It's definitely not all sexism.
Was talking to a friend last night who has run into many of the same kinds of problems I've had.
We're in different fields, and opposite in many ways, including gender.
But we do share certain personality features, which I can only describe as lack of natural talent for academic politics.
The only friends I had in grad school whom I'd say are similarly handicapped have all ended up in industry. They couldn't, or wouldn't, play that part of the game.
Four out of six are women. Three realized early on they didn't have the patience or the stomach for it. One realized painfully this was a weakness, still isn't particularly happy in industry, and sometimes talks about coming back to do a postdoc (I keep telling her not to).
The two remaining who stuck with it AND got interviews for faculty positions are guys. (Coincidence?) But they apparently never understood why none of those visits yielded offers.
And who is still sticking with it? .... Yours truly.
On the one hand, my friend says I'd make a great investigator. He thinks I'd be good at running a lab, I would know how to set things up from scratch and manage people and so on.
And his perceptions of sexism are entirely different from mine (although he himself often makes what I'd consider highly offensive comments).
Most of the women from the last lab he worked in have gotten faculty positions, so he thinks things are improving. (Somehow he forgets about the lab he worked in before that, which is more like the kind that I've worked in, where the women all end up quitting.)
But to him it's much more universal than sexism, or at least, it's not sexism alone. Even he has to admit that sexism only makes it that much worse. But he has a much broader theory about what's wrong.
He thinks this is the worst possible time to get into science.
And I've been hearing that a lot lately. My own advisors seem to think it's a bad career choice for... just about anyone. Which is probably why they're not exactly overjoyed that it's what I want to do. They keep asking me if I'm sure.
The more they ask me that, the less sure I am.
If nothing else, writing this blog has made me realize all the times people tried to discourage me from a career in science. And that I stubbornly ignored all of them.
In college, my grad student friends told me not to go, that it's a miserable existence.
During grad school, the faculty told me I wouldn't make it.
And so on until now.
Now, my friends who are PIs are all saying it's not the great fun they thought it would be.
Aside from some few happy examples like FSP, most of them are not particularly happy at all.
Almost all the new PIs say - and this really makes me cringe - they wish they could go back to being postdocs.
My former-scientist friend is doing something else these days, but all he can talk about is science.
The people he worked with, the disagreements they had, how frustrating it all was. But I have to assume the real reason he can't just let it go and get on with his life is because he really loved it.
I don't know how I could live like that. To me, the worst thing would be to quit, but then never get over it.
I would not want to end up like my friend, who might never stop obsessing over the wonderful time he spent working in lab. That part just makes me really sad.