A balanced description?

eoshuster at UCDAVIS.EDU eoshuster at UCDAVIS.EDU
Tue Aug 16 13:47:48 EST 1994

In article <32p0rr$onr at darkstar.UCSC.EDU>,
Cathy Quinones <quinones at orchid.UCSC.EDU> wrote:
>If I were reading these posts and were about to start grad school, without
>having had any previous exposure to it (from undergrad research or the
>such) I would imagine a veritable gauntlet a la Tailhook.  Is this *really*
>what other women have faced upon entering graduate school?  And if not,
>can someone else give a bit more balanced description?  I know there are
>women who read this newsgroup who are considering grad school or even starting
>next Fall, and I would hate to have them go into school with such a 
>hysterical/paranoiac vision.

    My undergrad educational experience at a women's college (after public
H.S.) gave me the confidence to try anything, because no one EVER said, or
even implied, that you couldn't do something because you were female.  It
was there that I refined my feelings that I was a human being who happened
to be female and interested in science (as well as a whole lot of other
things - liberal arts educations are wonderful!).  Was college an
artificial environment?  In many ways, yes, but I think that most colleges
are.  Did we blind ourselves to the world outside?  No, although we were
sheltered from it, we talked a lot about sexism, and how to deal with it
if/when we ran into it.  Since we were in an area with several other
colleges & people freely took classes at other institutions, it wasn't as
if we never saw men - we used to laugh at the guys who took organic with us
thinking that it must be a gut course at a women's institution - they were
often the ones who set the lab on fire and struggled most intensely on
exams.  Although the academic preparation was excellent, the most important
thing that I took away with my degree was self-confidence.  

   Grad school was different - I was the only woman in the entering class
(of 6) and there was only one woman each in the classes immediately above &
behind me (admissions offers were split roughly 50/50 - three years later
6/8 of the entering class were woman).  However, there was again no
question about the ability of women to succeed in science.  My philosophy
was (& still is) that if you walk around with a chip on your shoulder
looking for a fight, you will probably get one.  When people made a comment
or joke that bothered me, I found it far more constructive to
gently/laughingly (but firmly) turn aside the comments, than to launch into
a tirade.  In the vast majority of cases, the originator had not meant to
offend - they were just trying to include me in the banter. I think that I
was able to do some "educating" about the appropriateness of such remarks
by not reacting out of proportion to the intent (along the lines of Leslie
Kay's comment on Aug 16):
< ... So I do what I can to see that
< things change in the future, like chiding and admonishing the male
< graduate and undergraduate students in the lab where I work when I see
< them perpetuating sexist attitudes.  

  Although this approach is extremely effective with most men of my peer
group or younger, I decided long ago that trying to re-educate
significantly older men who grew up in a different era was pointless.  That
does NOT mean that you do not comment on inappropriate remarks, or that you
don't prepare some strategies to deal with more serious trouble if it
arises.  I was "lucky" (by the standards of some who post here) and had no
more serious trouble with my grad program than a prof (not my thesis
advisor) who liked to tell off color (nothing really gross) jokes in front
of his female TA's.  But - the training he gave in teaching and public
speaking was outstanding, regardless of gender, he NEVER belittled our
science, and he offered and provided strong references when I applied for
post-doc fellowships (and no, I was not asked to "compromise" myself in any
way - the only person who ever did that was a visiting speaker to whom I
gave the response he deserved!).

  The bottom line - if you want to do science, go for it!  Be prepared to
live, breathe, eat & sleep science for sustained periods of time while you
are in grad school.  If you want to avoid blatant harrassment, go to an
excellent program that doesn't have a reputation for it (and they do exist,
at least in the biological sciences).  That doesn't guarantee that you
won't run into an occasional idiot, but it won't be a pervasive part of
"the culture". 

I STRONGLY endorse Susan Forsburg's comments (Aug 16,
forsburg at salk-sc2.salk.edu):
>Is graduate school easy?
>Is it full of sexists trying to make you fail? 
>Are there people who would like to see you fail?
>Sure.  There are jerks everywhere, not just in academics.
>So for the readers of this board who are thinking of grad school, I
>suggest the following:
>Be prepared to work VERY hard.  
>Have confidence in yourself.

Beth Shuster
Univ. of California, Davis
eoshuster at ucdavis.edu

More information about the Womenbio mailing list