Thursday, April 23, 2009

Origin of the postdoc.

Been doing some research on this. It's not what I thought. It's most likely not what you think, either.

Particularly with regard to women in science and the particular type of glass ceiling I've been hitting lately, this is not a new phenomenon, it's not just me, and it's fundamentally systematic.

And I think I know who's at least partly to blame: women professors of a certain generation, who benefited from those who came before them and didn't make any effort to pay it forward.

Will write more some other time, I'm not done with reading and it will probably take me a while to decide how best to choose points to highlight.

Suffice it to say, I strongly recommend you check out some of the writing by this author.


Amusingly, I got a good fortune cookie yesterday that said today will be good. Fingers crossed- I could use something good right now.

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At 6:15 PM, Blogger Amanda said...

I had a female prof in college who was absolutely horrible to young women because she was of an older generation and had to struggle to get to where she was. She seemed to think that, because we didn't have to fight med as much, we had to have something else to fight-- and that something was her. I always wondered if she resented us for having more, though still limited, options.

At 2:43 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

She was an idiot, eh? Everyone has to struggle to get where they are. That's the joy of doing science while female.

But it finally dawned on me that the oldest women in our profession (~age 70ish now) are activists, and the middle-aged ones are not (~age 50-ish now).

I'm guessing she was in that middle bunch that I'm talking about.

At 7:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm part of that cohort of female professors that you seem to like to vilify (late 40s in age), and believe me, the horrid behavior of senior women singling out and harassing younger women didn't start with my generation. When I was searching for postdoctoral positions, I visited two labs run by women, and in both cases, female lab members quietly took me aside and told me in no uncertain terms not to join the group because the PI resented the presence of younger women. These PIs are women who would now be about 60-ish in age.

In contrast, I see the women PIs in my department who are my age, and we are very supportive toward young female scientists. My own lab has never been less than 80% female. These women all have outside lives as wives and mothers and we are still able to run a multiple-RO1 research group.

While all this is anecdotal based on my experience, I really hate to see you painting such a broad unflattering picture of female PIs my age. Just as with male PIs, a small group of female PIs are unmitigated jerks, and they arise in every generation.

At 12:31 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Anon 7:17-

You make a good point. Maybe I got the ages wrong. And you're absolutely right- there are always some jerks. So why does it seem like it's mostly the self-centered jerks who get the jobs in my field?

The women your age in my field are, by and large, NOT supportive of younger women.

I was just thinking of one today who always says the reason women don't get faculty positions is because they don't apply. Which is, of course, blaming the victim of a system that already invites (men) for interviews before the public advertisements go out.

Or two others who support women grad students and postdocs as long as they go into other careers. It's fine to have women in your lab as long as they don't want to become PIs. Meanwhile the men who want to stay in academia get all the applause.

I could go on and on. Maybe part of the problem is I don't know the exact ages of these women. Maybe I was underestimating them. They might be about 60ish by now, especially since they all have tenure, and the average age of assistant professors is what, 38-42 for the first R01 grant?

Maybe the problem is also that I have higher expectations of women. It's my feeling that women have to choose to look the other way, or choose to act male, or choose to ignore the sexism. Men are frequently unaware because it doesn't always even happen in their immediate vicinity. So in that sense I guess it's easier for me to believe that men don't know it's happening, while women have to actively cover their eyes and ears to miss the point.

At 6:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In your lab, how many people in the last 4 or 5 years have gotten TT positions vs how many have gone into industry or quit? Is there a significant difference between what the men and women have done? Of course, I'm assuming most post-docs want a TT position.

At 9:38 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Anon 6:08,

The lab is so big that I'd have to do some serious research to track back and figure out where everyone ended up. I can't count all the people who have come and gone without writing their names down. I'm pretty sure I can't spell them all (and I'm actually pretty good at spelling).

But off the top of my head, I have a couple of questions first - a couple of people have gotten kicked out and ended up finishing elsewhere - do they count?

What about the people who followed their spouses (and wouldn't have been able to get positions otherwise, by their own description of their job searches)? Does my advisor get credit for promoting their careers?

But yes, to answer your question, there is a very significant difference between the men and women. I think the ratio is about 3:1 for men:women getting jobs? But that's not even counting the ones who didn't get jobs of any kind.


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