Did we have it all and lose it?

Rae Nishi nishir at OHSU.EDU
Mon Aug 24 23:37:35 EST 1998

OK.  I may be talking to ether, but I couldn't ignore this post.

I probably fit into the "older woman" category that Susan mentions
(shudder-- I NEVER think of my self that way).  So I am going to be 45
this year and I started my lab nearly 12 years ago and I got tenure 6
years ago (just barely under 40).  The first thing is it was NOT easier
back then!! I was a  post-doc for 6 years.  And the funding cut-offs
were much worse-- for NINDS, where I applied for funding, the cutoffs
were between the 12th and the 18th percentiles-- now they are close to
the 20th.  When I started my lab, I wrote 5 NIH grants before I got one
funded (1 went around for 3 cycles, then got funded-- the other for two
before I gave up because the first one got funded).  This took nearly 3

Second--I have two daughters- one 7 and one 4; I got lucky-- my
biological clock did not quit on me when I neared my forties. I would
never say that it is ever easy having kids and being an academic
scientist. Don't fool yourselves-- it's not easy-- BUT IT's NOT
IMPOSSIBLE.  It takes alot of planning and a hell of a lot of
cooperation from your spouse.  

Third-- There are trade-offs.  I certainly don't do "high-powered
science"-- I will never be a Hughes fellow, and I certainly don't
publish every other week in Nature, Science, or Cell. On the other
hand, I think my work is reasonably well known and there is some
respect out there for what we've done. I feel good about it.  I have
also pretty consistently been able to obtain funding and I find science
is alot of fun.  BK (before kids), I worked every weekend and many
evenings-- now I don't because I want to spend the time with my kids. 
I have been fortunate to have some great, hardworking and nice people
in my lab.  I cannot do what I do without alot of hands to help get the
work done and a VERY understanding spouse.  I guess it all depends on
what you call "high-powered".

Bottom line:  we have not gone backwards.  On the other hand, I don't
think we've gone forwards (maybe just an incremental bit, because there
is alot more awareness these days of the necessity for child care-
daycare and after school care.)  Maybe we are mostly marching in place.


Rae Nishi, PhD
Dept. Cell & Developmental Biology
Oregon Health Sciences University
Portland Oregon 

In article <35DF0436.B450FF21 at salk.edu>
S L Forsburg <nospam*forsburg at salk.edu> writes:

> 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?

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