Did we have it all and lose it?

S L Forsburg nospam*forsburg at salk.edu
Sun Aug 23 13:22:23 EST 1998


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Point for discussion:

I was recently speaking with another woman junior-PI about 
the current state of science and what it takes to get
started.  She opined that the current funding crisis has made it
much more difficult for a woman to contemplate combining family and
science.  

As she pointed out, the generation preceding us (women who
now have tenure and are around 50) had a much better shot
at getting that first grant and getting on their feet scientifically.
I get the feeling, observing my male colleagues,
that 15-20  years ago, a bright new assistant professor with a solid
pedigree pretty much stepped right into a grant;  getting the job might
still have been hard but once you were in, you were given the chance to 
get going.  

Academic life is notoriously flexible, making a 
family/career mix more feasible than elsewhere, and a lot of that 
generation of women managed to combine family and excellent science. 
 
Now, however, it can take years to get that first grant and the 
tension level is accordingly higher and the fear of failure greater.
Most junior PIs I know (men and women) have not gotten that first R01 
straight away--it has taken years.  Most start their jobs now in their
mid-late 30s.  

I also have to say that most of the senior faculty
I know don't really "get it"--they realize on one level that things
are tougher, but on another level, they don't understand why we juniors
aren't managing the way THEY did, because, after all, they could do
it so why can't we?  I have numerous examples of this attitude mostly
from people who were tenured before 40.

The colleague I spoke to about this commented that with things as tenuous
as they are funding-wise, taking the time to have a child (or
do other meaningful life-things) is increasingly incompatible with
a high-power science career.  She pointed out that after years
of struggle she is just now on her feet and can't afford to risk it
right now for a family.  Coupled with the longer PhDs and postdocs, 
this means the biological clocks will tick right out even before you come 
up for tenure.
 
So, the question is this:  have we really gone backwards in this regard?

I know science isn't exactly moving FORWARD but it is pretty depressing
if we are actually losing ground, so that what once was a compromise now
is a stark choice.

-- 
-susan
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S L Forsburg, PhD  forsburg at salk.edu
Molecular Biology and Virology Lab          
The Salk Institute, La Jolla CA 
http://pingu.salk.edu/~forsburg/lab.html

Women in Biology Internet Launch Page
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