More on presentations (also some ranting about writing)
By way of FSP's latest post, I wanted to say something more here since she had 44 comments already and many were quite long.
Lately there's been a lot of talk about "why do young women drop out" of the academic pipeline.
Lately I have been hearing from a lot of young women about why.
(As an aside: I've covered all but one of these topics (I think extensively?) on this blog from my own point of view. This post is mostly about the other one I really haven't covered.)
The why includes many components, but I think the main ones are:
1. not feeling welcome
2. wanting kids
3. wanting job security
4. outright harassment
5. wanting more money
Let's pick #1-2 for the sake of addressing FSP's post.
There is still a lot of pressure, especially in the US, for women to have children and be supported primarily by their husband.
I've had many long discussions with friends from Europe about the nonsense of last names, taxes, and mortgages in this country. On the one hand, we supposedly have equal property rights as men. Nobody would say, nowadays, that a woman could not legally own her own house. However, some of the red tape might lead you to think otherwise, especially if you are married.
I think one of the things we underestimate in science is how many young women feel these pressures. Constantly. From their own families, and from their in-laws.
They already feel left out of science as it is, socially speaking. Many fields are still majority male at the upper levels, even though we have this constant stream of young women coming in... and then leaving again. They see their friends leaving. It's a sinking ship. And they are not stupid.
There's still a lot of talk among young women about things like:
1. should I tell my boss I'm pregnant?
2. when's the best time to be pregnant in grad school/postdoc/junior professor (before my ovaries dry out)?
3. should I expect to be treated badly because I'm going on maternity leave (yes)?
They get the answers and they start making other plans for their lives.
So in response to FSP's question, no, I don't think it is too much information (aka TMI) for a (presumably senior, tenured?) professor to include in her research seminar some (?) mention about how she integrated having a family with having a career.
I think one of the major problems, as bluntly illustrated by the comments on FSP's post, is that women are often just as sexist and discriminatory as men are.
And many of the senior women in science now came from a generation of all-or-nothing. They did not have children, and whatever their feelings about it now, they tend to resent younger women just for having the choice. And they're not very sympathetic when their own students or postdocs need time off before or after having a child, or when they need more flexible schedules. I've seen it; I've heard about it; and you know it's true. Having a female PI is not necessarily any better.
I'll admit, learning to recognize the resentment and where it comes from can be really difficult. In my case, I have a younger friend who is very very girly. When I first met her I was mostly surprised that she wanted to hang out with me. Then sometimes I was slightly bothered by her girly-ness. But I was able to take a step back and say, you know what? She's being herself. In that very Legally Blonde kinda way that I actually really respect and enjoy. And I'll admit I'm a little bit jealous that she has figured out a way to do it without being the slightest bit self-conscious.
I would love to see more of this in science.
I think there has been a dangerous trend lately, perhaps brought on by various linguist-type philosophers (Roland Barthes comes to mind), to pretend as if science is written objectively by using pronoun-free passive phrasing. (Bear with me here, it's a short tangent and I promise it's relevant.)
Science was never like this. Looking back, historically science grew out of letters people wrote to each other (yes, there were women doing this too) about things they did basically as hobbies. Gardening, collecting bugs or rocks, looking at stars. They were conversations. They wrote, "I saw this. I thought that. I think it means blah. Next I think I'll do bleh."
Science now might as well be done mostly by robots, since so much of it is repetitious anyway. So then it might make sense to use phrasing like "The DNA was sequenced and this analysis revealed" rather than, "When we examined the DNA sequence, it became apparent that."
End of tangent. My point is that a little person-ality is not bad for science. It's actually how science was always done until very recently (say the last 20 years or so). So I'm very concerned when I see this kind of backlash against scientists being people. The two should not be mutually exclusive.
Sure, by the time you're a tenured professor you might have had all the life beaten out of you. You might have squeezed yourself into the mold so hard you cut off all the parts that didn't fit. But is that really what you want for the next generation?
Personally, I would MUCH rather have an informal presentation from a friend about her work, where she intersperses in stories about what else was going on at the time. Because that's where ideas come from, really. And science is sorely lacking for ideas these days- precisely because we're driving away so much young talent in the form of young women who haven't lost or traded in all their personality.