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April 24, 2006


Great post, emptywheel. Women get caught in such a double bind. If they stay home with their kids, they're devalued by the larger society because child-rearing is not considered "real" work. But when they go to work, they're accused of neglecting their children. No wonder they feel obligated to do most of the housework and cooking even after a long, tiring day. That's their penance for working outside of the home. As for academia, it's a disgrace that at a time when the majority of college students are female, they're so blatantly discriminated against and discouraged from applying for faculty positions (except as lowly, underpaid adjuncts).

Oops, Marysz, the post is emptypocket's not mine. But I'm flattered by the comparison.

I'm one of those drop-outs from academia (not science, but humanities). There were other factors, like my field of study, which is way too disparate to match any tenure clock. But there was a siginificant aspect of gender involved in my decision to bag on academia. I had a great opporunity in first NH and then West FL. Both reasonably liveable places to start an academic career. But absolutely unthinkable, I thought, for mr. emptywheel's career. We had the added hurdle of going through the pre-marriage and green card process at this stage (which meant we couldn't do what a lot of academic couples do, live apart). But finally, it just didn't seem worth it to me.

Oops, my mistake. Thanks for the great post, emptypockets. Reading emptywheel, I can't help thinking about how women not only worry about their own careers, but also are eager to accommodate their husbands' careers as well. Here I am, sitting in central New Jersey (a place I never thought I'd end up) because of my husband's work. Maybe we women are too self-sacrificing.

marysz, thanks. I agree about the double bind. I should clarify though that at least in the science departments I've been in, women are very actively recruited and encouraged to apply for tenure-track positions. The problem is that once they're there, they're expected to work at the same breakneck speed as male counterparts which tends to demand long hours and very little time for family. (sidenote: as more women have careers, this expectation is getting to be unreasonable for the male faculty, too.) Many women find creative ways to deal with that, including frequently getting help with childcare from their own parents or parents-in-law. But there's no mechanism built in to the tenure decision to say, for example, that in six years one needs to produce 8 top-tier papers or equivalently 5 top-tier papers plus 1 two-year-old. That would be a real change in mindset -- but I wonder if it's not something that would be good for the departments in the long run.

I'll add that I've known several female scientists at the post-doc level who come from Korea or China who leave their kids in their home country with their parents while they work here -- I'm told that at least in parts of China it's not unusual to have grandparents raise the children anyway -- which seems like a huge sacrifice for the mothers to make. On the other hand, frankly, they are often extremely productive. But it doesn't seem like the right direction to be moving in -- it is one of many ways (like extended day-care) that people find to work long hours and still have children, when I think the real solution is to find a way for the family of faculty (or any employees) to be as important to the department (or whatever employer) as it is to the employee. Maybe that's naive of me.

Very interesting post. I'm sitting here at my PC less than 36 hours from my dissertation defense and trying to get my 4-year-old to get to sleep, and I can relate to the dilemmas described here. Several years ago, I decided I probably wouldn't pursue a university job for a number of reasons. I wasn't crazy about getting on the tenure chase, I heard professors talking about how hard it was to keep their family lives working, and my wife was already showing a lot more promise in her career than I was in mine. (She was more practical than me even when we were undergrads.)

I do think it's interesting that Werb says "every mind not utilized is a discovery not made," and then emptypockets points out the productivity of the scientists who have left their kids behind. I'm all for cutting the expected workload of professionals in order to accommodate families, because the work of raising families is certainly fundamental to the whole future-of-society thing. But I think it is an open question whether the healthier environment would have more productive results than the relentlessly competitive one. (And there will always be relentlessly competitive people who WANT to put in the insane workloads, and then the rest of us have to try and keep up with those guys.)

(And you can read whatever you want into my unintentional use of the word 'guys' in that last sentence.)

Men who take full responsibility for parenthood also pay the price in academia. The husband of a friend of mine didn't get tenure at Princeton because he didn't publish enough. He was too busy helping his wife take care of their two babies. I have many neighbors here from India and China. The women are all doctors, scientists or engineers with extremely demanding jobs. Usually either their mother, mother-in-law or an older female relative is living with them or on an extended visit. They cook, clean and look after the kids so both parents can work long hours. I really respect the self-sacrifice of these grandmothers. But obviously this model will never work for American families. Ú

Man this is a tough issue.

As a single guy 15 years ago I was annoyed that married (happily, I expected) people would able to get vacation time to take care of their children but I wasn't qualified for this. I was happy then to see that single women also felt this way (when a questionaire was circulated by my employer for comments about the issue).

Today I see the question of women staying home to take care of children as a decision made by each family, like any such decision there are losses and benefits agreed to by each partner. I still support equal vacation benefits for single and married (harried) people.

This rings true in my experience both in academia and in law. Careers advance for people who act like fanatics. I've watched the costs in destroyed families, bitter divorces, alienated kids.

There is, however, something to be said for obsession -- tripping out on something totally until you master it. So that you really are better at that one thing than other people. If someone wants to be great at something that bad -- bad enough they'll sacrifice everything else -- why not advance that person in that area? Provide all the day care you want for people who want to balance time with their families with their (litigation, research, deal making, writing, acting, music), when push comes to shove on who to promote, institutions (and consumers) by and large tend to promote the person who mastered the discipline and who knows it best. Is it unjust to reward people who sacrificed the most and became the best?

But do we want warped, half blind people to be the engineers on our cultural train?

I don't even know where I come down on this dilemma, let alone come up with a solution.

On the other hand, when I was in college, I used to wear a green button that said 59 Cents. I'm glad to see it's up to 77 in, what, 25 years?

but on the other hand, i am a 45 year old white male laid off last year ( 13 years with the company ) while the two white females, 42 ( approx 8 years ) & 47 ( approx 8 - 10 years ), kept their jobs - we all did the same work in the same department at close to the same pay.


bitter? not really. both of the women are horribly in debt ( one due to medical expenses, the other to excess consumerism ) and cannot speak up at work nor afford to not drink the kool-aid.

all i know is that when my savings run out, i'll be eating a bullet. i have been working for a paycheck for 31 years, bachelor and master degrees, military service in usa army ( gulf war i vet ) and none of that really fucking matters or counts for anything.

i am tired.


I think more and more they're trying to get people desparate (the credit card debt, for example) to coerce their docility. Used to be they coerced docility primarily in physical labor jobs (and yes, they preferred women for their docility, a long history of believing women were better drones than men). But now they've got other means.

But at some point it may not work. No one has the security anymore that such docility is supposed to produce. What happens when the social contract is broken?

What Emptypockets describes in the medical field is also very true in the legal field. For someone to have to leave work to pick up the kids really hurts their career. I was single and childless so it didn't matter to me personally, but it did affect promotions for some women. And this was the gov't, where we had a right to family leave and you could negotiate half time.

In law as well the predominant ideal is the single-minded shark who lives only to eat up other people. No life, just work. At least until they make it to the top and can direct underlings to do the sharking.

This is what we have to try to combat--the overcompetitiveness, the overidealization of "winners," the denigration of ordinary home life, hobbies, creativity, gardening, whatever. In my youth they told us that progress and automation would bring endless leisure time, but my peers just ended up working themselves almost to death if they bought into this dominant paradigm. Fortunately I had the means to retire early, and I can tell you all that I don't miss it and find life as a school volunteer, blogger, gardener, family member etc much more rewarding, even if I did have to scale back a little.

These are all great points, but I am especially interested in what Dave Thorner, kaleidoscope, and Mimikatz bring up:

I think it is an open question whether the healthier environment would have more productive results than the relentlessly competitive one.

institutions (and consumers) by and large tend to promote the person who mastered the discipline and who knows it best. Is it unjust to reward people who sacrificed the most and became the best? But do we want warped, half blind people to be the engineers on our cultural train?

This is what we have to try to combat--the overcompetitiveness, the overidealization of "winners," the denigration of ordinary home life

That is exactly where I was going with this. Everyone can remember kids from your school days who were absolutely head and shoulders above the crowd in one area (often it's math and science) but did not excel, or were even somewhat delayed, in other areas including social development (in extreme cases bordering on autism). Those are the types who find their path most easily in the current system.

There were also kids who excelled, sometimes equally well, in those subjects but had a broader range of interests and either didn't want to become part of the nerd clique socially or found themselves torn between, say, the sciences and history, and went in another direction. The net result is a weeding out of well-rounded individuals. The same kind of weeding can occur at every level of graduate and post-graduate advancement.

There are a LOT of very talented graduate students in the sciences who are also well-read, interested in politics or history or music, athletic and with an active social life. It is our job as a community to keep those people (a) in science, at the highest levels and (b) not to make them give up all those outside interests - including family.

Dave Thorner and kaleidoscope are both right that we have not, as a community, consciously made this decision -- and there is a side who would argue that advancement should be based purely on scientific productivity. But in the end I'm with Mimikatz in thinking that for its own good (as well as the good of the students) the community needs to foster and encourage outside interests even at the expense of immediate productivity.

First, the quantum leaps in science are often made by individuals who are able to talk socially with researchers with disparate interests, and identify common themes. Social skills and shared hobbies facilitate those exchanges.

Second, like it or not, science is increasingly colliding with politics, from NIH funding to stem cell research to global warming. The scientific community can not afford to remain in its shell. It needs to engage its real-world neighbors, through PTA meetings, soccer games, all the normal interactions that make citizens meet scientists and appreciate them as capable, devoted people deserving of their trust and tax money -- not the "mad scientist" caricature the media loves.

Third, a fundamental job of a scientist is not only to learn how the world works but to communicate that understanding to others. Those with social lives and family lives and diverse interests become better communicators with the public, and through the same interactions I just mentioned have more opportunities to get that communication started.

The family-career choice is a conspicuous example of a general choice between renaissance activity and careerism that may short-term yield more productivity but long-term is to the detriment of the field. I think the same case could be made for law, medicine, and other areas.

Man does this hit home for my wife and I. Both of us are MD/PhD students, and are getting close to our dissertation defenses (after which, we get another 2 years of med school, yeah!).

But we're both thinking that there's no way in hell that we both could do academic medicine. For a while, I didn't know when we could even have time to have a child. Then we realize that 4th year of med school (with its electives and such) is really an ideal time. So that's the plan right now.

I *might* (and underscore might) consider an academic position. My wife is adamantly against it for some of the reasons eloquently expressed above. Academic medicine, especially at the bench (no offense -pockets), has become like the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass. You've got to run faster and faster just to stay in one place. Productivity has now become an end in itself, it is no longer a means. In essence, it's all about how much you publish, what journal you publish in, and quality of the research be damned. My wife and I joke about how some papers just make it into a journl because of their snappy titles or literally a 4 word phrase the author coined that sounds cool.

It's no longer about searching for the truth. SO I wonder if it's for me any more. Why should I work my ass off, for peanuts, worried about whether I'm going to get tenure, or that next grant, or if my paper that I spent 4 years perfecting gets published in the journal that I think it deserves to be in? And if those things don't happen, what then?

I think I'd rather just see patients in private practice, where at least I get the satisfaction from knowing that I helped them that day, right then. Whereas, my research, even if I think it's important, may amount to nothing.

Sorry to go off on the anti-research tangent, but this is something I've been mulling around for quite some time now. To close, I'll give you guys a perfect example of this anti-woman sentiment that my wife experienced just last week.

A hot-shot male faculty candidate (who was the best man of the interested dept's chair in his wedding, btw. OH, and said chair didn't get married until his mid-50s and is married to a late-30s physician, but that's just background) recently interviewed with my wife's boss (who is female junior faculty, and runs a lab and has weekly clinic). She (my wife's boss) introduced my wife to him while praising her and calling her "a real MD/PhD star." To which the faculty candidate said, "You want to be a star? You see these pictures here (pointing at pics of my wife's boss's three children), don't do that. No children for you." My wife and her boss were both quite taken aback by that statement, her boss said something like "well she's a real star, she's the most organized person I know, she can have kids and succeed."

His reply? "Well, you work for a woman, so I guess you're lucky. If you worked for a man, he wouldn't be so understanding." Again, both my wife and her boss were shocked by this.

But there's virtually no chance that even if my wife's boss were to speak up that this guy wouldn't get hired. One, he's apparently an amazing scientist. Two, she has the personal connection with the chair. And three, he's applying for a bone marrow transplant position, which are incredibly hard to find qualified people for. And we're incredibly short-staffed right now.

Amazing, isn't it? Can you imagine expressing these kind of views openly at a job interview in the corporate world? While I'm sure many people would agree with that statement there too, that sort of openess is usually verboten. But in academia it's tolerated?

viget, that is just outrageous. If it's impractical for them to oppose his hiring, they should at least put the incident in writing, in a letter to the chair possibly cc:'ed to the dept's sexual harassment grievance board (that kind of overtly sexist comment that makes a woman uncomfortable skirts the edge of harassment imo) just to have it on the record. If the guy is hired and she has more problems with him, or even god forbid if he becomes chair someday or otherwise holds sway over her, it is in her own interest to have put the incident "on the books" at the time.

But frankly I just can't imagine dealing with someone that openly sexist. I hope he is not representative of the people she, or you, have to work with.

As to the frustrations of the way research is in general, and the fickleness of publishing and editors' decisions in particular, all I can say is I understand your feelings. There's no hope for its future, though, if everyone who knows better goes elsewhere. It's a problem.

Is this a school that is state or federally funded?

You should seriously consider working for Kaiser Permamente. Doctors there practice medicine. They keep medical records, but otherwise no insurance forms, no asking for approval for procedures from accountants, just practice medicine. They also havce opportunities for research if interested. The pay may be less than one could get in a Cadillac practice, but still, you help ordinary people in state of the art facilities with lots of colleagues and don't have to hassle with paperwork. Those who work there find it really worth the tradeoff. But there are few HMOs like that--they are not for profit and doctor run.


Of course. We couldn't do the research we did without the almighty NIH R01. Why do you ask?

Thanks for the hattip about Kaiser. I hadn't thought about that before. Plus it could fulfill my dream of living in California one day...hmmm.


Thanks for the input. I'll pass that on to my wife's boss. I don't know if she's afraid of rocking the boat or what, but I think if you're stupid and chauvenistic enough to make these kinds of comments in front of those who are potentially judging your worthiness as a faculty member, you deserve to be called on the carpet for it. I mean, it was an indirect insult to my wife's boss as well, as it was implying that she wasn't a star.

Put it this way: here he's acting on his BEST behavior because he wants a job. How's he going to act once he's already got the job? And the fact he was acting like this in the first place makes me wonder if he was overconfident of his chances given that he's best buds with the chairman (who, btw, is very supportive of female faculty, so I am really kind of surprised by this, and he's gone down a couple of notches on my esteem scale).

I find it interesting that Anbela Merkel is raising this question now in Germany. One of the profound differences between E and W Germany before unification was the child-bearing profile. Because E. Germany had a full compliment of support services for working women, or women in professional training -- E. German women tended to marry younger, and have their children when they were young. They were also much more likely to have two or three children closely spaced. The West German pattern that had evolved since the 1960's (reliable birth control) was for a single child, born to mothers on the average seven years older than E. German women. One of the first huge changes that occurred with unification was the spread of the West German pattern to the East with the withdrawal of all the former support systems. Merkel is herself a product of the E. German culture -- she trained as a Physicist under that system. When merger was underway this was one of the hottest issues under debate -- and as one would expect, the East German approach was rooted out for clear political reasons. I find it interesting that Merkel -- the first former E. German to rise to political leadership, would essentially renew the debate. But one must also recall that Germany has a long history of legislating family policy -- something not officially done in the US.

emptypockets, I really like your argument in favor of well-roundedness. I think it's a better one than the one Werb made, because it acknowledges that it's possible that some discovery won't get made because people are working saner schedules. But this potential pitfall is worth it, because the discovery by a relentless single-minded person comes with a hidden cost in the overall social welfare. It's the kind of holistic worldview that I think we need more of, and which probably informs a lot of the political perspective on sites like this. And if more people adopted it, then the competitive folks working 12-16 hours a day on one thing would be working just as hard to contribute to social, family, and community life.

(I think your other points, that a healthier society actually encourages more productivity even if we can't track it as easily, are also good, but my first paragraph is what came to mind immediately on reading your post.)

Viget--the reason I asked is that if they hire the guy, it is a sex-based discrimination complaint waiting to happen, and someone should get to him for purely institutional self-interest, apart from the problems of working alongside a jerk.

Do look into Kaiser. I have been with them practically since they opened. people used to knock them, but they compare much better now that for-profit managed care is such a nightmare for everyone but the top management. And doctors do like it. The clientele is heavily union members, including lots of public employee union members, plus they are reasonable for individuals. It takes an understanding of the system, but what doesn't these days? I have been overall very satisfied with their level of care and particularly they were very good when my father was dying.


I see where you're going. It's a shame that this guy isn't applying to the cell bio department, because I would have no hesitation to go right to the chairman, who I know really well and have a great relationship with, as he's a tireless worker for increasing female faculty levels in his department.

But in the BMT department (and oncology in general), the chair is also very supportive of women, but this is a conflict of interest given that the candidate is a good friend of his. And I'm not sure that my wife's boss necessarily wants to bring attention to the situation and potentially alienate her chances of success (although she should have every right to do this).

I'm afraid that if this guy is hired, things will turn out poorly for any women in his lab.

One other thing that's sort of interesting/weird: I'm not certain that even some of the women in the department would necessarily disagree with this guy. While they give lip service to seeing more women in science, they also seem to be very anti-having children. One of the new women PIs is currently very pregnant at the time and she takes every opportunity to remind us that this is essentially against her will and she'd rather be in the lab than be rearing a child (rumor is her husband who is not in science gave her an ultimatum). I truly fear for the baby; I hope his/her father is up to the task of raising him/her!

I apologize in advance, but for a whole different perspective on what we're talking about, here's Bob Dylan:

The silver studded black madonna two wheeled gypsy queen
And her silver studded phantom cause
The GRAY FLANNEL dwarf to scream.
As she weeps two wicked birds of prey
come pick up on her bread crumb sins.
There are no sins inside the gates of Eden.

What a great blog! It's pretty amazing to think about just how far women have not gotten in the "real" corporate workplace yet consumer products companies are pleased to scramble for our hard earned dollars. Its about time women start realizing that we are playing by some very skewed social norms that tend to favor the male gender and psychological tendencies. As more women seek out public office, start their own businesses and begin to take part in leading edge research only then can we start to turn data into facts that more acturately reflect our needs and life objectives. Above all, women need to support each other as never before. Stand up ladies and support the rainbow of women around the world. Thanks for listening.

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