professionalism, women, and Oprah!

Sarah Boomer sarai at
Sat Dec 14 21:20:00 EST 1996

Dear Mary and others,

	I agree to some extent that the discussions have become perhaps
more personal and less comfortable to some.  But to say that we represent
some embarrassing flock of hens bickering amongst ourselves seems a rather
useless comment. I think that any discussion about issues that regard
women in science should touch things that regard many topics discussed
recently (recommendation letters, tenure, advancement - perhaps
gender-biased, family issues).  I do not know how to make them less
personal because if *I* am going to bring them up in a way to discuss
them, I have to provide some background.  I realize that that puts me in a
position where interested parties can dig further, figure out who these
people are or whatever, but I would rather openly discuss cases that are
problematic and hear from people who actually deal with the issues than in
some abstract manner.
	I would be curious what you precisely view as going over the line. 
I feel that I have made every effort to avoid naming names, to avoid
presenting an all-good or all-bad account (though I obviously haven't
provided nearly enough data for each situation and doing so would cross
the lines). I also have tried to talk about "happy things" (like finishing
my degree) as opposed to always opening up repetitive wounds that regard
problematic issues that face women in science.
	You mentioned bringing this topic up for discussion;  I, too,
would like to see more discussion about what we all are "supposed" to be
talking about here.  That this is a "women" in bio. group in the first
place, frankly, sends all my flags up;  it is bound to connote the very
"Oprah-esque" image you mention.  Much discussion in the past has
certainly been devoted to the different ways men and women approach
science, life, politics, etc.;  it seems to me that this group represents
a microcism of many of those ideas - women who want to talk about things
more openly, connect as "friends" or establish more personal empathy with
others... Obviously some women disagree with that (and that's fine - but
is it fair to say that others who want to talk are somehow embarrasing or
unprofessional?). I would like to very much see the things that touch me
academically (and also personally) discussed on the newsgroup because
they have all involved women in science (and I have received many very
useful letters and shared stories from others that say that is a good
	For me, though, I just never see any real change coming from it
all, frankly (which is very depressing).  All I get is a sense of empathy
from others (particularly on the tenure issues, or on the issues regarding
careers, advancement, whatever).  What can we DO about it - that's what I
want to see discussed.  For me, one thing that I have obviously decided is
that I can change more and positively affect more change by teaching.
I don't know what I want to change in terms of women in science at the
academic level, though.  It is sort of like beating a dead horse, frankly!
I have personally become too cynical!
	As an interesting aside, I have been cleaning out my desk and
basically threw out most of my articles.  The pile I kept mostly had to do
with practical career and women/science things.  I caught myself reading
the same old "leaky pipeline" article that my old boss gave me 8 years
ago.  All I was struck with was:  gosh, very little has changed - and,
disturbingly, I have joined the "leakee's" so to speak.  I remember being
all bold and idealistic reading that way back when (oh, that'll never
happen to me) - and now I just shake my head and say:  it's not worth it. 
Other things are worth more.
	So - how do we change that?  
	And finally... I just want to comment on the term
"professionalism."  I, as a student, just don't view the system as
professional.  I worked in several professional (public institute) 
settings prior to graduate school (and I know many people who have gone
from grad. school to extremely "professional" spots in industry and
government... places where you do everything from label EVERY container
because someone from the safety division checks every week... to monthly
meetings about interpersonal skills, to weekly formal discussion with the
boss about progress/planning... that doesn't mean I agree with everything
- but that ain't academics!). Academics as I see it is not professional
and doesn't not inspire professional behaviour.  Some academics behave
more professionally than others but that is about it.  The notions of
responsibility, accountability, people skills, management skills, team
work, neatness, attire, record-keeping, hazardous materials and hygeinge
(to mention a few) are all things that I feel get washed under the carpet
at universities.  Even my friends in industry have remarked to me on the
issue of academic partnerships that their companies are VERY cautious to
collaborate with many U labs because companies perceive that there is just
this roguish attitude among many U faculty that "academic freedom" 
excludes them from a wide variety of rules! Maybe things are different in
England but I just find the whole idea of professionalism to be almost
laughable! We just lost a tech. to a big government research facility in
the UK and from talking to her, I strongly suspect standards are simply
apples and oranges between our lab and her new one!  My point here is
simply that - professionalism is a skill that one must spend a long time
learning and I don't feel I have tried to learn it or have been
particularly encouraged to learn it!
	So - those are my questions:  What really is "professional?"  What
aspects of this discussion haven't been "professional?"  Are academics
more or less professional than, say, industry (by what criteria?).  And -
since this is women in bio, is there a different standard of "professional
behaviour for men vs women in a variety of settings.

Sarah Boomer				email:  sarai at		
Dept. of Microbiology			work phone:  543-3376
Box 357242				work FAX:  543-3376
University of Washington		
Seattle, WA  98195	

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