Why have we had such different experiences? There are many possible explanations, not all of them flattering to me, but I will ignore those for now. Here are my top candidates:
- Although we are close to each other in age, my friend got her PhD a few years ago; I got mine in the 20th century.
- Her small institution is dominated by the liberal arts and has few scientists; there are more women faculty than men, and many more female students than male; I am at a large research university with lots of science and engineering and few women in those fields.
- Her job mostly involves teaching (few/no grants); mine involves a lot of research (lots of grant proposals).
We are both FSPs, but our experiences are very different because of these major differences in our academic environment. I find that cheering, in a way. Maybe the positive aspects of gender-neutral academic cultures will trickle up to the places where FSPs are still a bit exotic and not quite so well respected as one might wish? Or are the Big Research Universities impervious to such influences because the distance between the Big Research University continent and the Other Universities continent is too great and therefore the life forms at the BRUs will evolve in isolation and develop unusual and extreme characteristics that allow us to survive the harsh climate? (my apologies to non-academic marsupials for that bizarre analogy)
My friend marveled that today, in 2009, there are still men who make a distinction between science professors and female science professors, as if it matters. This is where at least some of you will say: But you make that distinction yourself. You call yourself FSP and go on and on about it all the time, so it matters to you too.
And this is where I say (again): Yes it does matter to me, but note that my url is science-professor.blogspot.com. In my professional life, I would love to be an SP just like the vast majority of my colleagues and an immensely vast majority of my fellow full professors, but I am constantly reminded that I am an FSP. And as long as that is the case, it will matter to me. Hence the name.
In fact, when I use the term FSP to describe myself, I am using the term in a potentially informative way that encompasses the full range of experiences in my professional and personal life. That doesn't mean, however, that it should be used as the major defining characteristic of me as a science professor. In my professional life, I am first and foremost a scientist and a teacher. [note: In fact, when I first came up with the name 3 years ago, I was being sarcastic, but that was then. I have evolved.]
I like to think that someday calling someone an FSP just adds a bit of identifying detail that might be relevant in some ways but that doesn't imply anything about intellectual skills, professional qualifications, seriousness, or ability to have one's own ideas. I also like to think that this change will happen in part because of the everyday work of female scientists doing Science, but it's going to take a lot more of us to make a detectable change in all types of academic environments, even the Big Research Universities.