Monday, April 2, 2012

Women in Science

When I found out I was pregnant, during the last year of my thesis work, I was thrilled, and nervous, and terrified. After waiting till the traditional 12 week mark, I was excited to tell my fellow Graduate Women in Science (GWIS) members about our impending arrival. We had an informal meeting planned in the basement of Irving's (a local coffee/bagel shop), and I figured the end of the meeting would be the perfect time to tell everyone. As it happened, we had a great meeting, and as we all packed up and started walking back to campus, someone brought up babies. Perfect! 

But then it turned into a discussion about how none of them could imagine having a baby during grad school: the time-commitment, the stress, the inability to focus completely on research and extracurricular activities. I mean really, our careers are the most important thing right now, and having a baby would put us on the wrong track. In addition to any pregnancy-related ailments, we have to take off time for the delivery/recovery, then we can't routinely work 10-12 hour days because we have a tiny person to look after. How can we compete? And, we wouldn't want to risk the possibility that we might want to take time extra off to spend with our babies while they're little, further pausing our research. That's career suicide. 


So, I didn't say anything. I didn't have the courage to speak up because I didn't have any answers. And then I didn't really find another opportunity to say it. Not in the - "yay, I'm having a baby" sense, anyway. I was very lucky, and my fellow GWISers threw me a fantastic (and very surprise!) baby shower with delicious food and games. But, we never really talked about how having a baby changes, or doesn't change, things. And I feel like we all missed out because of it. 

I defended when my baby girl was 5 months old (she was in the back with my husband and family). Now I'm a postdoc. Yes, I do miss out on a lot of the social interactions. I miss out on going to the bar, or partying late in San Francisco. And, I feel like I am not able to make as much progress as quickly as I'd like. But I am making progress. I have several projects started, and moving in the right direction. The final paper from my thesis work is submitted (fingers-crossed and waiting to hear back!), and had I had a paper published last month. Will it be enough to find the career of my dreams, or will choosing to have children hold me back? Since I only have this one life, this one sample, I guess I'll never know. 

So, for now, I'm enjoying motherhood, and research. I love all my babies!


The frustrating case for women in STEM, taken from:
The 'scissors' pattern of gender distribution within career stages in biological sciences at German universities. The figure shows the percentage of male and female university students through graduation, PhDs awarded, scientific staff (includes post-doctoral fellows, some junior group leaders, and research scientists with university or PhD degrees), Habilitation (awarded for research accomplishments following the PhD as well as teaching experience, which is often a pre-requisite for university professorships in Germany), and professors[1]. A similar pattern has been found in other countries, for example, Australia [2]. For further information on gender equality in science in the EU, see [3].
Biology Genome Biology 2012 13:148   doi:10.1186/gb-2012-13-3-148

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