Improving the Applicant Pool

Sonia Pearsonwhite sp3i at cyclops.micr.Virginia.EDU
Thu Feb 25 12:15:16 EST 1993

In article <1993Feb22.175628.21528 at> pauld at (Paul Barton-Davis) writes:
>In article <1mav8b$5i2 at> pallas at (Sarah Pallas) writes:
>>In article <1993Feb19.135409.12130 at> clh at writes:
>>It is my impression that a big reason is kind of a Catch-22.  Young
>>women don't see very many other women in positions of power (faculty),
>>and so they have a hard time seeing themselves there.  Also, they've
>>been told they have to choose between career and family if they stay
>>in academics (which isn't true if they have a spouse who is a real
>At the risk of being mildly inflammatory, I'd suggest that in fact,
>our current conception of science and parenthood do not mix, "true
>partner" or not. The whole ethos of scientific research being a
>variant on priesthood, with all its intensity (albeit coming in waves)
>and worldly isolation, seems to me seriously at odds with most current
>western ideas about good parenting.
>- far from it. However, in an activity like science, where it is often
>the case that the more you do, the further you get, the kudos are
>often going to go to the people who are most "involved." We need a
>quite different kind of recognition system for good science if it is
>to be compatible with good parenting, and even then, I have my doubts
>that the demands of child rearing, even in a mutually supportive
>environment (extending outward into the community as far as you like),
>are compatible with scientific enquiry in the areas generally funded
>by contemporary society.
>What do the female scientists/mothers who read this think ? Does you
>role as a mother interfere with your role as a scientist, or vice
>versa ? Do these roles strengthen and reinforce one another ? Do you
>think that a someone with some other important dimensions to their
>lives can be a front-ranking scientist ?

I am a female scientist/mother, an assistant professor and PI
and think/feel that it is possible to be a good scientist and
a good mother. I think each of my roles strengthens and reinforces
the other. Many front-ranking scientists (I do not claim to
be one, yet) have other important dimensions to their lives, 
such as children.

It is true that it is difficult to be a front-ranking scientist,
with or without children, and requires significant dedication.
Putting in superhuman or macho hours is not sufficient,
and may not be necessary. It certainly doesn't compensate
for mediocre ideas or blind spots in interpretation, etc.

Another point is that children are not the same from the
standpoint of what it takes to raise them throughout their
lives. A baby requires different care than a ten year old.
Just as your scientific effort will change in intensity
at different periods in your projects and career, so will
the requirements of parenting. Of course you have to maintain
a good baseline of involvement in both.

I also think that it matters what kind of human being
you are. There's more to life than just a long list of
publications. Raising children and being a good human
being is important too. I don't know if this duality
means I publish fewer papers or not. I can't do the control
experiment and see how my career goes without children,
nor would I want to.

Sonia Pearson-White, PhD
Assistant Professor
University of Virginia School of Medicine

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