Monday, June 30, 2008

Picture It

When I was first hired as a tenure-track professor at another university, the local newspaper did an article about me because I was an FSP in a place without many of them, despite the presence of more than one large university in the region. The article was accompanied by a photo of me surrounded by scientific-looking research equipment. I hated the photo, but I thought the article did a good job of explaining my research and why I find it so interesting. I also thought that it was in general a good thing to highlight the fact that women science professors exist.

Over the years, I've been in several other articles or projects whose intent is to show the world (or at least some people in a region) that there are FSPs. This might sound contradictory coming from someone who writes a blog intended for that same purpose, but a recent request for my participation in yet another one of these things made me feel sad, weary, and angry that I am still so exotic, 20 years later, that these believe-it-or-not-FSPs-exist projects are still being done.

My husband, who has never been asked to be interviewed or photographed as a Scientist, asked "Aren't you glad you're still special?" (<-- sarcasm).

Being photographed surrounded by Scientific Things again is getting boring, but I can think of a few other dramatic possibilities. How about if we FSPs are photographed surrounded by our numerous male colleagues, department chairs, and deans? How about if we are photographed doing menial service tasks that our male colleagues can't or won't do? How about if our photographs have captions like "I can't believe she's a real professor!". How about if my photograph and article from ~ 20 years ago is juxtaposed with a more recent one, with the same headline about what a rare creature I am.

I am not (entirely) serious about these alternate suggestions, of course. These FSPs-exist projects are well intentioned, and while clearly not sufficient motivation to inspire swarms of young women to become (and stay) scientists, it would be nice to think that someone somewhere is somewhat encouraged by this evidence for the existence of FSPs.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear FSP,
I'm one of these young women thinking staying in science and I am addicted to your blog. It is very frustrating to see that even a FSP encounters the same sort of harrassement as a female PhD student (I was somehow hoping these things would stop at some point), but on the other hand it is encouraging that you survived and, despite everything, still think it's worth hanging in there... So thanks a lot for your blog!

labrat said...

In all seriousness, I really like your last suggestion. It would be neat to see a retrospective on the 'rare creature' articles about you over the years. I'd also be interested to know whether their topics have become more specific over time ('FSPs with tenure - they do exist' rather than 'women scientists - they do exist), and whether you think FSPs will be as much of a rarity when those of us who are graduate students today have been working as long as you have.

Mister Troll said...

To the first anonymous,

Unfortunately the sexual harassment is endemic in academia. I think it's the most important reason tenure has got to go.

However, science is much, much larger than academia. I don't know if conditions are better "out there", but please keep in mind an academic career is difficult to attain these days.

To FSP, such articles must surely do some good, even if progress is difficult or impossible to see.

Jenny F. Scientist said...

I find it deeply frustrating that scientists all have to be photographed with, say, a flask full of a colored liquid, or a pipettor, or peering through a microscope. Because otherwise no-one would know we do science, right? Have to look all science-y.

Anonymous said...

quite funny. i can see how you would get frustrated about the fact that FSPs are still rare. something isn't being done . . .

i am a female social science professor, and while there are many female social science grad students, female professors are still rare. add to that that i am a member of an ethnic minority, and i get my picture taken a lot. :)

ScientistMother said...

It is frustrating that these pictures and stories are still being done 20 years later. BUT progress IS being made, I am proof. I am not sure that 20 years ago I could've started a PhD program 6 months pregnant let alone taken a 1 year mat leave. It is because of women such as yourselves that (1) I believe I can be a scientist and a mother (2) I have the right to be a mother and a scientist. Does work still need to be done? You bet, but we can't lose sight of how far we have come. More importantly the only way to have the energy to continue is to see the successes, which are through stories like mine. You and women like you have made my path a little less bumpy. I hope to widen that path and smooth it out some more for those following.

Anonymous said...

I am with the labrat: If you were among the first female postdocs or assistant professors, chances are you are also among the first female full professors.

Anonymous said...

As a female engineering grad student I interned several times at a national research lab and while there I was asked to appear in a promotional video for a university-collaboration program. This was despite the fact that my university was not a participant of this program, but I was supposed to talk about how great the program was.

We also had a minority female grad student who interned there, and you can bet her photo ended up on the wall (and she was standing in front of a microscope.)

zoelouise said...

I work with an awesome species of animal, so I am always photographed with that animal. I love it; have I mentioned it's a really cool critter? Not an exotic one, either, just a good one.

Facetious Student said...

Dear FSP,

As an undergraduate, I've been rather spoiled. Out of the three years I’ve been a young researcher, around 80% of my experience has involved interaction with women. Males are scarce in my FPI’s (Female PI) lab and the times I’ve had worked with MPIs (Male PI) were during summer internships.

I have all the intention in the world to indeed continue my work in the sciences and become an addition to the FSP club. Why you might ask? Well, it’s precisely because of the inspiration and intellectual cultivation I’ve gathered in my FPI’s lab. I entered the lab initially with the ambition of becoming a solid M.D. and since then I’ve migrated to the dark side of striving for a Ph.D. as well. To be frank, I don’t think this would have happened in any other (read: MPI) lab.

I will admit, I haven’t thought about this until I read blogs such as your own, which brought such topics into light. So, thank you.

Dr. MCR said...

I love it! I'm still amazed at the numboer of these kinds of photographs that turn up in the publicity shots for my U and others in my region. Although I suppose it's nice to be "special", it would be nicer to see the tokenism go away not only for our science, but to et us off all those committees that need females....

Anonymous said...

The tokenism doesn't end with gender... my PhD advisor is african-american, and there were some very nice pictures of him, surrounded by 'sciency things,' were taken for an article at one point. Because the university photographers had taken the photos, the university had the rights to their use. Those pictures have been used in at least 6 different advertisements for the university. The U wasn't advertising his presence there because of his NIH grants, or his C/N/S papers, but because of his ethnicity. And, possibly, his very winning smile.

Ms.PhD said...

Great post.

I went to a meeting recently organized by an FSP. The vast majority of speakers were men, and I'm not sure if she noticed this herself, but it was very apparent to us YFSs in the audience: After each session, she insisted that all the speakers go up on the stage to have a 'discussion'.

In almost every session, it was 1 woman (or less) and 6 men.

This in a field that is supposedly ~50:50 (but clearly, not at the top).

So there is something to be said for these departmental photos where the one or two FSPs still stand out.

I think it's sweet that you find it disheartening to be singled out this way, but try not to let it get you down.

If you can come up with one creative way to make a difference, that's much more useful to us YFSs.

Si said...

I was incredibly pleased to see that 5 out of 10 "rising stars" featured in this month's Astronomy magazine were women. I thought I was hallucinating for a moment, but no, those were indeed women. I can't decide what the message should be for teenage girl, though (I started subscribing to popular science mags at 12 or 13): "women do good science" (true, and good message); "1/2 the astronomers in the world are women" (untrue, and shouldn't we let them know the challenges they will face as one of the few women in their future career); "you, too, can be a scientist" (half-true, only if you want to put up with some of the things FSP points out); "all of the above" (true).

female "science" professor said...

I am grateful in this economy and in this slow job market that I am a female "science" professor, otherwise I probably would not have gotten a tenure-track job this year.