www.insidehighered.com/views/blogs/mama_phd, leave your comments, and send questions to Megan, who will be writing a weekly advice column (for now, write to info@insidehighered.com; the blog will soon list a more direct address). And then please spread the word! Tell your friends, add the link to your blogroll, and help us build an audience for our bloggers.

Also, in case you missed it, the Berkeley grad student newsletter had a nice write-up of the book, with special mention of our Berkeley alums, Rebecca Steinitz and Angelica Duran. You can read the piece at http://www.grad.berkeley.edu/publications/egrad/0408.shtml#11

The book is available for pre order now at Amazon and other online book sellers; we are starting to schedule readings and campus events for the Fall — we’d love to come to your community, so let us know if you’d like to set something up!

all the best,
Caroline and Elrena