Happy Pi Day everyone! It's also Albert Einstein's birthday today, so happy 135th Al!
Speaking of old guys in science, a friend of mine has a bone to pick with a few of them! Martine is currently a post-doc overseas and grew up there as well! I met her when she was completing some field work here in the states and I have looked up to her ever since. As a strong, independent woman in science, who rarely filters what's on her mind, I'm so thankful she agreed to share some of her experiences with us. Please feel free to leave questions for her in the comments section below!
"When I was 11, my dad explained to me how genes, chromosomes and DNA work. He was breeding birds, which got me very interested in how the living world works. This is how I first got into biology, although my interests shifted toward ecological sciences during my undergrad degree. When I had a class on the interactions between the atmosphere and biosphere, I was sold (especially when we talked about the idea of ‘runaway warming’)!
I’m in my post-doc phase now, after I did a PhD with lots of exciting fieldwork, and I still love doing research. The challenge now is to combine a professional life with a personal life, apart from the generic challenges of finding grants, building a network, and applying for tenure track positions. My partner lives a one hour flight away and has his own assistant professorship, which is great for him, but two ambitious people with narrow fields of expertise don’t always make it easy to plan for a shared future.
I also find it hard to find a role model. The only female professor in my department is a Superwoman lady who had a few very high impact papers from her PhD and is so hyper-intelligent that I feel I cannot really compare myself with her. As for male role models, I know that three male professors, all who I admire both professionally and personally, that have partners who are stay-at-home or with part-time jobs. So I have people I look up to, but who I feel I can’t compare myself to, which has made me feel at times that a professorship ‘is just not for me’. It wasn’t until I saw a female psychology professor explain that this is a very common phenomenon amongst female scientists: you don’t see (enough) examples in your surroundings, so you start to dis-identify with the possibility of being in that place.
For me, hearing that I am not alone in those feelings made a big difference in how I view my situation and how I imagine my career path. I now know it was the circumstances that made me feel incompetent, and that I don’t have to let go of my ambitions because of it.
One other thing that frustrates me as a woman in science is when some of my male friends, who felt like partners in crime during our PhD days, don’t really understand me when I talk to them about the things above. Bringing up the lack of female professors at our university is like a cue to set them off complaining how there are so many chances for women now and how hard it is for men to find grants. It’s one thing when the ‘old grey white dudes’ high up the academic food chain don’t see a problem with women being underrepresented in the top layers of academia, but it’s a bit disheartening when it’s men (or sometimes women too) from my own generation voicing the same sentiments.
I just feel we can do better than this! Fortunately, I have some awesome female colleagues I can discuss these frustrations with. Not so we can dwell on it for the sake of self pity, but to acknowledge you’re not the only one with these worries and it’s not a weakness to fret about them sometimes. I think that’s very important.
Overall, I love doing science and being part of my scientific community, and I am sure that at some point I will find a fulfilling way to balance my personal and professional life. So far it has all been really exciting!"
Have you had a similar experience? How did you handle it?
Welcome to Think Like a Postdoc. If you're a fan of science as much as I am, and/or are curious about getting a degree in a STEM field, or pursuing an interdisciplinary graduate degree (all from the perspective of a graduate student), then you're in the right place. Think Like a Postdoc also includes posts about my current lab and field research, including analytical chemistry, Arctic biogeochemistry, and energy & environmental policy. Comments and questions are always welcomed. And please tell me what you want to hear about next!
Questions to Ask Before Choosing Grad Program
First Semester of Grad School
Field Work in Alaska
Science Conference Dos and Don'ts
Women in STEM Series
Things I've Learned in Grad School Series
Blogs I Follow
Mass Spectrometry Blog
The Grad Student Way
Anthony's Science Blog
The Thesis Whisperer
Fossils and Shit
Science Communication Breakdown
Science Communication Media
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