Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Response to comments & Mad Men

Kea, you're right. I tried it both ways. I did tell them my funding was running out. They either didn't care, didn't believe me, or just plain rejoiced.

FrauTech, you're also right. Older women think that because we're ungrateful, they're not obliged to be sympathetic or helpful at all.


As an aside- did any of you see Mad Men this week? (warning: I'm trying not to spoil it for those who haven't seen it yet, but I don't know if I achieved sufficient ambiguity)

I just love how Peggy deals with a situation and then Joan gives her an earful about how that didn't really fix anything and maybe made things worse for both of them. For all of them.

I love how the show illustrates the multiple layers of catch-22: that women have had to resort to these convoluted sneaky machinations to get back at men who screwed them over, because taking the high road (and taking advice from their male bosses) only seems to dig a deeper hole.

But that reduces them, essentially, to backstabbing manipulation. Also, it requires a lot of access, pre-existing organizational knowledge, and ingenuity.

And Joan isn't mentoring Peggy. Don Draper is mentoring Peggy.


Anyway, yes of course when there are multiple available benches, someone as proactive and assertive as me would certainly just pick one out and start using it.

But haven't you ever joined a lab only to find they hadn't made room for you to work? Or told you to "sit tight"?

I thought that science was so overcrowded that by now that had happened to everyone at some point in their career!

Anon 2:35, Just reading your comment makes me feel like blogging is worth continuing even when sometimes from day to day I think it's just too hard to keep it up.

I'm always stunned when people say shit like that to me, at work or otherwise. Wish I had a way to instantly generate witty or cutting comeback remarks to turn the tables on those jerks!

Bee, I'm not sure I understood your comment. You mean women have this problem all over? Or getting crappy advice has nothing to do with being in a male-dominated field? Because that was sort of my point. I think women in women-dominated fields have a totally different experience (and I know a few areas of science where all the bigwigs are women).

Anon 7:37, thanks! Glad you liked it.

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At 2:28 PM, Blogger Kea said...

I never knew an older woman in physics, although one does meet them occasionally. In NZ, I find older women to be generally sympathetic ... but only for five minutes or so. I was born in Australia in the 1960s, so I have a very clear memory of being a curvaceous youth, constantly slapped, pinched, kissed and hissed at by drunken slobs. At some point it suddenly stopped, which I suppose coincided with legislation, and I was so naive that I thought everyone would be better behaved from then on.

To the young women here: please appreciate how little has changed since the 1970s. There were 3 women undergrads in physics during my youth (it was a large university) and one female academic in the department (married to one of the professors of course). There are about the same number now. Very little change in 35 years.

At 10:42 PM, Blogger Bee said...

Yes, my point was: People are generally bad at giving advice. Not only to you, not only men to women, but also men to men, and women to women, and even to themselves. While it is plausible to blame lack of proper advice on missing role models or people you can relate to, as your own example with the female prof shows, that's actually not the issue. It's hard to find a good mentor or a friend who can relate and also help. It is hard for everybody, and I don't think it's much to do with working in a field whose gender population is skewed. I'm sorry to break the news to you, but as a matter of fact, most people don't care about you and your well-being. They care about themselves and don't want to be bothered with your problems. It might sound somewhat hard or bitter, but consequently the only person whose advice you should be listening to is yourself.

And of course you shouldn't listen to me ;-)

At 12:43 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Kea, I figured as much.

Bee, Yes. Absolutely.

But also, that's a pretty lonely existence, and if you're having problems that you can't sort out on your own, that kind of thinking gets people onto suicide hotlines and jumping ship for less miserable careers. You have to have a support system.

My point was, if there's only one woman around as a potential mentor, and she's not very helpful, that's kind of lame, don't you think?

Sort of like how many of us have been out for drinks or a party with our spouse's friends.

If there's only one other person there of your gender, chances are you'd like to bond together, because you're the minority, but there's still a possibility that you might not really click, or worse, not get along at all.

However, in a more diverse group, statistically speaking, you're more likely to find someone with whom you have more in common.

I've had this happen not just with gender but also with language. We had some romance-language speaking friends who invited us out with their other friends. But when we got there, we discovered that most of their friends were uncomfortable speaking English.

There are some experiences that only native speakers can share.

Being a woman in science means that sometimes the only other people who could POSSIBLY understand what you're going through is other women. So if there are none around, you're screwed.

And yes, they still might not understand. Having women around is necessary but not sufficient.

But you're going to be wasting your time talking to most men. Even the sympathetic, supportive ones usually can't offer any guidance.

At 10:47 AM, Anonymous g said...

Hey Ms. PhD, you've probably heard about this . . . women now get the majority of PhDs. Here's the report from the council of graduate schools: www.cgsnet.org/portals/0/pdf/R_ED2009.pdf.

I thought you might be interested. BTW, I posted this in the comments because I didn't see an email for you.

At 6:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A possible solution to the job-related issues you blog about is to unionize.

At 1:56 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


Yep, I saw that. It's irrelevant, though, except in fields where a postdoc is not required. Most women drop out at the postdoc stage.


I agree that in theory unionization would help, especially with things like equal rights and quality-of-life quibbles like benefits and retirement.

However, it will take a long time.

And, it won't fix the problem of how to make sure that more people move up to the next (full-time, tenure-track faculty) level.

It may, in fact, eventually take down the university system altogether, because unions cost everyone a lot of money (except the people who run the union - for them it's just a lot of profit).

At 3:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"However, it will take a long time."

This is probably why graduate students and post-docs often don't unionize; their situation is too temporary to justify investing the effort.

The cost isn't a barrier for other professions and in the long run the benefits probably justify these costs. At any rate nothing will change unless there is some form of collective action.

At 9:20 AM, Blogger Leigh said...

Hey MsPhD, did you see this article about a novel way to open tenured positions at UT? It's interesting, check it out: http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/21/would-you-retire-for-a-buyout/

At 9:26 AM, Anonymous g said...

Do you know that most women do not do a postdoc or is that just what you think? I've never seen those data.

At 10:43 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


Well yes, (almost) all postdocs and grad students think:

a) it will be different for me
b) I should just keep my head down and work
c) it wouldn't help me anyway because I'll be gone

But I mean, even with a handful of postdocs who want to fix things, it will take a while. Probably a few postdoc generations. I would guess maybe 10-15-ish years? Maybe that sounds crazy but it's my gut feeling.

Leigh, I haven't seen that. I will check it out, thanks!


Yes there are data, but I will have to dig them up since I'm not sure I remember if it was in the National Academies white paper or in the Sigma Xi or both or the NSF report... maybe all three. I should really revamp this site and stick those on the side somewhere as permalinks. I have just been too lazy.

It's not that women don't do a postdoc, that's not what I said.

Actually, as I've written here before, the data show that going into the postdoc in many fields it is still pretty close to equal, say 40-45% women. Not bad, really.

Most women drop out DURING the postdoc years. That is what the data show.

Which is why I was not at all surprised that more women than men are getting PhDs now. Men have been choosing other career paths and academia is becoming another pink ghetto. The trend has been there for a while, it just finally crossed the threshold.

At 11:15 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


I love the formula. Age + how long you've been there. HA! Does postdoc time count? ;-)

Seriously they're still missing the point, as the 84-year-old guy illustrates. There are two reasons why people don't retire:
1. salary/benefits, and 2. they love the work. Buying people out to retire early fixes one of those, and only partially, but the other not at all.

I've written about that before here, too (note to self: try searching with the tag "please retire"). I suspect the trick is to get people to shift to teaching only part-time as emeritus professors, and advising younger professors (much-needed expertise).

I think most older people in science are not equipped to consider retiring cold-turkey, but a program of stepping down from certain stressful responsibilities might help cushion the transition to a different lifestyle, while still valuing their continued contributions.

Of course that won't help with the control-freak nutjobs who won't relinquish their tight grip on pet programs, political games and inside-job hiring. Just have to wait patiently until they die. =p

At 1:07 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Here's the link I was thinking of. It's from the collaboration between the National Postdoc Association (NPA) and the NSF ADVANCE grants for increasing diversity. There are some good graphs (although ugly, made in Excel, blech!):


At 1:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...fix things, it will take a while."

It depends on what the "fix" is, how much support there is, etc. Are you planning a revolution or something more modest? I think the real question is not what particular "fixes" are implemented but if people organize themselves in unions or in some other way. Admittedly, the unions are in poor shape, along with everything else in this country.

This whole discussion may be moot because the U.S. may enter an economic death spiral before long. And then there is always global warming:


At 11:19 AM, Blogger Tim said...

I feel so sorry for women..

At 12:51 AM, Anonymous Famous Women in Business said...

This may indicate that women are hired at greater than their availability rate. In addition, physics departments are more likely than ever to have at least one woman on their faculties.


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