This week, a colleague/mentor of mine visited; this is the person who taught me how to teach and has been an important supporter of mine throughout my academic career. In the past couple of days, we have had several debates (arguments) about whether I should pursue an opportunity to become an Administrator (an assistant Dean) at my university. We disagree about whether I can do more 'good' for women-in-science as an administrator or as a scientist. He thinks the former, I think the latter. I think the latter mostly in the context of where I am now with my career, but could see changing my mind in the future. Even so, he thinks I should make this career change now.
I convinced my friend, colleague, mentor to put our debate in writing for posting here. This will occur in several stages, with the first part (posted here) involving our staking out our initial positions:
DDM (Dr. DeMentor): A person at your stage in her career has 2 basic choices: you can continue what you've been doing, which presumably has been very satisfying and serves your own agenda for personal growth and contributions that you feel are critical. And that path remains largely about you and your interests, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I just believe that at a certain stage in the life of an academic that there is the opportunity to move to a different track where it is less about building your own career and reputation (awards, accolades, opportunities) and more about giving back as you set the stage for the next generation of people in your field and in particular in your case women in your field. So one is kind of a self-interested path and one is more philanthropic. You are a good role model and you help individuals achieve their goals, but I believe you would have a greater impact of changing the culture on your campus and beyond if you were in a position of authority and could effect institutional change rather than individual change.
FSP (me): But I think that my being a senior and somewhat successful researcher and professor gives me more opportunities and more credibility as a role model for women scientists. The opportunities come through professional outlets -- giving talks at universities and conferences, participating in panels and committees, and just by being visible in my field as a senior woman who is a productive researcher. As a deanlet, I could have more of an impact on my university, but as a visible researcher, I can have a broader impact beyond this university. Also, keep in mind that my research ambitions aren't primarily about accolades or even being a role model: the reason I do this job is because I love the science, both as a researcher and a teacher. It's hard for me to imagine giving all or even some of that up right now, even if that seems selfish.
To be continued, I think, if DDM sends me his counter-point, though in the end we didn't evolve much beyond these main points.
10 months ago