Friday, March 28, 2008

2 Out of 2 FSPs Recommend..

Recently I compared notes with another FSP about what we tell younger women who ask us questions about careers and families and so on. We have both done many panel discussions, pizza lunches, and other formal and informal mentoring/role modeling activities over the years.

It was interesting for me to talk with her about Science and other issues because she is one of the most prominent scientists in the world in my general field, is about a decade older than I am, is the mother of more children than I will ever have, and is a senior professor at a large and famous private university.

Other FSP (OFSP): Do you get asked all the time about when is the 'best time' to have a baby?
FSP (me): Yes, that always comes up at women-in-science panels and lunches.
OFSP: What do you say?
FSP: I say that there is no best time, so if you want to have a baby, you should go ahead, even if you don't have tenure or a tenure-track job yet.
OFSP: That's exactly what I say!

Conclusion: 2 out of 2 Female Science Professors think that women should have a baby when they are ready to have a baby.

FSP: Do you get asked all the time whether couples should pursue their careers even if it means a long distance relationship or whether one member of the couple should sacrifice their dream career so that they can live together?
OSFP: Yes, that always comes up as well.
FSP: What do you say?
OFSP: I say that everyone has to decide what is best for their own situation and there is no one solution that is best for everyone.
FSP: That's exactly what I say!

Conclusion: 2 out of 2 Female Science Professors think that each academic couple has to figure out what is best for them, after carefully weighing the options.

OFSP: Do you think it really matters what we say, or is it enough that we just exist as examples of women scientists with families and careers, just to show that it can be done?
FSP: I hope it is enough that we just exist, because I don't know what I am talking about most of the time when I'm asked to give advice.
OFSP: Me neither.

Conclusion: 2 out of 2 Female Science Professors are much better at doing Science than being Mentors, but we are trying.


Drugmonkey said...

Dang! That's exactly what I say too!

Can I haz ponee?

In all seriousness though this is just good common sense. The real question is how we get the nutjobs insisting that academic careers should produce a completely twisted lifestyles out of the way as quickly as we can. Then women in science won't have to ask these questions...

Anonymous said...

You are hilarious. Thanks for the post.
I have a question. I am a female postdoc who has had a lot of bad experiences. I just attended a workshop and heard from other female postdocs across the US about discrimination, people feeling threatened by successful, ambitious women especially from people from other cultures, being preyed on, or watching grad students be preyed on, etc., etc. How do you "warn" young women of the battles that lie ahead? What I really want to tell graduate and undergraduate women is to stick together since it is much easier blowing the whistle on outrageous behavior as a group than alone.
And as a group, get a lawyer and sue their asses. And how do you tell people to be careful of working for certain BigNames because have a history of problems without sabatoging your own career?
Thanks again so much for your blog! It helps get the word out.

Hilary said...

As a Former FSP (FFSP) I also used to say the same thing. Now that I'm just a regular person, nobody asks my advice any more. This is just fine with me, in light of point (3) of your discussion.

science cog said...

There's no right time to have a baby, just go for it when you think you are ready. Long ago I decided my "several" kids will always be the best thing I ever did, even though I'm devoted to my work in a way most people find mystifying.

butterflywings said...

Hmmmm. As a younger woman it would be reassuring to hear such advice, even if it is kinda common sense and what I figured out by myself anyway, it always helps to have someone else agree.
The very existence of your blog and other similar ones is also helpful, again, in an "I'm not alone!" way.
In fact, it may be easier to discuss such issues over the Internet...only met one senior academic woman with kids and she was frankly a bit crazy and terrifying. Sigh.
Yay FSP and all female academic bloggers :-)

Academic said...

There really are questions that come up. Occasionally it's fun to ask the male professors with tenure what they think of some of these career questions.

Candid Engineer said...

From someone who has been recently seeking advice of the one female mentor I have: Yes, it is nice to know that FSPs are out there and have succeeded. But it is also good to have the advice, however vague.

I recently started a postdoc, and my husband and I have started thinking about a baby. Initially, I was worried sick about picking 'the perfect time'. Having the conversation with my FSP mentor put me at ease. I no longer worry about 'the perfect time', and just worry about what I/we want.

You are doing a good service, even if you don't know what you are talking about.

Emily said...

I ask the long-distance question at those lovely pizza lunches because I'm in one and sometimes think I'm crazy.

It really is enough that you exist as a model for young women, but it's also great that you participate in those panels and make us all feel sane!

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to thank you for trying. It is SO incredibly helpful--both to have the examples, and to know you'all care.

Ms.PhD said...

Funny post, very cute.

I'll admit to being often frustrated by vague advice from FSPs.

Amusingly, the FSPs I've talked to had much stronger opinions, though not necessarily helpful ones. For example, the running advice where I went to grad school was that the best time to have a child was while you were writing your thesis. And a lot of women did that. Those who did not sometimes felt like they had missed their best chance or something, which is of course ridiculous.

Although they were all shocked to find that health insurance for postdocs (and their families) is not always better, and is sometimes quite a bit worse, than health insurance for grad students (and their families). So these things are worth taking into account, if that helps with giving advice on that particular issue.

Anyway being a mentor is as much about listening as it is about advising.

Just having someone sympathetic in the ranks of the Powers That Be counts for a heckuva lot.

Keep up the good work!

And then the two of you can tell me what brand of toothpaste to buy. Someday maybe we'll have an FSP society that makes all kinds of recommendations on all kinds of things!

lusenok said...

Thank you for advice about babies.

Anonymous said...

I don't expect my advisers & mentors to have all the answers, or to have The Answer, and I don't necessarily follow their advice. But sometimes phrasing the question to them and thinking about the answers they give helps me see the problem in a new light. They may not know what they're talking about, but they are thoughtful people and their wisdom is still beneficial to my decision-making!

Anonymous said...

So here's question 3: What do you advise a YFSP to do when she is systematically discriminated against at a particular annual international workshop? (As just one, of many, examples: she is the only foreign participant not invited to an after hours formal tour and dinner, while her male graduate student is invited). The conference is too important to simply not go...

ScienceGirl said...

I've met many more FSP's that give similar advice. And yes, it is the sheer existence of FSP's and their willingness to listen to concerns and do the best they can with advice, that is very reassuring.

Anonymous said...

anon 9:23
The workshop does not ask you to sign up for the dinner and a tour yourself? If not,and the tour and dinner are by invitation only, then you need to talk to someone to see if you can get an invitation. The more people you have to stand behind you the better off you will be (instead of going it alone). Is there a MSF that you can get to go with you to ask about being invited for these activities?

Charlotte said...

Your common sense approach is refreshing. :)

Anonymous said...

Dear Anon 9:23,
Try going through the secretaries-
What bastards(!) the organizers are not to include you.

Something like this happened to me- and I went to the secretaries and offered to pay. They got me into the dinner and I did a lot of important networking at the dinner. No one knew that I was not previously invited. I forgot all about it myself as I sat next to some Hot Shot Professors and discussed my research. So don't let these guys win. If you want to go to the dinner, then find a way.
Don't give up!

Anonymous said...

Dear Anon 12:36 and Anon 4:33,

Thanks for the tips but it is a done deal and overwith. There are formal scheduled dinners with this group and then there are invitation only dinners that happen in a kind of back-room manner. The secretaries are not much help as they're mostly the wives of the hot shots.

One of the hotshot men had been pulling for me but got shot down. He and I were told directly that I could ride along for the tour, but there was no ability to add anyone else for the dinner (although they added my male student) so I would have to sit in the hotel lobby while the men-folk ate and/or take public transportation the hour and a half back to the city of the conference hotel. My hotshot friend ended up buying me a present on the tour, and dragged me down to the conference hotel lobby when they returned (waking me up :-p) to give it to me and to try to make the rest of the men feel a bit guilty. Personally I thought that was a second public embarrassment--as if to say--"see her again, she wasn't invited"--but I know he had good intentions.

Anyhow, that is over and done with. My friend on the inside said he regrets not walking out on the dinner, and will do everything in his power to prevent this sort of thing from happening again. I'm more trying to figure where to go from here. Do I ever say anything down the road, or just let it roll? In past years the formal conference entertainment has included a belly dancer who were not just in the background--participants were tucking bills into the belly dancer's wardrobe. I think I'm unlikely to change this group. Sorry, didn't mean to totally comments-thread-jack, I really am curious as to the advice from folks here though.

Yes, it is still the 1950s in my field...

Anonymous said...

anon 8:44-
A belly dancer?!! Good god! It reminds me of a conference that I just attended where scientists were going to the topless bars.

Anyway this is outrageous and totally beyond the pale of acceptable behavior. Any lawyer would love to hear your story.
Keep a log of abuses and if there is anyone who would go in with you, I would sue their sorry asses. THat way you will make the environment better for everyone-men and women included. Is the workshop in the US?

Ed said...

Have you seen Yentl?
The answer to discrimination is to pass as male.

Female Science Professor said...

Anonymous 9:23,
I don't think these things should be allowed to exist as part of an international conference, and anything you can do to change that would be great -- e.g., if the conference is sponsored by a professional society or hosted by a university, perhaps there are some people at the sponsoring organization or institution who will agree that systematic discrimination is not something they should be condoning, much less facilitating.

I haven't encountered anything similar, but on occasion I attend conferences at which there is a social event that looks like it will be ghastly -- lots of men drinking heavily at a nightclub etc. The last time that happened, I found quite a few people who did not want to go to the social event but who were thinking of doing so just so they wouldn't be left out. Instead, we all went to a restaurant and had a great time talking for hours. Perhaps you and some sympathetic colleagues can start an alternative social event for those who don't want to go to the men-only invited event. Of course you should have the right to go to the other event if you want to, though.

Anonymous said...

As a young Female Social Science Professor (FSSP), it worked out very well for me to have a baby right before I went up for tenure. All my work for my tenure folder was completed, and the dip in productivity that I experienced from caring for a new infant was not at all reflected in my materials for evaluation. Of course, I only have N = 1, so who knows if that would work for everyone. I just can't imagine going through all of the baby stuff any earlier in my career!

drdrA said...

I love this post, and guess what- I'm a FSP as well.... so make that 3/3 FSP agreement on all points.

For some of us, science and real life have to co-exist. I'm with drugmonkey though- its nice to review the problem but lets at least attempt to fix it at the root- how do we get the establishment to stop expecting (or promoting depending on your perspective) twisted lifestyles for academic scientists as the norm?

j said...

As a FSP, I got pregnant the spring before I went up for reappointment, and was on maternity leave just as my portfolio was being evaluated. I was actually more productive than I've ever been (a paper submitted and revised and in press, and a grant submitted and funded) while pregnant, probably due to both the paperwork and the baby deadlines.

I'm at a SLAC, and got a year hold on tenure, and have a mid-probationary leave semester right now. So I have 2.5 more years of productivity before I go up for tenure, and I'm not too worried about getting done what I need to. My teaching evals/observations were very good, though, so I knew that what I needed to get done was research oriented, and I have a pretty specific plan.

Anyway, the baby timing was pretty darned perfect, and I'm now going to try to have another one (I thought I would only have one, and then hormones and memory loss made me forget how hard it was, and I'm almost 40, so here I go again now, much sooner than I ever thought I'd space kids). It turns out I can get another tenure hold, although I'm hoping that I don't need it, and I may even go up on my original clock if the next year is as productive as it might be.

And this is coming from someone who is somewhat iffy about research at times, loves teaching, and goes home every day at 4:30 or 5 for the most part to spend time with my wife and baby. So it can be done. The trick for me has been really cranking it out when necessary, and being strategic about what kinds of papers I'm trying to get out, and their timing (and of course the grant didn't hurt). For the most part I figure, if I can't get tenure while having the life I want to have, then I don't want tenure, and I'll find something else to do.

Anonymous said...

Love the write up.
Looking forward to the day when I can get products (or universities, or conferences!) with little "FSP approved" stickers (kidding- although, it might come in handy).

Lisa Conti said...

Yes, it matters what you say. And the example matters too! As a new mother/scientist, I'm always looking for both.

Mickey Blake said...

Dear anonymous 9:23,

Had it been me, I would have pulled rank on my male graduate student, and told him, "I'm taking your spot in the dinner & tour. Here's $50, have a great night out on Conference Town, on me." Then again, I'm not an FSP, just a failed wannabe-FSP who will hopefully someday be a FLP (female linguistics professor).

Gingerale said...

The MSPs attending this belly-dancer dinner apparently allowed the nonsense to continue. That creates a hostile professional environment for FSPs. It reflects poorly on the MSPs when they don't speak up.