encouraging women to pursue doctorates, despite market?

Chris Boake boake at utkvx.utk.edu
Sun Jan 14 14:06:26 EST 1996

Sarah Boomer <sarai at u.washington.edu> wrote:
> we have had held 
>semi-formal dept. functions/meetings/discussion groups to address the 
>supposed job crisis and shortly will hold an alternate career day to 
>address non-acedemic/research things PhDs can pursue.
>	As a woman scientist in a lab headed and by a woman scientist
>(where the women actually outnumber the men), I (and other women) have
>reached a conundrum:  we don't really want to discourage women who want
>their PhDs but we want to be realistic.

THis is a really tough issue.  I am running graduate admissions in my 
department, and I want the department to discuss how many PhDs we should 
be training.  Some faculty agree with me that we need to consider the 
problem, and others disagree.  One took an attitude that I thought to be 
irresponsible and cavalier:  "There are plenty of jobs outside academia, 
and besides, how can I be productive if I don't have lots of people in 
my lab to do my work?"  
  When I am counseling individual undergraduates, I try to find out 
about their achievements and interests.  Regardless of sex, if they are 
enthusiastic go-getters, I would encourage them to consider PhD work, 
but I also warn them about the job market.  We have a responsibility to 
paint an honest picture, but ultimately career decisions belong to each 
individual, not to advisers.  
  My experience is that the best undergraduates are as likely to be 
women as men.  I have read about and observed the sex-biased attrition 
in and after graduate school (there is an interesting article on this in 
the most recent American Scientist).  We need to make it clear to women 
students what the standards of success are at each stage, so that they 
know what the competition is doing, and how to evaluate their own 
progress.  We can also nurture women whom we consider to be particularly 
promising, by giving them opportunities to speak publicly, by helping 
them in their early efforts at writin, and by emphasizing the need for 
them to be in close touch with senior colleagues.
  The PhD job market is getting tighter, but even if the total number of 
PhDs who are trained decreases, there is no need for the proportion of 
women in that pool to drop.  We need to apprise both male and female 
students of the difficulties ahead, let them make their own decisions, 
and be as supportive as possible of those with the most promise.
Chris Boake

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