Women in Science: A Spectrum of Reflection

Women in Science: A Spectrum of Reflection

Women in Science: A Spectrum of Reflection (image courtesy of Indiana University)​

Gender equality is a topic constantly debated in science. Notable differences related to hiringcompensation, and workplace bias are commonly observed in the field. The differences can usually be correlated to gender. Does this suggest that gender bias is still practiced in the workplace? To address this question ThePostdocWay aimed to focus this week’s blog on 'Women in Science and the challenges they must overcome'. Our objective was simple – ask our team to comment on the topic using literature references, compiled data and studies, and female role models in the workplace. The results were fascinating and yielded four unique perspectives, each highlighting a different set of obstacles. Our four all-star Ph.D. contributors, Neilia, Halina, Uyen, and Michelle, did an outstanding job tackling this question. The insightful contributions beautifully intertwine and build on underlying gender issues and stereotypes present in the scientific workplace and beyond. Amazingly, although each contribution was submitted independently from each individual, they transition seamlessly into one another building on unique themes and a perspectives. I encourage you to read the blog, digest the comments, and discuss if science equals chastity, poverty, and obedience in greater detail online. – Dr. Brian Postdoc 


Contribution 1 | Dr. Neilia Postdoc, June 2013

Indoctrination into Science: Finding the Right Partner

I have been interested in science for as long as I can remember. Perhaps it was early indoctrination by my father who was employed at an engineering company and surrounded by intelligent engineers. Perhaps it was blatant brainwashing that compelled me to declare an intention to pursue a science-related career. It was initially expected that I would go to medical school. However, I did not make the necessary score and was actually (secretly) disinterested in treating patients so I defaulted to the next best thing - research.

I was initially a student of microbiology, because neuroscience as a major was not available to me at the time. I decided to pursue a Ph.D. mainly because I wanted options and career growth, which a master’s degree would not necessarily afford. Like many scientists of non-American nationalities, I chose the US as the place to start my research career because of the purported wealth that American labs were bathing in.

Commitment to Graduate School: The Honeymoon Years

I entered the graduate program in 2005 with the desire to run my own lab and it became my driving force. I was attracted to the idea that I could answer any question I wanted and that I would be working for myself. I had great teachers, lab mates and fellow graduate students who taught me a great deal about science and the art of collaboration. I learned the valuable lesson that it is not such a bad idea to get along with everyone (you never know when you might need help with a technique or an antibody).

I was fortunate to have a project that gave me very few problems. I was productive. I worked long hours and defended my thesis in less than 5 years. In many ways my life as a female graduate student wasn’t very different from that of my male counterparts. Expectations were the same, the workload just as heavy, hours just as long and the pressure to excel just as overwhelming.

However, I was a single woman; I had no family to go home to or kids to tend to. I personally know female graduate students who decided to quit the graduate program because they could not deal with the “stress”. The level of productivity that a graduate program demands makes it almost impossible to commit to anything else outside of science.

The Numbers Game

My desire to obtain a tenure-track faculty position started dwindling during the thesis writing process. I hoped that what I was experiencing was fatigue and that my postdoctoral project with its new challenges would rekindle my passion to pursue research in academia. My commitment to science was rock-solid, but I also was discouraged that if I did pursue the academic route, I might (in a perfect world), obtain my first tenure track position in my late 30s or early 40s, and tenure somewhere in my mid-to-early 40s.

It didn’t really help my aspirations when as a graduate student I saw a few tenure track and non-tenure track female faculty members struggle to acquire funding for their projects. The few that I knew didn’t make it; they had to quit and find jobs outside of the academic environment. I realized at the time that surviving graduate school was probably the smallest hurdle that I encountered.

Reality Sets In

The transition to postdoc life was not easy. I had lost the sanctuary that shielded me in graduate school where my only responsibility was to get the best training possible. As a postdoc I saw my PI, a newly appointed faculty member at Columbia University, apply obsessively for grants before he succeeded in one of his RO1 applications. With NIH funding being at an all time low and recently instituted budget cuts, I realized that I do not want to be bothered with acquiring funding and being subjected to several cycles of uncertainty.

I have now decided that the academic route is no longer a priority or desirable to me. Several factors contributed to my decision to stray from academia, but the most important reason is that the paycheck of an assistant professor does not look attractive to me. The stress associated with “keeping the job” does not justify the meager salary that is tied to the title of a newly appointed assistant professor.

The second reason is that the academic environment is not necessarily conducive to the survival of female scientists. Maternity leave is too short (6 weeks for postdocs), and is often not paid. It is difficult to maintain the same level of productivity post-delivery, yet the “tenure clock” does not stop for female scientists. I talked to a few senior female faculty members regarding their decision to pursue science. I observed that they all entered the work force at a time when competition for grants was not as fierce - there were fewer applicants for grants and more money available for research.

With science funding at an all time low, faculty now spend more waking hours writing grants than mentoring or even occasionally working at the bench. I now meet fewer women who express a desire to seek tenure track faculty positions and the reasons are similar – that the funding climate has changed while burden of family responsibilities has remained the same.

Moving Forward

So what can universities do to encourage women to pursue science? I would like to see more family friendly packages and benefits. Maternity leave must be increased for faculty and paid maternity leave must be available for postdocs and graduate students alike. There must be an increase in the number of postdoctoral fellowships and NIH grants available for female scientists.

Universities need to lure female faculty with additional benefits like making a small contribution to day care costs, establishing on–site day care facilities, giving women extra time before making tenure decisions, and even increasing postdoc salaries to discourage women from abandoning science.

Most importantly, administrators and hiring committees must be sensitive to the desire of female graduate students and postdocs to start families. Mentorship programs must be available to female graduate students, postdocs, and to young female faculty to encourage them to stay on track. I would like to see at least some of these changes instituted in the next 10 years to give more women a reason to pursue academic careers.


Contribution 2 | Dr. Halina Post-Postdoc, June 2013

Women in Science: Overcoming New Obstacles

My name is Halina. I graduated in 2004 with a Ph.D. in genetics from George Washington University (GWU). I also did stints at Argonne National Laboratory, the NIH, the Red Cross and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I later worked or currently work at companies such as Promega Corporation and Clontech Laboratories. And all I can say is…

I never once encountered direct discrimination or prejudice as a woman in science.

Yes, it may seem surprising. Perhaps I didn’t notice it, or maybe I chose to remain ignorant of its occurrence. Looking back, all I recall is hunkering down and working alongside my other female and male colleagues, our noses pressed to the grindstone of making that next experiment, or that next paper, or that next grant a reality. Maybe there was just no time for discrimination or prejudice.

Or maybe my mentors and colleagues simply did their best to not talk about the real underlying issues inherent with being a woman in science- because to talk about these issues would’ve meant that change was required.

Oh, the memories…

I started my scientific journey as a lowly undergrad student at Argonne. I didn’t even have my bachelor’s back then. Since I worked in Materials Science/Chemistry, most of my colleagues were men. And I must say, although the 9:1 male/female ratio made for some great dating odds, in the lab we were all strictly business. We were a young group- most of us were in our early to late 20’s and didn’t have a care in the world aside from sharing a few beers after work at the on-site Exchange Club.

Leveling the playing field

Once I moved on to grad school, conditions changed. At GWU, the male/female ratio changed to 2:3. Most students were older; with ages ranging from the late 20’s to even early 40’s. Many of my lab colleagues were married and/or had young children. This introduced a new set of challenges for us; because most scientists earn advanced degrees that often take up to a decade to complete, having a family life or even a life outside of work is a challenge.

Crunching family life with a 9-year Ph.D.

One example I recall from my graduate student days is that of a fellow Ph.D. graduate student who was on her 5th year and desperate to graduate. She was also in her mid-30’s, married and hoping to start a family soon. But her (female) mentor kept holding onto her, saying she needed to finish “just one more experiment.” This situation went on for another two years. Finally, the never-ending grad student threw caution to the wind and got pregnant. From what I heard, her mentor wasn’t happy with that development, but so what? Her graduation photo shows her holding her diploma in one hand and her bouncing one-year-old in the other.

Pregnancy and 50-hour work weeks

According to a postdoctoral survey published by Sigma Xi, postdoctoral scientists work an average of 51 hour per week. Of course, that’s only an average. By the time I was out of graduate school and doing my own postdoc(s) at UW-Madison, my weekly hours spanned from about 9 a.m. until roughly 7 or 8 p.m. If I had a timed experiment to run, I’d often show up for another hour at 11 p.m. or so and leave the lab after midnight. I just loved getting pulled over on University Drive during those late hours on suspicion of drunk driving. My favorite memory of my time at UW was me splitting cells on Christmas Day.

The thought of having kids during that time was hilarious. During my second postdoc, there was a woman in the lab, also a postdoc, who became pregnant while working nearly 60-hour weeks and doing clinical rotations to boot. Our joke with her was “How did that happen?” She was stressed out and constantly sick. When she finally did deliver her son, his full-term weight was just at five pounds. About a day or two after the birth, her mentor was asking us when we thought she would show up to give him her Western blot results.

My journey towards sanity

By the time I was wrapping up my second postdoctoral appointment at UW, I was burned out on academia and being at the bench non-stop. The low pay (the current NIH NSRA stipend is $39K/year for starting postdocs), the long hours and the lack of any benefits had me yearning for a corporate job. Once I found that corporate job, there was no turning back, despite the dirty looks I received from my mentor for “leaving science” and making a deal with the devil.

In the corporate world, family and maternity leave came standard with the job. No one was expected to put in over 40 hours per week- and if that occurred, there was some kind of compensation involved. While I did not end up having kids, I did take significant time off and even 12 weeks of family and medical leave when my mother needed care because of her dementia. Overall, the companies I worked at were and still are very understanding of my requirement for work/life balance.

Science = poverty, chastity and obedience?

I’ve always likened science to being a kind of calling. You don’t just do science 9-to-5 and then stop being a scientist when you go home at night. You don’t stop analyzing the world and being curious about it simply because it’s the weekend or you’re on vacation. However, while science can be a life calling, it need not be like the priesthood and demand vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Science is a passion for understanding and appreciating life to its fullest- so why should doing science limit actually having a life?

The problem with women and science

While no one openly says it, there is an expectation that, as a woman, you will not slow down your scientific progress- or inconvenience the lab- by having a family. And since most of your scientific progress occurs during your postdoctoral years, years which span from your late 20’s to even your late 30’s, that’s puts you in a real bind about when/if to have kids. Your male colleagues can easily wait until they’re in their 40’s and better-positioned as faculty members or researchers, but for you the clock is ticking.

If you decide to go ahead and start a family now, while you’re still in graduate school or a postdoc, you lose valuable time that you could’ve been using to advance your career through publications and professional relationships. Furthermore, leaves of absence to start a family are still used as a reason to deny tenure or promotions, with the excuse that “you simply haven’t published enough in your four years here”- even if those “four years here” consist of being away on family leave for two to three years.

What’s my solution to the ancient dilemma of women’s biological functions standing in the way of their scientific goals and ambitions? Artificial out-of-body gestation. Yep. But seriously, here are some other suggestions that I’ve come up with.

Establish paid maternity leave

Back when I was at GWU, I was appalled to learn that my school had no provision for paid maternity leave for graduate students. I later learned that this limbo state also extended to postdocs. Currently, schools and institutes vary greatly in their maternity leave policies. Some NIH NSRA grants, however, do provide for paid maternity leave. The remaining postdoc population is simply encouraged to have unpaid leave approved by their mentor.

With postdocs being paid as little as they are, it is simply unthinkable for many of them to take even a month of unpaid maternity leave off. As a result, many female postdocs end up retraining in different fields of study and leaving research altogether.

This situation could be avoided if all schools and institutions addressed the reality that many female graduate students and postdocs are in the prime of their reproductive lives and do need secure (i.e., paid) maternity leave. In order to do this, postdocs and graduate students need to become employees of their respective institution and less dependent on the grants (i.e., whims) of their mentors. Alternately, all science grants, following along the example set by the NIH NSRA, need to include provisions for paid family/maternity leave.

Organize and unionize

Back when I was at GWU, I noticed how many of my postdoctoral colleagues, whether female or male, had stay-at-home/work-at-home spouses who took care of their children and other household matters while these postdocs put in 60+ hour work weeks. I also noticed how many of my mentors, now with a few decades of research under their belts, were also on their second or third marriages. The scientific life, especially when lived in the academic world, is not conducive towards having a good marriage and family life. This situation also causes significant postdoctoral “drop-out” from research and needs to change.

Sane working hours for postdocs and scientists need to be implemented and stuck to. Of course, it is doubtful that the push for sane working hours will start at the institutional/employer level. Postdocs need to organize and, in essence, unionize. As this “collective bargaining unit,” postdocs will hold more sway over their working conditions. Female postdocs especially should also collaborate with one another through such organizations as the AWIS (Association for Women in Science).

Develop other talents and skills

Unfortunately, many postdocs know a great deal about their niche area of research and not a thing about marketing, business development, patents, etc. They also do not know how to effectively sell their current talents and skills to employers outside of the sphere of pure research. As a result, many postdocs assume that there is nothing out there for them aside from academic/institutional research and “the postdoc way” of life. These highly talented as well as educated scientists, whether, female or male, become afraid to speak up about their rights to decent working hours and a family life.

The remedy for fear has always been knowledge. Because with knowledge comes power, including the power to exercise options over one’s life. Postdoctoral scientists need to learn and pick up “real world” skills in addition to knowing how to transfect cells and being the Western blot Queen (my awarded title while I was at the bench). These skills might include business writing, e-commerce marketing or blogging. They might also include creating and selling an e-book. Whatever those other skills are, they can only lead to a better quality of life.

In summary

I started this article by saying that I have not encountered discrimination or prejudice as a woman in science. However, having said that, I do admit that being a woman in science can be challenging, especially if I wish to also pursue a pure “at the bench” research career. The low pay and long hours as a postdoc and then a full-fledged scientist take a toll on marriage and having a family. And as a woman, I can’t just put off having kids until I’m more established, especially with postdoctoral appointments now stretching out to decades instead of the originally intended one to two years.

As a result of my own experiences and observing the experiences of the woman scientists around me, I do not envy the postdoc way of life. I do, however, see some small yet significant changes taking place in the scientific realm. Postdocs are organizing and demanding better work/life balance. Major institutions, such as the NIH, are taking notice.

I’m excited for the future, but I’m also cognizant of the fact that my optimism stems from me having been “around the corporate block” and having options beyond just doing another postdoc. I’m not as worried now about my monetary or living situation. And if I need to take some time off in the future to start a family of own, that option will be there too.

I just hope that current women in science will experience and feel this way too.


Contribution 3 | Dr. Uyen Postdoc, June 2013

Women in Science: Combating the“Stereotype Threat”

A friend of mine (also a scientist) recently said to me, “You don’t fit the scientist personality type.” I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by that but this isn’t the first time I’ve been told that I may perhaps be “too fun to be a scientist.” I thought that science and fun was no longer an oxymoron! But that subject is reserved for another blog post.

While these comments are harmless, they suggest that the stereotypes of what scientists – especially women scientists – are supposed to look like still exist today. So, I wonder whether the so-called “stereotype threat” (or a phenomenon where people worried about a stereotype acts in ways that make the stereotype self-fulfilling) are prevalent in science today. Furthermore, I wonder whether the “stereotype threat” may, in part, explain the reason why women scientists are slowly driven away from pursuing academic science.

It turns out that the “stereotype threat” is a real and pernicious phenomenon according to a study conducted by University of British Columbia psychologist, Toni Schmader, and her University of Arizona colleague, Mathias Mehl, about why so many women drop out of science-related fields.

As reported by NPR’s Shankar Vedantam, using a device called an Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR) to collect daily soundbites of women working in science-related fields, Schamader and Mehl found that when conversing with male colleagues women scientists sound less engaged in the technical discussions about the work. The reason, as it turns out, is that female scientists spent a part of their brain worrying about what they are saying as oppose to fully engaging in the conversation with their male colleagues - making the women scientists sound less confident.

When female scientists talk to female scientists about their work, they sound perfectly at ease. After listening to the NPR report, I noticed that I also tend to avoid talking to my male colleagues about my work (even when the male colleagues are junior to me). Additionally, I find myself preferring to talk to the female scientists in the lab, especially about my negative results, because I feel that they will not undermine my ability as a competent scientist when I show them my messy western blots.

So are these hidden workings of our brain the reason that drives female graduate students and postdocs away from pursuing academic careers?

I started graduate school with a class of nine females and four male students. Only three female students (including myself) are pursuing post-doctoral training after graduation. I expect this number to decrease further as the three of us wrestle with the decision to pursue academic science. I am certain that these biases will play a part in our ultimate decision.

What can we do as women in science to change this?

First, changing biases requires individuals to be aware of their biases. Second, I think by embracing who you are, first as women and second as scientists, will help change the culture of academic science for future generations. Third, I suggest that women graduate students and postdocs find the time to be more involved in Women in Science organizations both locally and nationally. For example, the UW-Madison Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute has activities year-round that bring together women leaders on campus for networking events and bookclub discussions. At a national level, I would recommend to be more involved in your professional societies and participate in women’s events at your society’s annual conferences. These venues provide supporting environments to buffer the existing “stereotype threat” that plague young women scientists today.

Finally, female postdocs and graduate students should find science outreach platforms to expose themselves to the public. As Schmader said, even when aware, individuals have to be motivated to get beyond their assumptions of what a scientist is supposed to look like in order to slowly reverse the “stereotype threat” for future generations.


1. How stereotypes can drive women to quit science

2. Why Are We Still Worried about Women in Science? 

3. Diversity Isn’t Rocket Science, is it? 


Contribution 4 | Dr. Michelle Postdoc, June 2013

This month, we mark the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act. Along with this celebration, however, comes the sobering reminder that we are not as enlightened as we would like to think. Women still earn 77 cents on each dollar earned by their male counterparts. Women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fare slightly better, earning 86 cents on the dollar. Here in our own state of Wisconsin, rather than continuing to work toward erasing that disparity, the Republican-led legislature has repealed the equal pay law, which was designed to enhance federal equal pay legislation [1].

It has also been over 30 years since Congress passed the Women in Science and Technology Equal Opportunity Act, guaranteeing equal opportunity for men and women in “education, training, and employment in scientific and technical fields.” Although there are now many more women in STEM fields than in previous decades, the disparity between the proportion of women with PhDs and those in faculty positions at leading universities is staggering. For example, in fields such as biology, women represent roughly half of earned PhDs, but comprise only 30% of assistant professors and 15% of full professors [2].

Why do so many women leave the academy?

Many women doubt themselves. Dr. Gail Robertson, Professor in the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, remembers that the barriers to her success in academia were mostly internal. A woman must struggle to overcome an inner “voice that doubts her ability to compete in a world comprising men, most of them impressive.” Now that she has successfully achieved full professorship, Dr. Robertson is grateful to have had strong mentors and role models (all men!) who were “supportive and did not favor the men over the women in the lab or department. They had high expectations for everyone.”

I attended a conference for pre-tenure women at Purdue University in 2011 that painted a somewhat bleaker picture. I learned that women are much less likely to negotiate for salary, lab space, teaching load, and committee duties—mistakes that will dog them throughout their career and put them at an immediate and permanent disadvantage. In fact, many women feel grateful or lucky for having been offered the position at all. They load up on committees and accept odd-hour classes that their male counterparts decline, in hopes that they will be recognized as team players worthy of tenure at their respective hallowed institution. In truth, it is much more likely that the resulting lack of productivity is what will be noticed by the tenure committee. I credit Dr. Mary Dankoski with the winning take-home zinger of the conference: “There is no prize for self-sacrifice [4].

I also learned from the conference that many women, once they have scored that coveted junior faculty position, find themselves in an awkwardly chilly environment where their ideas are ignored in meetings. Further, women in the faculty who are more advanced in their career are often reluctant to offer any kind of support or mentorship to their more junior colleagues for fear of being perceived as weak by the good-ole-boy, male-dominated system.

As if this weren’t enough, women are also discouraged from having children in the formative stages of their career. Perplexingly, such advice is often given to women seeking careers in science by their female mentors. A friend of mine, speaking on condition of anonymity (I’ll call her Halley), recounted an experience with her grad school advisor. When Halley informed her advisor that she was pregnant with her first child, the advisor—rather than being supportive—perfunctorily told Halley that she should expect to spend at least an additional year in graduate school.

Dr. Amelia Linnemann, assistant scientist in the department of Medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, remembers being counseled to wait to start a family until after she had been granted tenure—a piece of advice that, while it may sound shocking, is extremely common in academia. Instead, Dr. Linnemann decided to “take the plunge” after having secured her own funding for her postdoctoral fellowship and publishing her first paper. She is now pregnant with her second child. Before her due date and maternity leave, Linnemann explains, she will have submitted a paper and an application for an NIH K award; she also expects that another paper will have been published.

I wonder—should we really have to justify taking maternity leave with reams of accomplishments?

The answer is this: Despite her impressive productivity, Linnemann senses a perception among some colleagues that she does not take her career seriously because of her decision to start a family. Linnemann begs to differ: “I have merely been forced to be extraordinarily organized and efficient so that I may continue to move forward towards independence,” she points out.

Dr. Robertson had her only child at thirty-five. “It's a risk waiting that long,” she points out, though she chose to wait simply because having children didn’t become a priority for her until she reached her thirties. “I faced some fertility issues, as did many of my friends who ‘postponed’ for various reasons. Ironically, I thought my timing was right: I would have a child late in my postdoctoral fellowship and have family matters in hand when I started my first faculty position. Instead, I showed up on the job 10 weeks pregnant. I actually apologized to my department Chair for being pregnant. Can you imagine? I hope that is shocking to all women of child-bearing years. To this day, I am embarrassed for doing that.” Her chair was very supportive and made sure Dr. Robertson had an extra year toward tenure “before most faculty knew that was even an option.”

Dr. Cynthia Czajkowski, Professor in the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, recalls an eye-opening experience during her postdoctoral studies. She remembers that her advisor was a great scientific mentor, but that she noticed that the male postdocs in her lab went to conferences and gave presentations, while she didn’t. Then she went through a divorce and suddenly, her advisor became a strong advocate for promoting her career since she needed to support herself independently. Czajkowski believes that this double standard was completely unconscious.

And she’s probably right. Gender-based perceptions—for example, “men are better at math than women,” while “women are warmer and more likeable than men”—can have a negative impact both on women pursuing careers in STEM and those who hire them. Though unconscious and subtle, these biases can cause serious detriment to a woman throughout her career.

To investigate gender discrimination in science faculty, one famous study conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee changed an actual curriculum vita (CV) so that it either contained a male name or female name. The CV was then sent out to a random sample of university psychology departments, and search committees were asked to evaluate the candidates. The results were shocking. When the CV had a male name, the candidate was deemed worthy of hire 73% of the time. In contrast, the same CV, if associated with a female name, was considered worthy of hire only 45% of the timeby both male and female evaluators [3].

This bias is unconscious, but pernicious. How did it become so firmly ingrained in our psyches? Dr. Czajkowski recounted an article she read recently titled “How to Talk to Little Girls.” To briefly summarize the take-home message of the article: as an exercise, the next time you see a little girl you know, eliminate anything from the conversation that has to do with her appearance (clothes, shoes, hair, smile). I just tried it. It’s hard. My first instinct has always been to compliment little girls on their outfits or new hairdos. On the other hand, boys tend to be complimented on their cleverness or athletic ability. Of course, this sends completely the wrong message to our little girls—that their appearance is the first thing that everyone notices, not their brains [5].

Dr. Czajkowski reminisced that her doctoral mentor once asked her to wear glasses for an important presentation so that she would “look smarter,” and “not quite so pretty.” And she still considers her appearance carefully before presentations, with the subconscious motive of wanting to be taken seriously.

This really struck a chord with me. Since I am the queen of the carefully considered ensemble for meetings and presentations, I had to sit back on my heels and ask myself why it mattered so much to me. I realized that it was exactly what Dr. Czajkowski had said. The dialog in my brain always goes something like this: I want to be taken seriously…this looks professional, but a bit frumpy…this one’s too sexy. This looks smart and non-descript. Bingo.

Damn, if I only had a pair of glasses.

Now, that’s not to say that I’ll be giving my next presentation dressed in sweats. But it does help to put everything in perspective. Dr. Czajkowski brought this home when she laughed, “How does what we wear have anything to do with our science?”

What’s the answer?

Once we have acknowledged that gender bias exists in all of us, we can anticipate it and take measures to ensure fairness in spite of it. More and more universities are becoming savvy to this, and are implementing sensitivity workshops for hiring committees, department chairs, and other faculty. Such measures will help bring about institutional change so that more women are hired to the academy, and once there, find support rather than isolation [6].

To my colleagues (and myself!), I say this:

You make your OWN luck. You have gotten this far because you are every bit as smart and capable as anyone else—maybe better.

Identify role models—male and female—who can be mentors. What did they do right? What would they have done differently?

Both Drs. Robertson and Czajkowski remember having strong, supportive male mentors when they joined the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. One, a recently appointed assistant professor, offered Dr. Czajkowski support and advice while she negotiated her salary and startup package.

For those who have achieved their career goals: reach out a hand to colleagues who are trying to find their way. Recognize isolation and frustration when you see it. Be a mentor.

After joining the faculty, Dr. Czajkowski teamed up with a group of women at various stages of the tenure process at UW-M (but who had not yet been tenured), who met once per month to discuss setting up labs, frustrations, recruiting grad students, finding child care—essentially “how to do it.” The group provided support for members as they navigated the difficult process of attaining tenure, and produced lasting friendships.

Finally…remember that you will not get it unless you ask for it.

[1] Goldberg, Michelle. “Wisconsin’s Repeal of Equal Pay Rights Adds to Battles for Women.” The Daily Beast 7 April 2012.

[2] Women in Science & Engineering Leadership Institute, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Sex and Science: Tips for Faculty.

[3] Steinpreis, R.E., K.A. Anders, and D. Ritzke. 1999. “The impact of gender of the review of curriculum vitae of job applicants and tenure candidates: a national empirical study.” Sex Roles 41: 509-528.

[4] Dankoski, M. “Feeling lucky…and other ways women can get in their own way.” Plenary session, Purdue Conference for Pre-Tenure Women, 23 September 2011.

[5] Bloom, L. “How to Talk to Little Girls.” The Huffington Post, 22 June 2011.

[6] Handelsman, J., N. Cantor, M. Carnes, D. Denton, E. Fine, B. Grosz, et al. “More women in science.” Science 19 August 2005: 309 (5738), 1190-1191.


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  • Jun 23, 2013

There are so many things I could comment on but it is kind of ridiculous, the inequalities in how one is viewed as a mom in science. Personally I get more done now that I have a kid because I am more efficient at time management. Sadly that does not always get recognized (my advisor now is totally great about it but I have seen and heard otherwise in other labs). All the bad ones care about is face time, not realizing that golden boy who is single took a 2.5 hour lunch and left in the middle of the afternoon to play ultimate frisbee for a couple more hours, before returning to "close down" the lab.

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  • Jun 23, 2013

Difficult to say what part of this is the best! We at the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) not only see so many of these things play out, but work to advocate against them daily (or advocate for them, in the cases of good things :-) ) The one piece that always sticks out to me the most are the resume/CV studies that show male candidates being chosen over female when their resume/CV is the exact same, except for the name at the top. That always seems the most telling to me of work that still needs to be done!

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  • Jun 23, 2013

Thanks so much for the feedback--great to hear from AWIS!  You mentioned the most gut-wrenching part of writing this piece for me: the realization that males are regarded more highly than females--even by females!  The study went on to mention that evaluators (again, male and female) tended to write condescending comments in the margins about the female candidates to the effect that they'd have to "see her job talk," or "see proof that she actually designed her research project."  There are double standards with so many issues, perpetrated by both genders.  Everyone needs to realize this in order to stop actively participating in it!

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  • Jun 23, 2013

The only sexism I experienced was from tenured women, Both of these discriminating women had choosen NOT to have children earlier in life, b/c they did not believe children to be compatable with a successful career. At the time (graduate school) I was taken aback at the of discrimination. Later, as a postdoc and mom, I tend to agree with their sentiment (if not their actions). Afterall, no man has to time his experiements around expressing milk, or take every lunch break in a stinky bathroom pumping milk. Balancing (surviving) career with family is really hard work, do not believe anything otherwise. 

Also, you would think I would know better than to judge myself. But I will admit when I was a working mom, I judged moms as less commited, and I judged those that "gave up" to stay home with kids, as weak, as failures. One of the reason it was so hard for me to leave academia is that I KNEW what others were thinking, b/c I thought the same things too. Quiting my career I felt like a traitor to the feminist cause. And now that I "gave up" and am a full-time mom with a part-time career, I catch myself judging those that work. It is a sickness.

Thank you for the blog, I enjoyed reading it. I just discovered your site this week, http://thegradstudentway.com/blog/ pointed me here. And I will be back for sure.




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