I always wonder how much to tell my own graduates students and postdocs, particularly the women, about 'the bad old days' of being harassed and patronized. I must admit that if I have to hear the same old stories from some of my senior women colleagues yet again, I will run screaming from the room, but that is only because I've heard some of their tales 5 or 6 or 10 times. I am glad I heard the stories at least once though. It gives me some perspective about what has changed and what has not, and I respect these women very much for having prevailed against the odds.
But what do I want and need to tell my own students about my history? And how much do I tell them about things that happen to me today? I keep things pretty informal in my research group, and the research activities sometimes require my spending lots of time with my students and research associates (traveling or in the lab), and we have lots of opportunities for chatting about things other than the tasks at hand. Sometimes I tell stories about my grad school days, presenting a mix of generic tales of science and personalities, and a few times I've mentioned The Dark Side of being a woman in these settings. I've never told them about the really bad episodes though, and I doubt I ever will.
Most of my group are, to varying extents, aware of what life is like today for a woman science professor, but are they getting a balanced view? Are they learning what they need to know to succeed, not just as talented researchers, but as women who will have to navigate some difficult situations? Is it enough just for me to be a quasi-passive role model?
My most typical way of discussing these topics with students or postdocs is to make a joke of some annoying episodes (the old professor who patronizes me, the jerk on a committee who called me a 'feminist' to discredit my support for a female candidate, etc. etc.), as in - aren't these guys amazing? and then I discuss how I handled the situation, for better or worse, and we talk about it and laugh. This sometimes seems a bit feeble to me as an approach to being an Inspiring Role Model, but I'm not sure I'd succeed at anything more direct.
6 months ago