I am happy to share that I’ve written a guest post for the What to Expect Word of Mom blog. The post is about whether having lots of boys or lots of girls really does run in families – is it genetic?
Check it out here:
I am happy to share that I’ve written a guest post for the What to Expect Word of Mom blog. The post is about whether having lots of boys or lots of girls really does run in families – is it genetic?
Check it out here:
Today is Women’s Equality Day, marking the day a mere 88 years ago that women won the right to vote in the US. Here’s a bit about Women’s Equality Day:
At the behest of Rep. Bella Abzug (D-NY), in 1971 the U.S. Congress designated August 26 as “Women’s Equality Day.”
The date was selected to commemorate the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote. This was the culmination of a massive, peaceful civil rights movement by women that had its formal beginnings in 1848 at the world’s first women’s rights convention, in Seneca Falls, New York.
The observance of Women’s Equality Day not only commemorates the passage of the 19th Amendment, but also calls attention to women’s continuing efforts toward full equality. Workplaces, libraries, organizations, and public facilities now participate with Women’s Equality Day programs, displays, video showings, or other activities.
As long as we’re on the topic of women’s equality, I want to comment on Michelle Obama’s speech last night at the DNC. I found it really moving and I thought she did a really good job and showed a lot of passion. If you haven’t seen it, you can go watch it here. This morning I read the New York Times article “Michelle Obama, Reluctant No More,” and I have to say I was not that happy with it. It was mostly subtle wording choices and ordering of the information the author chose to include, but I felt like the article highlighted more about what she didn’t like about campaigning and her reservations about her husband running for president than it highlighted how she did choose a life in public service, how she made it so far from such humble, but thoroughly American, roots, and how she is such a strong female role model.
Earlier this decade there were many news articles and attention given to moms “opting out,” and the suggestion was that there was a new movement for women to stay at home for purposes of raising children and running households. I, for one, totally respect a woman’s right to choose what type of career she wants, be it in a paying job or an unpaid job as household manager and parent, but I still was a bit dismayed by all of these reports. Well, new evidence suggests that it’s the economy, and not a cultural swing towards stay-at-home-motherhood, that has led to decreased numbers of women in the workforce.
An article in the NYTimes today, Poor Economy Slows Women in Workplace, cites a congressional study and some economists in saying that:
After moving into virtually every occupation, women are being afflicted on a large scale by the same troubles as men: downturns, layoffs, outsourcing, stagnant wages or the discouraging prospect of an outright pay cut. And they are responding as men have, by dropping out or disappearing for awhile.
“When we saw women starting to drop out in the early part of this decade, we thought it was the motherhood movement, women staying home to raise their kids,” Heather Boushey, a senior economist at the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, which did the Congressional study, said in an interview. “We did not think it was the economy, but when we looked into it, we realized that it was.”
There’s also evidence that the downturn in the past few years has hit women harder:
Pay is no longer rising smartly for women in the key 25-to-54 age group. Just the opposite, the median pay — the point where half make more and half less — has fallen in recent years, to $14.84 an hour in 2007 from $15.04 in 2004, adjusted for inflation, according to the Economic Policy Institute. (The similar wage for men today is two dollars more.)
I can’t help but think of the phrase that was tried in a previous election year: It’s the economy, stupid.
So the commenter wrote that he worked and his wife stayed home because it was what each did best:
Equal parenting is fine with us if we found ourselves one day to be equally matched. But I make 10 times as much as what my wife can do in her best year, and my wife has a much bigger gas tank for the energy in needing to handle children. We’ve tried to be equal, but have found its best to pull the most from our strengths and split up the rest.
I began writing a response but I decided I’d rather post about the rest of my thoughts on the article.
Even in sharing it all, Husband and I do the same thing…but we happen to be much more evenly matched. So the things we defer to each other on are smaller, more in the details – like the Vachons, I think. He takes the heavy laundry in the pushcart down the stairs and to the laundrymat and picks it up the next day, lugging it up the stairs. I happen to wash the dishes. There are definitely things that happen to fall along the “standard” lines, but we’ve talked about all of it and whether we want to do this or that and to what standards, and everything was a mutual decision. And I think that’s what makes our marriage so solid, even if the conversation can sometimes be a tad awkward (“It really made me feel bad when …”).
Regarding parenting, in my opinion “equally” shared parenting isn’t as much about the “equally” part as it is about the sharing – about both parents putting time into it and really being there for their kids. If you share it, then even if you work a full-time job and your spouse stays at home, you spend a significant amount of time with your kids while you are there, and you recognize that your spouse needs a break too. You do things your way when you’re with the kids, but you’re with them enough that you have a way down pat and you know what to expect. To me that’s the important part.
But I also think one of the points of the article might be that these people set different priorities. If you wanted to, you could both choose to live a little less luxuriously in terms of material wealth and comfort, take a pay cut, and have more time at home with your family. This could be working part-time or this could be a flexible or reduced hours schedule, or you might choose to stay home completely. But this is a choice that these people are making, to take less pay in order to both be fully there with their family and with their children. And it’s a choice that I’m passionate about, that I think needs to be available for parents of any gender if we are ever to truly move into a “post-feminist” era.
I came across this article from ScienceNOW about a new study on whether the mom’s calorie intake at the time of conception affects the gender of the baby. The idea that it might is based on the Trivers-Willard hypothesis:
In 1973, biologist Robert Trivers and mathematician Dan Willard predicted that to maximize the number of her descendents, a mother should have some control over the sex of her offspring. If she’s healthy and has plenty of food, male offspring are her best investment because they can produce more progeny than can females. But a mediocre male cannot, so mothers with limited resources are better off having girls.
The study, You are what your mother eats: evidence for maternal preconception diet influencing foetal sex in humans, was done in the UK by Fiona Mathews, Paul J. Johnson, and Andrew Neil. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get access to the full text, so all I had to go by was the abstract and the article from ScienceNOW, but it sounds interesting. Mathews and her colleagues proposed that if the Trivers-Willard hypothesis is true for human mothers, a mother with greater total calorie intake might have more male babies.
The researchers looked at what the first-time mothers were eating at the time of conception. They found that of the mothers who consumed a total amount of calories in the top 1/3 of the subject pool, 56% had sons. In the lowest calorie group, 45% had sons. Male births are in a “small but detectable decline” in some industrialized countries- since 1970 the proportion of male births in the US has gone down by .1% – and now researchers have evidence that maternal diet may be one of the factors involved. There are likely other factors as well, such as environmental contaminants.
One of the interesting parts of the study is that it found a slightly stronger correlation between how much cereal the mother eats at the time of conception and the gender of the baby. Only 43% of mothers who ate less than one bowl of cereal per week had sons, while 59% of mothers who ate at least one bowl of cereal each day bore sons. From the ScienceNOW article:
With fewer women eating breakfast, Mathews says that the Trivers-Willard effect could be at least part of the explanation for dropping sex ratios. Breakfast may be particularly important for maintaining blood sugar levels, which have been linked to increased production of males in other mammals, although the precise mechanism is unknown (ScienceNOW, 30 November 2007).
I really wish I could read the actual article, because I’m particularly curious about this part. I eat lots of cereal – but rarely for breakfast. Rather, I munch on staples like cheerios for snack food at any time of day. The ScienceNOW article continually makes the jump from cereal to breakfast, and I want to know the details from the actual article. Did they ask whether they ate the cereal at breakfast time? If the effect is really about blood sugar levels, then the question of whether they ate breakfast may be more important than how much cereal they eat. And what about women who eat breakfast, keep steady blood sugar levels, but also keep a low overall calorie intake? Where did they fall?
Finally, I also take issue with the title of the ScienceNOW article, “Want a Boy? Eat your Wheaties.” While I understand that it is easier to stick to either X% have boys or X% have girls, I had a bit of a visceral reaction to the “Want a boy?” part of the title, because while I know I’ll be ecstatic and loving with my children no matter their gender, I’ve always daydreamed most often about a baby girl.
While an article title must provide a hook to get the potential reader to go read it, this title seems to me to really simplify the findings. Maybe something like “Want to choose your baby’s sex? Modify your diet.” would have gone down smoother but still hooked people. It seems like it would be easy for an average person to read the actual title and either think “That must be crap science” (this admittedly crossed my mind) or “I’m going to go eat Wheaties every day now.” In reality, from what I can gather with just the abstract and the ScienceNOW article, eating breakfast and/or cereal every day may increase your chance of conceiving a son to 59%. That is a significant increase, but the 41% of mothers who follow that and have girls is no small number of moms. And if I want to have a girl, should I start skipping breakfast and avoiding cheerios? That sure would seem foolish going into a pregnancy.
I came across these through a commenter, Emily, on the May Scientiae Carnival. Emily’s book, Motherhood, the Elephant in the Laboratory: Women Scientists Speak Out, came out recently. She’s set up a blog where she hopes to encourage discussion about how we combine motherhood and science. I haven’t read the book yet myself, but once things settle down and we have some meager amounts of cash, I’ll probably go right out and get it!
Through Emily’s blog I also found out about this book: Mama, PhD: Women Write About Motherhood and Academic Life. It will be released later this year and looks like a promising collection of essays about combining motherhood and academia. This book also has an accompanying blog at MamaPhD.com.
Hey there, and welcome to my cozy spot by the window. From here you can see all sorts of great insights into the lives and careers of women in science. It’s a particularly great scene right now as I have invited all you wonderful science-inclined cats to come and join me to talk about our changing views of ourselves and of our careers. The occasion is the May Scientiae carnival, and there were lots of great submissions. In fact, I really want to take this chance to note that there seem to be lots of new women-in-STEM bloggers out there. We’re creating a community, and it will help all of us. I’m so glad to see it seems to be growing at a faster rate, with all of the new bloggers I’ve seen since 2008 began!
I tried to include all of the submissions so if I forgot anyone, please leave me a comment. You’ll definitely want to follow through on the links and read all of the great posts, so be sure to bookmark this page or the links so you can come back and read them when you have time!
As a suggested prompt, I asked about how our career goals have changed over the past year, 5 years, or 10 years, and how our views of ourselves have changed in that same time frame. I also asked about how where we are now is different from where we imagined, and what role things outside of science have had in our changing perspectives.
How do our career goals change over time?
If there was one thing that was constant for all of the respondents it would be that our goals and aspirations have changed over time. For some, interests and desires have changed considerably, while for others, small tweaks have been made as we learn more about our chosen career paths.
Jennie tries to get some perspective as she tells us about how she can question her career goals constantly, saying “So in answer to the first proposed question my career goals have changed over the course of a day.” Later, she tells us more about her path to where she is now:
My long term goals have never been definite, I’ve just been cruising along going which ever direction my life takes me (re: question four, my husband has determined where I lived, am living and will live so that has shaped a lot of what I study/do). I enjoyed my undergraduate educational experience, my undergrad research project and my technician-type job at a government agency. I’ve wanted to be a scientist since I can remember. When I was in elementary school I wanted nothing more than to wear a white lab coat and make discoveries.
She’s not alone. Maria at Green Gabbro gives us the “soap opera summary” of her path from burned out undergrad to young professional, back to grad school within a year and then thinking about leaving within the following year. Then she tells us how she came to learn that “clinging too stubbornly to long-term goals” doesn’t work for her. She concludes, “Instead of planning for a long-term goal, I am planning for change.”
Similarly, Rivikah tells us that she’s not sure how she got from where she was 10 years ago to now, saying “most of the decisions along the way have been obvious ones.” And Addy tells us that not having a plan has worked out pretty well for her. She shares:
Despite my lack of “a plan”, things have turned out amazing well: I am happily married as we approach our 9th anniversary this summer, I have a happy, healthy eight-year-old daughter, and I have just gotten tenure. I really can’t complain (not that I don’t!).
And Silver Fox takes us through her journey over the past 10 years in her post “5 and 10: where has the time gone?” She tells of moving in and out of the mining exploration industry and of the other places her path crossed in between. She also isn’t much of one for long-term goals, saying instead, “that some of my best ideas have been almost spur of the moment things, ideas that have ultimately taken me to places I never would have imagined – like being a field geologist.”
*Wayward Elf takes us through the path of her own career, with her goals being a “moving target.” She tells us of all of her different jobs, and how among them, her favorite was the video store:
I’ve had a paying job of one type or another since I was 14. I have never not worked. Sometimes I fantasize about it would be like to be unemployed or retired.
My favorite job, bar none, was at the video store. I loved that store. I liked the coworkers, I adored and respected my boss, I liked (most of) the regular customers. I loved that I was getting paid to stand around talking about movies, watching movies (free tape!), repairing broken tapes, and, best of all, just interacting with people all day.
Twice Tenured wrote a great post about what she originally thought she wanted (to teach at a SLAC), what she found at first and loved (a tenure track job at a regional master’s level institution), how she left that to solve her two body problem and eventually found a job at a SLAC near her husband. She shares great details as well about what it was like to teach and research at both types of institutions and how the student bodies varied.
Kim tells us of how writing about the beauty and wonder she sees helps her remember her passion for her science. “I do geology because it’s beautiful,” she says. After having her son, she says she ” slacked off, let the fieldwork slide, didn’t publish.” Others, like myself, prefer to recognize this as her having (quite justifiably) changed her priorities for the period of time when her child was young. Now, she says:
I’m working my way back. But I can’t do it by simply sitting down and writing an impersonal article. I need to be driven by the sense of wonder, as well.
Brigindo takes us along a detailed journey of her path from the “superstar track” to a place that fit her and her family’s lifestyles better. Of her current position, she writes:
It felt like a good fit. It felt like a place where I could at least attempt to have the lifestyle I wanted and where my new research agenda would be welcomed. It gave me the opportunity to teach what I consider to be a reasonable amount of classes. It’s been almost 2 years and it’s working for me, big time. I know there are many from my previous life that don’t “get” my choice since I’m no longer on the superstar track but I no longer get their choice either.
Liberal Arts Lady, who is a scientist who will be starting this fall as a new professor at a liberal arts focused institution, talks about a shift in what is important to her:
I started out as a gung-ho, I’ll-suffer-anything-for-the-project undergrad, and although I’ve really enjoyed the majority of my field time, over the past few years I’ve become much more reluctant and resigned to field work as actual work that also takes me away from my home life.
What have we learned about our chosen careers as we’ve gotten more immersed in them?
Probably few of us had a good idea of what it’s really like to follow our chosen career paths at a young stage in our lives. Some of us grew up with professors close in our families, and were able to see into at least a particular type of science job. Others had little to go on except for what we learned from popular media. Some of us (this cat included) didn’t even consider the thought of pursuing a PhD until partway through our college experience. Ecogeofemme tells us:
In short, I had no experience with the concept of a Ph.D. before I went to college and had Ph.D.s for professors. Scientists were people interviewed on the news about cancer breakthroughs or marine biology.
Similarly, in her post “I wanna be a scientist when I grow up“, Doc-in-training highlights what she didn’t know when she entered college (emphasis mine):
Up to this point, nevertheless, the aspiration was merely about getting into college, so that I could spend more time on space stuff, along with the fact that I would be trained to get a job with a cool job title and rewarded by regular paychecks. But quite honestly, I had no idea what a rocket scientist, or any kind of scientist, does on a daily basis. I mean, two of my extended relatives are professors – one of them is an astrophysicist and the other is a food scientist. But they are extended relatives and were living somewhere overseas. So I got a good concept of what a scientist does from… hmm… television (?!), but I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
Whether we knew professors or researchers as we grew up or we discovered this career path as an option after we were already in college, all of us learned more about science research and the world of academia after we entered grad school.
In her post “Not what I’d planned, but what I was meant to do…the impossible?” ScienceWoman writes about how watching her mother work as a professor at a teaching-focused institution affected her views, and then about how she went from not wanting a job where she has to be good at both teaching and research to her current position. She shares:
As I worked through my PhD and my life evolved, I learned some things that made my mantra of ‘teaching OR research’ seem a bit less tenable, and the impossible started to seem a bit more attractive.
My job requires both teaching and research and expects me to be good at both. It’s not exactly what I planned, but I really think it’s where I was meant to be.
However, it isn’t just about having good ideas. It’s as much about politics and networking and self-promotion and schmoozing as it is about writing papers and winning grants. My postdoc years have been a lot about becoming savvy about self-promotion and trying to get over being an introvert.
While some women are still determined to continue even as they’ve seen more of the difficult realities of being a women in academic science research, others question if this is where they want to stay, while still others are already planning to pursue other avenues. In an older post that Ecogeofemme cites, she writes about her decision that she wants “nothing to do with academia long term.” And Candid Engineer tells us how she’s questioned her competency and abilities along the way, eventually realizing that she probably can be a professor but unsure if she wants to be one:
I am getting older and more experienced in the ways and burdens of adulthood. I regard life as a complex prism of needs, wants, actions, and consequences. So today, if you asked me, I would tell you that, yes, I believe that I could make a fine professor. I would also tell you that I don’t know if I want to.
The Ethical Paleontologist tells us about her progression over the last ten years from a bright-eyed and headstrong 18 year old to where she is now, “Now? I’ll be honest. The year at Wash U almost broke me.” She later explains, “It was events within the science that destroyed the passion – I’m sure if I still felt that ambitious I’d find a way around the job-PhD problem.”
And I wrote a post analyzing my current career path and questioning whether it was what I wanted anymore. Not a week later I learned that I had failed my qualifying exam (for the second time) and am being kicked out of the PhD program I was in. Remarkably, I’m pretty upbeat about it all, ready to go try some other way of combining my skills, something that will use my broad and varied skill set better than the very focused area of academic science research. The more I’ve learned about academia and academic research, the more I think it’s not really the best place for me.
How has being a woman in science impacted our view of this?
For most of us, being a woman pursuing these career paths has impacted us in some way. Some of us were outright denied access to opportunities because of our gender. Challenges earlier in our careers led us to make choices along the way, sometimes choices that might help to learn more about those barriers that were faced. Pat from Fairer Science gives us a great overview of her career in acts, telling us about instances in her younger days where she was outright denied access to things because of her gender. Now, she is actively working to change the world (Go Pat!):
Act 5: President Pat founds Campbell-Kibler Associates, an educational research and evaluation firm with an emphasis on science and math education and gender, disability and race/ethnicity.
Others heard often of how girls weren’t supposed to do what we want to do. Doc-in-training tells us of how her willingness to tell others of her aspirations changed over time, as she grew better able to handle the “girls-shouldn’t-do-this craps.”
Still others deal with more subtle aspects of being a woman in science. Jokerine pointed me to this post by a current undergraduate in science, and as a fairly recent B.S. recipient myself, I can completely relate. Despite the fact that I and many of the younger women in science, unlike those who came earlier, were admitted to many top schools in order to study science and engineering, we still see many of the things Noel writes about in her post. She shares:
So please, stop acting like a sleazy pig. Because of the things you say and do, I feel obligated to look frumpy and completely covered up. I feel self-conscious for looking and acting feminine. I feel embarrassed to participate in an academic discussion or show any signs of comparable intelligence. I even feel a little inadequate on performing tasks that I am perfectly capable of doing. It’s the type of workplace discrimination that nobody would ever acknowledge or address.
In her post, Hannah also tells us about the subtler aspects of being a women in science. She adds some great insight into how promoting our ideas can be hard for women in science:
When it comes time to apply for faculty positions and tenure and all that, it’s more about the impact of your research. This is where the networking comes in: you gotta give talks, go to conferences, talk important people up, promote your ideas, yadda yadda. You need to find people who will promote your ideas for you as well: advisors and mentors. Then social conditioning comes into play. It’s hard to break into the old boys’ network. Heck, it can be hard to speak up when you’re talking informally in a group where you’re the only woman. It’s hard to get over the social conditioning that says you should be quiet and meek, and someday Prince Charming will notice that elegant but little-cited paper of yours and swoop in with a job offer on a silver platter.
And for many of us, our desires to start a family and to balance our non-work lives with our scientist sides lead to yet more challenging choices and changes in perspective. And of course, many of us have seen new reasons to worry about geography and location of jobs after we’ve met someone we want to make a life with.
Amanda tells us about how she always wanted to be a doctor when she grows up, to work toward curing diseases. After discovering she likes research, she decided to pursue a PhD. But after dating and deciding to marry her Dr. Man, she has discovered new uncertainties. She also finds herself asking an all-too familiar question, “Can I do everything?”
Woman Scientist tells us about how she progressed from fearless child to questioning grad student. She asks “Can I be a great mother and a great scientist at the same time? The more important question is do I want to?” For now, she’s going to press on. She concludes:
There may come a time when I change my mind. Until then, I keep telling myself that I can do this. I have to remind myself of that a lot, but I’m starting to believe it. I’m really starting to believe it.
Stepwise Girl talks about the price of the career path she’s been following:
I never really had a precise career plan, but I seized opportunities to carry on doing what I realised I love doing: research. But the career has interfered with all other aspects of my life. I met Husband doing fieldwork (how’s that for a field collection!), so it’s of course not all bad or impedance. But currently the career is delaying personal life plans. That’s what I chose. But, just like everything else, it comes at a price. This dawned on me only a few weeks ago.
*Mother of All Scientists wrote a great post in her series “On going back to work,” which discusses her feelings about returning to work after spending a maternity leave with her beautiful daughter, Bean. She tells us in her recent post, part 8, of how working time being time away from her precious daughter has made her place more value on the work being worth it:
Before I think it would have been too much for me to actually contemplate leaving the bench for good. After all, it’s been 6 years since I realized that bench work wasn’t right for me, and yet here I am. But having the Bean has really made me re-evaluate my priorities. And I’m just not going to settle for a job that makes me unhappy. If I’m going to be away from the Bean, I have to make that time count. I want a career that makes the time away from her “worth it”.
Julie tells us about the day her life changed forever – the day she learned that the baby her and her husband had planned as she finished up her PhD and looked for a post-doc was, in fact, twins! She shares:
Before getting pregnant, I kind of had some, well for lack of a better word, fantasies about combining motherhood with a science career, but all of those imaginings were for only one baby. How would I manage to fit two children into my career? At the same time? I had absolutely no idea. At that point, I kind of just tossed my plans out the window. Whatever would come would come and I would deal with it as it came. I would finish my degree and figure out my life later. It turns out that it was a good thing I chose a “take it as it comes” approach because my life was about to get even less predictable.
And finally, in her post “Career, interrupted“, the Raising Scientists blogger tells us about a recent setback which I would argue is a clear instance of institutionalized discrimination. She tells about how, despite mostly positive reviews, her grant proposal was rejected for reasons she was given no opportunity to explain:
The major concern they had was that, although I was very productive in my previous research career I had not, as of yet, published a paper as a post-doc, and that my non-productivity might be a warning flag as to the feasibility of my actually completing the proposed research. Unproductive? Let me ask you this… where, on my CV, can I put that I got pregnant and gave birth… twice?
We’ve moved from the outright discrimination (no girls admitted!) of Pat’s days to institutionalized discrimination to the more subtle gender issues where young woman find themselves dressing messily so as to have people pay attention to their ideas instead of their breasts. Maybe change is occurring, but is it happening too slowly? Luckily, there are still many brave women scientists for whom the current state of the system is workable, and for many, their love of science may get them through. Hopefully, all of us will do what we can to help effect some change, from outside the academic science world and from within it, so that those who truly do want an academic science career won’t be hindered by many of the biases we still face today.
ScienceWoman plans to work for change:
My hope now is that I can work in some small way to transform academia into a place where future generations of young women won’t think that the combination of teaching, research, and motherhood is an impossible combination.
How have our views of ourselves changed?
Lots of submissions included great details and insight into how our self-perceptions have evolved over time. Many of the posts linked to already have also touched upon this, so be sure to go check out the original posts!
Many bloggers talked about feelings of doubt and fears of stupidity. ReBecca at Dinochick blogs wrote an excellent and detailed post about her career changes in the past ten years. At the end of her post, she leaves us with some great insight as to how she has managed to deal with the changes and setbacks that she has faced:
My brain and I are not always friends, and sometimes I am just not smart enough to get where I want to be I guess. I wish I were more intelligent, articulate, or better at playing the game. I finally figured out that I have to work with what I have been given. I had to learn to love myself for who I am. I can not make my brain work any better than it does. I can try to learn and improve, but I am only what I am. And I have to accept that. While I am about to give up a job I really love for a man I really love, I know that I am not giving up a part of myself in the process, and that is the most important thing that I never did before. This new chapter is only going to help me continue to pursue my goals because this time I know I have this individual’s utmost support and encouragement on all levels. My goals might have been delayed some, but they are still there.
Acmegirl from Thesis – with Children tells us about how she’s moved from pursuing a career as a dancer and choreographer to studying physical therapy to redefining herself as a scientist. Then, she considers how she can make her own box to fit into:
I’ve always been into science. I just didn’t see myself as a scientist. I still sort of stutter on the word when people ask me what I do. I’d rather say I’m a graduate student. This is an ongoing process, I guess. Ten years ago, I had no idea what I would look like as a scientist. I couldn’t really fit myself into that box. Instead, I’ve taken up the challenge of creating a different box. It needs to be a pretty big box, since I like to dance around in the lab while doing experiments.
Cherish Maunders from Faraday’s Cage is where you put Schroedinger’s cat wrote a wonderful introspective post in which she analyzes each of the prompts I asked. She talks about realizing that her struggles weren’t always because of her own ineptitude but rather because she was in the wrong environment:
I always thought I was pretty dumb, and this has been a huge obstacle for me to deal with. It wasn’t until the past five years, especially dealing with the struggles my older son had and the homeschooling that made me realize that I’m not. It’s amazing how I used to feel that my struggles were due to my own ineptitude. Watching my son go through the same things I did helped me realize that a lot of it was not due to me being stupid or inept but that I was in the wrong environment with the wrong teachers. It has really changed my whole perception of growing up. I spend a lot less time mentally beating myself. I’ve stopped being angry at how things changed…now I just need to learn to accept that the people involved were just doing their best. (Dealing with this is probably a good goal for the next five years.)
Lab Cat tells us about how she learned to deal with her dyslexia as a teenager, and overcame this disability by forcing herself to look everything up in a dictionary until she had memorized the correct spelling of things. It paid off and she says “finally my Mum, a remedial English teacher, stated that I was cured of dyslexia, which she had never met in her professional life before.”
Most of us have experienced doubt and fear at some point in our careers. Some of us came out the other end feeling more sure and confident. Academic tells us about how despite the fact that she knows an academic career won’t be “easy, rosy, or clear,” she is confident now that she is in the right place:
One thing that has been becoming increasingly true is the realization that I want to be an academic. I can see that my chosen path will stretch me far outside of my comfort zone. However, there’s a lot of power in knowing that I am choosing the path instead of being my advisor’s puppet. Even though I’m on the front end of the graduate school experience, I’m coming to appreciate the uncertainty that is the journey.
Rebecca from Adventures in Applied Math wrote a wonderful post in which she showed her changing perspectives on graphs. You really should go check it out there to see the graphs and her explanation of them!
So, that about rounds out our discussion of our changing career goals and views, the effect being a woman has played, and our changing self-perceptions. There are so many different perspectives and experiences being shared out there in the blogosphere; hopefully this month’s Scientiae Carnival provides a good glimpse into some of the many varied stories of women in science, engineering, technology, and math.
A few other things to check out
I feel a bit like the teacher who at the end of a long, tiring, yet informative lecture says “OK, class, you can go in a minute I just need to tell you a few more things…” and then goes on for another half hour. Here are some off-topic submissions and articles of note:
1. Podblack cat talks about Women and Superstitions (and a candy bar whose advertising slogan is “It’s NOT for girls!”)
2. At Missives from the Frontal Lobe, KLDickson rants about decreased government funding in the US and speculates about the future of intelligence research.
3. A post in the theme of last month’s Scientiae about playing the fool: Jingling Bells at the blog The Honeycomb:
Now, as a generalist working with specialists, I find I’m sometimes the first to confess ignorance. I fear that if no one breaks the ice people will posture rather than communicate, especially when attempting to work across disciplines.
5. This article was suggested to me in the comments 3 times by 3 different commenters after my posts about analyzing my career path and pursuing other careers that meld science, writing, and mentorship.
6. Sheril Kirshenbaum asks “Is Our Children Learning? (maybe not)” and then leads a discussion. She says, “Moreover, if the examination methods were reasonable, I’m extremely troubled by the ladies’ overall performance. Therefore, I plan to spend this week exploring the disparity that leaves me speechless.”
*These submissions were added after the initial posting. Sorry I missed them the first time!
On Wednesday, which happens to be when I wrote that post about lack of motivation, I had class. I’m only in one class – this one – so you would think I’d be able to handle it, but still it’s not going that smoothly for me. This class is, I would say, very advanced. I am taking it at a different institution in NYC, and so the experience feels more “different” and “other” than usual. On top of that, it uses a fair amount of linear algebra, which I never took but have needed for at least 3 courses now, so it’s got an odd history as a sticking point with me and I always struggle with it. I am convinced that I should have taken it as an undergrad, and I think that it should either be required for my major (it is at some universities) or that at least someone should have advised me that if I wanted to study advanced theories in my discipline, I should take it. Neither happened, and I did not take it, because I did not know that it would be needed, or even that it would be any more useful than any other math course that was not recommended in the department’s advising materials or bulletins.
Enough about linear algebra…
And furthermore, this one class I’m in now marks the first time I have ever been in a class where I am the only female. Now, I recognize I am lucky that I haven’t encountered that yet – I know that things are a lot better than they were 20 years ago, and even some of my peers currently tell me that in their undergrad departments they were in classes that had no women at all. But somehow I find that it is on my mind sometimes, when I’m there. The class has 12 other students, at least half of which are foreign students, and the professor is about 70 years old, and (of course) a white male. He is a big name in the field, and as such it is an excellent course to have the opportunity to experience, to learn this subject from him. But it somehow feels very surreal to me. It’s hard to place; it’s not really outright upsetting, but it just feels…odd. Strange.
When I was leaving class this week, a student said hi to me, and went on to note how I had been absent from class the week before. Aside from wondering where he was going with that, I also thought about how I wouldn’t have noticed if he was missing, but that I’d be hard to miss as the only woman in a room full of men. And that made me wonder, if these sorts of thoughts come up often for members of minority groups.
I’m not saying that this is a big deal, and certainly in this class I have never witnessed any discrimination, but it does make one think about the subtler aspects of …bias. The part where a person’s mental conversation is occupied with thoughts of how they are different. It makes me think of what it might be like to be part of a smaller minority, and thus feel more…alone.
With regards to the class, though, it’s mostly the material that intimidates me. I realized that part of my lack of motivation was a fear that I would encounter too much difficulty and find myself unable to overcome it. But I did manage to get some work done, and then I went to class, walking in embarrassed to both be late and to have missed the last TWO classes (heck, I’m even embarrassed to admit that here). I must look like a horrible student, I think to myself, as I shuffle towards a seat in the back of the small room, as if there were really anywhere to hide.
Distinguished Professor (here I imagine you read his name with a deep, authoritative voice) looks over at me and nods hello, even though he’s already started the lecture. I realize it’s a fairly friendly smile and that maybe I’m not that horrible of a student (I did email him and we talked about what I had missed), and settle into copying the notes and figuring out what’s going on. And do you know what? I understood it very comfortably. As the lecture progressed, some students in the class asked questions, and I realized that I knew the basics of the answers even before they were explained. As he lectured on, I realized that I could handle this class, that even here in week 7 I still knew what he was talking about, at least most of the time.
After class, I called Husband and told him this. It was a good thing I did, too, because the next night when I was a bawling basketcase over how overwhelming the quals are and how I couldn’t really handle a PhD program in my discipline, he was able to remind me that I was just telling him how I had not needed to be so intimidated by the class because I do understand what’s going on. I do usually tell him these things anyhow, but now I have the added incentive that I know if I tell him when I’m feeling confident, that next week or the week after when I am paralyzed with self-doubt about my abilities again, he can remind me, as he did last night, that I was just telling him how I am proceeding alright, getting my work and studying done, and that I can understand the class material and I do understand the core material of my discipline better than I did last year. And it will take me a while, but eventually, I’ll remember that I can do this.
A friend of mine was recently talking about how she splits up various household chores with her husband, and so I’ve been thinking about it myself. I thought I’d share it here because it’s interesting to me how different things work for different people. To give you an idea of how long we’ve been working on our own balance of chores: Husband and I have been living together for 3.5 years but have only had our own apartment and the chores that go with that for 2 and a half years. And we’ve been married for a year and change :-D.
For Husband and I, it’s always a bit hard to tell if we’re splitting work equally, because we both tend to consider not only effort but pleasure or nuisance level as well, and our individual perceptions of that are not straightforward. So instead of just saying “You spend x hours and I spend y hours and they’re even (or not)” we look at how much we like or dislike those hours.
With cleaning, this has led to an imbalance in hours spent because Husband has a much lower cleanliness threshold than I do. It’s hard to make him clean a room constantly and in a timely manner when I can tell the disorderliness doesn’t disturb him at all. So I settle for asking him to help clean up sometimes, when it reaches a level that I dislike, and he doesn’t mind, although sometimes he’ll ask to do it later in the day. It’s like that for lots of chores – I can get him to split cleaning the dishes (no dishwasher) with me, but it requires that I not mind them sitting there for up to a day. Sometimes, I just feel like I don’t mind it as much – I don’t always see it as a nuisance (sometimes I even find it a bit relaxing), so why should I make him do it when it’s clear he really dislikes it? So I guess we maybe split the dishes like 10% him 90% me in the long run, unless I’m going through a stressful time and ask him to help with it more.
However, he does help out with things that he doesn’t enjoy doing. We don’t have laundry in our building so we drop it off a few blocks away and pick it up the next day or two. We agree for him to do it because neither of us likes it but it requires lugging a heavy cart up two flights of stairs on the way back. He always makes the phone calls (deliveries, bill pay issues, troubleshooting, etc) and takes the trash out (down the stairs and around the building into the alley…fun).
He never cooks dinner for us both (maybe once a year he’ll make a tortilla pizza that he gets into), but I don’t cook when I don’t want to. He either makes himself something simple (his menu options are usually: ravioli; beans, cheese, tortillas; cereal and milk) or orders food. He’s a creature of habit so this is good enough for him. He never asks me what’s for dinner, and genuinely treats it as a special thing when I do make dinner, even when I do it as often as 2 or 3 times a week. But the rest of the time we just take care of ourselves for food. Sometimes if he wants something and I only sort of want it, I’ll agree to make it if he keeps me company in the kitchen, but he doesn’t help cook. We just talk while I do the work.
So our cake-cutting algorithm has led us to this, for most household chores: It likely won’t get done if I don’t ask for it to be done. Sometimes it’s done better and faster if I do it myself (cleaning bathroom, floors, dishes; cooking). But, he always acknowledges the work that I do, and would never, ever ask me to do any of it because he wanted it done. He says thanks when I do different things around the house, and I make sure to do the same for him, even when they’re small things. (i.e. Thanks sweetie for remembering to refill the ice cube trays!) This definitely helps us to avoid feeling unappreciated.
My point is, if you just look at what he does and what I do with regards to cooking and cleaning, it would seem uneven. But, we talk about it often enough, and he takes on some chores I don’t enjoy and runs various errands for us both. We’ve tried out arrangements where he did higher amounts of housework, but I was constantly being the household manager and it just didn’t feel right to me because it was adding stress. He always appreciates when I do do things and never minds or asks about them when I don’t do them, so up to now, this has worked for me.
A big thing is we don’t have kids yet, so who knows what will happen then?!
What is your household chore split up like, or if you live alone, what would you think is acceptable?
I wanted to share this, which was sent to me by MomsRising. This form of discrimination is one of the gender related discriminations that I see most strongly in the environment around me – I’m glad it’s finally getting some attention.
Every once in a while a word or phrase is introduced into the lexicon that sheds light on a widespread practice which hasn’t yet entered the national consciousness. These phrases take hold because we need them.
A few days ago, the New York Times listed a sampling of 2007’s newly coined buzzwords – words “that endured long enough to find a place in the national conversation.” Maternal Profiling was one of these. The New York Times defined it as:
“Employment discrimination against a woman who has, or will have, children. The term has been popularized by members of MomsRising, an advocacy group promoting the rights of mothers in the workplace.”
Credit is due to Cooper Monroe from MomsRising.org who coined the phrase to describe the profound bias mothers face in the workplace. The phrase has struck a cord at a broader level for all mothers who feel pegged and discriminated against whether in the labor force or as stay-at-home moms.
Maternal profiling is a term being used by the more than 140,000 (and growing) MomsRising.org activists who are bringing the concept into the public consciousness.
Although seldom discussed until fairly recently, maternal profiling is a significant and shared problem which negatively impacts vast numbers of women, particularly since a full 82% of American women become mothers by the time they are 44 years old.
The workplace impacts of maternal profiling are jaw dropping, especially given that three-quarters of American mothers are now in the workforce. In fact, the American Journal of Sociology recently reported a study which found that mothers are 79% less likely to be hired than non-mothers with equal resumes and job experiences.
Mothers also face steep wage hits and unequal wages for equal work. One study found that women without children make 90 cents to a man’s dollar, but women with children make only 73 cents to a man’s dollar. And single mothers make about 60 cents to a man’s dollar.
Even in well-paid positions, mothers face discrimination. A Cornell University study found that mothers were offered $11,000 less in starting pay than non-mothers with the same resumes and job experience, while fathers were offered $6,000 more in starting pay.
That same study also found that mothers were held to harsher work standards than non-mothers and were taken off the management track for reasons that were not justifiable when compared to the behavior of other workers.
The dirty little secret of the American workplace is that maternal profiling is alive and well and has been for a very long time. We just didn’t have words to label this form of discrimination.
The repercussions of this discrimination are far reaching and they are intricately linked with issues of poverty, a deficit of women in leadership positions, and the future of our country’s children.
A quarter of American families with children under six are living in poverty. Having a baby has been documented as a leading cause of “poverty spells” in our country — a time when income dips below what is needed for basic living expenses such as food and rent.
Right now, the vast majority of workplaces are still structured from the era when it was assumed that there was a wife at home full-time with the children–even though this has never been the case for many low-income families. The majority of women, of mothers, are in the workplace to stay now—and it increasingly takes two incomes to support a family.
The good news is that we know how to narrow these wage gaps and how to stop maternal profiling. Countries with family-friendly policies (such as paid family leave after the birth of a child and subsidized childcare) don’t have the same degree of maternal wage hits as we do here.
But we have work to do. It’s time to catch up. The United States lags far behind other countries when it comes to supporting families. For instance, Harvard researchers studied over 170 countries and found that the United States was one of only four nations without some form of national paid leave for new mothers. (The others were Liberia, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland.)
Unfortunately, so far only one state in our nation, California, provides for paid parental leave though Washington State will follow soon. The lack of paid family leave often causes parents to either quit much-needed jobs to care for their newborn (and thus lose their job-linked healthcare coverage), or else the financial hardship of living without paid leave drives women back to work earlier than they would have chosen. Yet when parents return to work, they face a chaotic and costly childcare system where the cost of care for two children can easily be upwards of $20,000 per year.
Then there’s the ever present question of what to do if you, or your child, gets sick. The absence of policies supporting a minimum number of paid sick days can force parents to choose between leaving a sick child at home alone, or staying home to care for their child and consequently losing income or possibly being fired. And, here too we lag behind other nations. Looking at the twenty countries with the top economies in the world, the United States is the only one that does not have a national minimum standard for paid sick days.
Given that we lag behind on family-friendly programs, it is not surprising that we also lag behind on the health of our children. Although we spend more per capita than any other country on healthcare, the United States is ranked a low 37th out of all the nations in respect to childhood mortality. International studies have shown that paid family leave policies decrease infant mortality by an impressive 25%.
All of the above is compounded by the fact that one in eight American children doesn’t have any health care coverage at all. (This is yet another area where we lag behind: The United States is the only industrialized nation which doesn’t have some form of universal health coverage).
It’s easy to see how having a baby in a nation without support for families could cause a downward financial spiral that lasts a lifetime—and how a lifetime of maternal discrimination can create a vicious cycle for the next generation.
We can solve these problems. We can end maternal profiling. American mothers and families are struggling, not because of an epidemic of personal failings, but because we need changes in our national policies, our workplaces, and our culture to reflect that women are in the workplace to stay and that the majority of them have children.
Women across the socioeconomic spectrum, and across the diverse backgrounds of all American families, are negatively impacted by maternal profiling. They (and many men) are becoming progressively more vocal about the need for our country to create family-friendly policies.
Another related phrase, “family responsibilities discrimination,” has been popularized by legal scholars such as Joan Williams to describe discrimination against employees who have care giving responsibilities. The Center for WorkLife Law has seen a 400% increase is such cases filed during 1996-2005 over the previous decade.
MomsRising.org was launched in 2006 to offer mothers and others an opportunity to collect and amplify our voices in order to bring about a cultural shift and policy changes in how our country treats mothers.
We can take the next step towards gender equity by ending maternal discrimination and by building a family-friendly America where having children does not create economic disparities for women. Just as the term sexual harassment transformed American workplaces, maternal profiling can contribute to creating workplaces that do not discriminate against mothers and other caregivers.
Maternal profiling – it’s as bad as it sounds. Let’s get rid of it.