Advice for women who want to be scientists...

Discussion in 'Off-Topic Discussions' started by Orson, Mar 5, 2005.

  1. Orson

    Orson New Member

    From a managment prof at - I think, SMU - comes this unofficial uncirculated advice and perspective on the process of getting though grad school and building a career.

    Pass it on.
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    I wanted comment on by [ writer Virginia Postrel] that covers "How to Get More Female Scientists". As a person with a professorial wife and as a person that does nitty-gritty consulting with regard to pipeline operations (consulting that looks to optimize the relationships of metrics, people, jobs, workflow, throughput, quality, organizational structure, control structure, goals, systems, and culture), I really zeroed in on Virginia's following text:

    "So, if a university like Harvard wants to foster the careers of female scientists, this is my advice: Speed up the training process so people get their first professorial jobs as early as possible--ideally, by 25 or 26. Accelerate undergraduate and graduate education; summer breaks are great for students who want to travel or take professional internships, but maybe science students should spend them in school. Penalize senior researchers whose grad students take forever to finish their Ph.D.s. Spend more of those huge endowments on reducing (or eliminating) teaching assistant loads and other distractions from a grad student's own research and training. If you want more female scientists, ceteris paribus (as the economists say), stop extending academic adolescence."

    Her closing comment "stop extending academic adolescence" is beautiful, but I would go further to say that universities should go even further to "stop creating academic obsolesence". The clocks don't stop at the Ph.D. level. Getting tenure after becoming a professor means performing quality research (and sometimes also performing quality classroom teaching depending on the institution). Things like grading take up an extraordinary time and provide little if any benefit to either the professor or the students. There should be additional focus on actively monitoring, mentoring, and helping females through the academic process as opposed to having university adminstration passively check in on candidates.

    Where I may differ from Virginia a little bit on specifics (although she probably was just blue sky thinking like I am doing now) is that I would focus more on acceleration of the graduate school part of the process (i.e., post bachelors degree through tenured professor) as opposed to the undergraduate part. Just my gut feel there. Although I hated undergraduate education more than graduate school, part of it has to do with that I wasn't "educated" enough in a worldly sense back then to know the value and risks of shortening that timeframe.

    As for Viriginia's comment, "Penalize senior researchers whose grad students take forever to finish their Ph.D.s.", I could get on board with that. But that's a tough one to implement based on what little I know about the different flavors of university cultures and plethora of organizational processes.

    Two other closing items I wanted to mention because it sheds light on both the pressure on females and the pressure of reasearch on both sexes in this whole process:

    ~A number of female Ph.D. students I know have told one another that "the time to have kids is during the process before getting a Ph.D." Otherwise, you may be dead or childless unintentionally.

    ~There was once a researcher who said something to the effect of "I have to think about research all of the time (even when I am not doing it) to be able to make it through the academic process. The only time I am not thinking about research is when I am swimming because I fear I will drown."

    Steve Shu
    Managing Director, S4 Management Group
    There are also a good half-dozen lenghty comments posted in reply to the above at:

    It's worth checking out
  2. qvatlanta

    qvatlanta New Member

    I was astounded when I read this. I thought it was going to be something along the usual Orson line of "liberal professors force conservative students to have gay sex with terrorists while spitting on a portrait of Jesus!!!" but instead it's actually interesting and informative. Thanks!

    The strongest point I saw there about fixing the system was to give professors incentive to actually get their grad students to graduate. This is even a problem in the humanities and I know it's very bad in the hard sciences. A professor whose work is aided by essentially free labor by grad students has every reason to keep them around as long as possible. Having some kind of "working sabbatical" every few years would also help... some time when students were free to dedicate themselves entirely to their own research without the distraction of other activities such as teaching and grading. I don't think teaching should be thrown aside or discounted at all, just balanced better.

    The system as it stands produces great scientists, so it shouldn't be junked... but it also bars a lot of people from entry who could have been great contributors. This includes not just women but men. I'm sure a lot of new fathers have decided to leave their PhD program, or not embarked on it all, once they realized it meant seeing their kid only a few hours a week for the next 6-10 years.
  3. Ted Heiks

    Ted Heiks Moderator and Distinguished Senior Member

    1. And exactly how would we speed up the process?

    2. Grades are of little value? I thought they were supposed to give the student a measure of his/her academic progress.

    3. Amen to that!

    4. I would advise any male thinking about an extended academic adolescence to consider that Viagra might not work.

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