18.12.04

WANT THE REPUTATION? MAKE THE EFFORT. Question: is the effort worth it? Laura at 11-D has pointed to an article on the free side of the Chronicle of Higher Education seeking those missing women, particularly in laboratory science faculty at research universities.

The article identifies some features of the academic life that ought to give pause to aspirants, whether male or female.
Young women also may be opting out of research-university jobs for personal reasons. Many would-be female scholars, particularly in the sciences, seem to believe that children and a hard-charging research career don't mix. "A lot of us look like we're running around all the time," says Angelica M. Stacy, associate vice provost for faculty equity at Berkeley and a professor of chemistry there. "Young women aren't seeing the fun, the flexibility, the rewarding stuff."
(I will refrain during the Christmas season from taking too many shots at the faculty equity office, which takes a lot of the fun out of searches, which are one of the more burdensome parts of the job, particularly in economics, where the recruiting season coincides with final exams. But I digress.)

As if the years of penury in graduate school, followed by more penury as a post-doc, which I understand is de riguer in the lab sciences, followed by five to seven years on a tenure track, with some additional years on another tenure track if the first one doesn't work out, are particularly conducive to being a good dad, that is, provided somebody is willing to put up with those risks and latch onto such a guy in the first place. It happens. There are academic dads. How many of them are in the position of a beginning economist at Wisconsin, some years ago, who once lamented about not being able to spend much time with his kids? (He did not get tenure.)

Perhaps the problem is with the job description itself, which still owes a lot to its roots with cloistered monks.

Anna L.W. Sears earned her Ph.D. in population biology from [California-] Davis [which is not going to a bowl -- Ed.] last summer and is working as research director of the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation, a nonprofit environmental organization in Sebastopol, Calif. After starting graduate school "with high aspirations for an academic future," she says, she "experienced a big turnaround part way through." She had come to see academe as a "competitive, narrow culture that is so tracked." And she wondered whether other women felt the same way.

So she surveyed 258 male and female graduate students at Davis in 2002 and learned that women were much more likely than men to abandon their plans for an academic career. Women cited a clash between a research career and a family, as well as "disillusionment with academia" because of its "low pay, political infighting, and harsh competition for money."

That pain comes out in a colloquy on the article, which (as several of Laura's commenters have noted) is not for the faint of heart.

One recent Ph.D. recognizes the problem comes with the job.I am currently asking myself this question.
Do I want to be part of a department where I constantly have to try to please superiors who think I should be working 24/7, while my son grows up without me? My husband is also asking himself these same questions.
Another post, by an anonymous poster, bears quoting in full.

I rarely see people in academic science who are happy and fulfilled and contribute to their communities.

The norm in academic science is to be withdrawn, obsessive, work addicted, detached, uncommunicative, and judgmental.

I overdosed on these types in graduate school and that was quite enough.That's why I would not apply for an academic science job if someone put a gun to my head

Workaholism is an illness. In academic science you have to make yourself over into a sick person to compete with all of the other sick people, and that wasn't going to work for me.

I hope all those academic men are very happy. But I know that many of them work so much, they forgot what happy meant a long time ago.

If such people lightened up, they just might be more productive. (Consider Nobel Laureate Robert Solow, skier, chess-player, offshore yacht-racer, kind enough to have commented favorably on a paper of mine that he had no obligation to read.) The Superintendent has a source in a staff position at a prominent university who characterizes many of the faculty members as "workaholics" and "political" cut-throats. The pity is that they cannot better enjoy their exalted standing in their fields, which is not attenuated in any way by the fact that their university is NOT playing in a bowl game.

But perhaps the root problem is the requirements of the job as currently constituted get in the way of people leading something resembling a normal life. For my part, I would like to find the office that provides compensation for alienation of affection, with interest.

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