Putting up with it or dropping out

Linnea Ista lkista at unm.edu
Wed Dec 17 14:15:45 EST 1997

> As an oddly demanding semester concludes for me, I've had reason to
> reflect upon this issue because of my experiences. I agree with Susan
> completely, that there is only so much any person can take, but women
> have to take much more.  It gets worse if you are also a spouse and a
> parent, because of balancing the demands of the academic career with the
> family life.
Wait a minute here. I will admit that this has touched off one of my "hot
button issues", but I get really tired of hearing how much worse it is for
women who have a family. As far as the spouse part, I think there is a
trade off. Once I was married, I could no longer stay at work
indefinitely, it is true. I have a few more, let's not call them
obligations, but rather distractions for my time. Because my husband's
schedule is a little less flexible than mine, and he starts work really
early in the morning, I get stuck running a lot of the family errands. On
the other hand, if I need to work late on a project, there is someone who
will bring me dinner. If I have been working late on a project for several
days, there is someone whom I can call and ask to throw a load of laundry
in the wash, so I don't have to do it when I get home. There is a second
income, so my little tiny academic science salary is not crippling
financially. These are the practical things that were unavailable to me
when I was single.

I also have someone there who will be indignant on my behalf when the boys
in the lab are being poopy. There is also someone who will get excited and
say "good job" when something great happens. 

The kids issue is another topic altogether. I cannot speak to that because
I have chosen not to have kids. Part of the reason is that I simply don't
want that obligation on my time. I figure that since reproducing is not a
priority for me, I should leave it to those for whom it is. This does not
mean that I do not have a life outside of work, however. One of my pet
peeves about the whole science culture is that it seems sometimes like
having kids is the only "life" that is acceptable outside of the lab. I am
the person in the lab who watches other people's experiments when they
have to go pick their kids up from daycare or stop a reaction for them
when they have to stay home with a sick child. However, I find that some
of these same people are less than understanding when I ask them to return
the favor because I have a noon meeting scheduled that doesn't have to do
with science. Evidently in their minds because my obligations are not
"child related" they are less valid. Let us just say that we choose the
obligations we each feel are most important, and we cannot really judge
what is more important for each other.

I don't want to turn this into a debate about who "has it harder". I think
we could suffice it to say that the pressures of academic science make it
hard for one to have any life outside of one's career.  

> One thing that I think is absent in academic science is validation.  An
> earlier thread touched on this in terms of looking for the negative in
> journal clubs as well as other areas of academic science.  I think women
> leave science because we don't get enough praise.  We take and take the
> crap and finally when something good happens, nobody notices.  I'm not
> talking about getting all warm and fuzzy here, and putting on my rose
> colored glasses.  I mean real, day to day stuff, like "I heard your
> grant got funded" or "I like your creative approach in general biology."
> A little of this can go a long way for both women and men.  Rather, we
> get the negative,"You haven't published that yet!" or "we can't consider
> your recently awarded grant because it wasn't in your tenure file
> beforehand."
Part of the way I deal with this is being part of the solution. If I hear
that someone got a grant or published a paper, I make sure that I at least
say congratulations. In some cases that attitude rubs off. I think though,
that my department is a little better than others. Our chair is very
supportive. Having come from a graduate department in which the chair did
not deign to speak to anyone below the rank of associate professor, it was
a bit refreshing to come here where the chair actually knows my name and I
am just a research scientist! He goes out of his way to say things like
"Hey, I hear your paper got accepted! Good job!". It kind of filters down
if we let it. Even my boss, who is really "guilt driven" and assumes
everyone else is too, gets into the act every so often. Since I am the
person most in contact with the grad students on a day to day basis, I
pass it on to them. And I bring it to the boss's attention when they have
done a good job. I am not saying this will work everywhere, but it helps
keep my little corner of the world a little more palatable!

Just my two neuron's worth!

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