why women leave the pipeline?

Karen Kustedjo kujo at cco.caltech.edu
Fri Jan 3 00:46:29 EST 1997

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":

On one hand, I am reading about women who aren't willing to work 70 hrs
a week to get tenure.  Then there seems to be the feeling that they are
letting (themselves? others?) down by not making that choice.  On the other
hand, I see the complaint that there are so few women with tenure to guide
and serve as role models for the next generation.  Unfortunately,
I think that it is this incredibly focused willingness to give this one
goal your all, that the system is testing for.  More men seem to be willing
to make that choice, and thus more men are statistically likely to get
tenure, and thus there will remain few women with tenure.  (All these 
arguement don't take into account those who are happy with the status
quo and are actively resisting bringing in people who want to change it.
That's an entirely different can of worms I'm not going to open right now.)

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.

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?

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.  It was rather ironic for
me, an Asian female, to be practically the only one in a sea of dark faces.
Heck, the conference even opened with the Black National Anthem.  That is
not what bothered me.  It was the mock interviews.  The leader of that 
session brought a student up, and the following conversation took place:

Recruiter:  "Hi, what's your name?"
Student: "..."  (She said something that wasn't captured by the mike.)
R:  "And what nationality are you?"
S: (confused) "Philipino" (OK, I wasn't the *only* Asian female.)
R:  "and why do you want to go to medical school?"
S:  "Er, well, I was interested in radiology..."
R:  "But aren't you interested in eventually going back to your
    community?  To be a role model for your neighbors to look up to?"
S:  "Er. maybe that too..."

The rest of the "interview" went like that.  Finally someone in the
audience raised his hand to ask a question: "So, are you saying we should
*lie*?"  (Bravo! I thought.)  The recruiter insisted that that was not the
point.  Then and there I decided that playing that little game was 
contemptible, and that I didn't think being a doctor was worth my self-honesty.
I also was surprised at this person's attitude:  it was not good enough
for the medical school to produce competent doctors, but there was this
expectation that we also had the duty to be pillars of the community.  While
I certainly don't want my doctor to be a lawless, shameless person, I didn't
think it was appropriate for a medical school to claim the right to dictate
our other goals in life too.

Thanks for listening, and hope to get some feedback.

Karen Kustedjo

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

>personal homepage:  


Karen Kustedjo kujo at cco.caltech.edu

"The folly of mistaking a paradox for a discovery, a metaphor for a

More information about the Womenbio mailing list