why women leave the pipeline?

aloisia schmid a-schmi at uiuc.edu
Fri Jan 3 13:46:20 EST 1997

Dear Group,

      I got an email response to a posting I put in yesterday and wanted
to respond to that and this other posting, copied below,  all at the same
time.  So I'll respond to the one not copied for response first, and then
I'll try to be pretty clear about what Karen said as I respond to

      O.K., so first off.  There was a posting from a woman named Susan
who said she knew of someone in her old department who ran a lab, with
students, etc., and who was doing that with only a master's degree and
that he did excellent science and simply never felt getting the PhD was
important.  And someone responded and asked how this could be possible? 
And I responded as well and said that my limited experience did support
the idea that you had to have a PhD to get grants (and students,
etc)....and that admittedly these were post-doc grants, but still...and
Susan, who posted the original thing about this guy,  thought I was being
pretty dense.  As in "of COURSE they required PhD's---they were post doc
grants!  Duuhhhhhh!"  But really, I was trying to qualify my report by
saying that I realized this was not a representative sample....but that
even for something as comparatively minor as a post-doc grant, funding
agencies were explicit about educational requirements.  And that I would
imagine that PI grants would have even more stringent and explicit
educational requirements.  I had also said that even though the guy may
have been a good scientist, and was doing just fine without a PhD and just
didn't think the PhD was important enough, what did this mean to the
people who DID have PhDs and weren't able to get academic positions?  And
Susan asked if I was being just a little bitter?  Well, here's my
opportunity to say, "duhhhh".  Of COURSE I'd be bitter about that.  Susan
has said something about being a graduate student (now? or at the time?),
so maybe she hasn't finished yet,  but I cannot imagine anyone who goes
through the hell of writing a dissertation NOT being bitter about some guy
having the job just about everyone in acaedemics aims for, without going
through that.  And actually, I think someone who doesn't go through that
is no where near as prepared or seasoned or thoroughly educated as someone
who does.  Writing a dissertation is the ULTIMATE learning experience. 
But it is hard.  And I think I resent the arrogance of someone who would
say, "I don't see any need to do it.  it's a waste of my time."  Let me
just say that I haven't applied for jobs yet---and so am not anywhere near
as bitter as I will be at this time next year! 

      For those of you just reading those postings now, let me also
correct myself.  Susan pointed out that I had incorrectly attributed this
to North Carolina and this was incorrect.  Some of the other things she
said suggested to me that this may have been a really small department,
maybe in a small school?---where these kinds of situations ARE way more
common.  That's just the problem though.  Those situations do not
generally lead to particularly fruitful research careers, because the
smallness of the place, the heavy teaching demands and the broad range of
roles you are asked to fill all act together to limit the amount of time
you can devote to research and getting grants in the first place.

      So then I saw Karen's posting today.....who said, among other things
the following, which I wanted to respond to.

  In article <5ai6fl$2kh at gap.cco.caltech.edu>, kujo at cco.caltech.edu (Karen
Kustedjo) wrote:

> Pardon me if I am somewhat confused about some of the sentiments being 
> discussed here, but here is what I am observing in this discussion about
> "women leaving the pipeline" vs. "wanting it all in life"...

   So I, Alice, have cut some of what Karen said as to how she perceives
this debate....and then she said

> A question:  Why should it matter so much to you what other people think?
>   I have observed a lot more female friends of mine let themselves get
> horribly discouraged by criticism than male friends.  How about looking at
> this criticism as a challenge for you to beat?  Instead of saying to 
> yourself, "My advisor thinks I'm completely crazy for making this choice,
> because such-and-such bad thing might happen.  Maybe s/he knows something
> I don't and maybe s/he's right.", how about saying, "Yes, my advisor
> doesn't support me this time.  S/he's only human; s/he makes mistakes too.
> Maybe I can prove her wrong."  This change of attitude, tempered by a bit
> of self-honesty about what your limits are, and what you *really* want,
> as opposed to what others expect you to do that you have merely adopted
> as what you want, I think is what separates those with perseverance with
> those without.  Why do you need a female role model?  No man is an island,
> but we're not lemmings either.  I'm fascinated by the underlying sentiment
> that now that we've abandoned assigning all women into "traditional roles",
> it is now our duty to come up with a new paradigm (the Superwoman with
> the high-powered career, perfect spousal relationship, and well-adjusted
> kids) to lock our daughters into.  If you've got the energy, the will, and
> the time-management skills to have it all, fabulous!  You have my respect.
> But do not look down on the woman who did not choose your path.

Well, first of all, I don't think ANYONE in this discussion has been
saying we want a new superwoman paradigm.  And certainly no one that I
have seen has said anything that would suggest they are looking down their
noses at anyone who makes any kind of lifestyle choice in science or
elsewhere.  I think we have really all agreed that these are hard
decisions, and that maybe we don't like the system that makes these
choices unnecessarily difficult.  
> So what did you all expect when starting graduate school?  What did you
> write as your statement of purpose?  How much of the current difficulty
> in getting jobs a matter of discrimination?  My understanding is that
> we are producing PhD's at a phenomenal rate, all of whom expect that 
> after all that hard work, we should be assured of a tenure-track position.
> In other words, how much of women not being in positions of power a matter
> of thousands of individual choices to not "play the game", versus a matter
> of the game shutting them out?
> This matter is of great interest to me, to know what people think my job
> prospects (as an Asian female) are likely to be in 6 years, after I get
> my PhD in Chemistry.  As I applied to grad schools, I was told, "pedigree
> matters; it'll open doors for you."  I understand and respect the power 
> of networking; but do you think I'll lose out on those opportunities to
> network substantially because I'm different than most other applicants?

I am not really sure which position you are taking here---or if you are
just posing questions, but I think these questions ARE what we have all
been discussing.  That there IS some discrimination, that there IS a boy's
netwrok that is difficult for women (and minorities) to crack.  And that
we were discussing the fundamental changes we see as necessarily occurring
to change the status quo.
> As an aside, my freshman year I attended a premedical conference ostensibly
> targeted at underrepresented minorities, to try to get more of them to 
> attend medical school.  Apparently the person who organized it didn't 
> realize that they were targeting *black* people. 

Are Asian students considered under-represented minorities?  I have no
opinion one way or the other, but if I were a minority student, I would
expect such a conference to be composed of Hispanic and Black students,
who seem to be present in graduate and professional schools at percentages
far below the fraction of the population their ethnic groups comprise. 
But I was under the impression that Asian students do not suffer from this
same under-representation. Is that wrong? 

So all of this related to Sarah Boomer's original posting, (included in
karen's posting) which asked why it was that women leave the academic
pipeline.  I think men are bailing on it even more and women (at least in
biology) have stayed with it because they are used to not making lots of
money and used to not having fast-paced careers.  But I think
increasingly, there is just no job security.  There are no academic
positions, there are too many PhDs competing for the jobs that exist and
finding those niches, academic or otherwise, is becoming prohibitively
difficult.  And so women are saying, "O.K., enough."  
> Sarah Boomer <sarai at u.washington.edu> writes:
> >So - here is a question that has been nagging me for a while.  Who out
> >there has good stat's or opinons about what drives more women out of the
> >"academic pipeline?"  A few years ago, I read that it was not family but
> >just frustration and lack of interest with playing the game.  After all
> >the discussions of sports analogies, baking, a different potential
> >approaches men and women may take to careers in academics, I would really
> >be curious to hear from people on this one... 
> >Many people I know assume it is having families but I personally know more
> >women who have left because they absolutely cannot find a niche (or job)
> >in the system!  Drop me a line or post!
> >Sarah

          Anyway, that's my two cents worth.  Back to work....


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