Inspired by a tangent in yesterday's post/comments and feeling that I have not previously delved in sufficient detail into the topic of Women's Mentoring Pizza Lunches, other than this attempt last year, I shall elaborate on this topic today. I shall do so by asking myself FAQ and providing the answers I give when asked these in real life:
What are these mentoring pizza lunches? Why are you mentoring pizza and/or women?
It is not uncommon for FSPs and other professional women who are invited as visiting speakers to another university to have an informal lunchtime discussion with students and postdocs (and others) about life/career issues. In some cases these mentoring sessions are a major motivating factor in the invitation to visit and sometimes they are an add-on feature to an otherwise routine visit by an invited professor who just happens to be female.
Are these only for women or can male persons attend as well?
Whatever my hosts arrange is fine with me. Most typically, anyone can come, but male persons almost never do (see related anecdote about men feeling excluded when all/most speakers at a professional event are female). Perhaps if male visitors were invited to talk about life/career issues as well, it would become more natural for anyone to attend these lunches.
I recall visiting only a few places where the lunches were specifically restricted to women. In at least one of these places, there were major problems in the department with male professor/female student interactions and the women who organized the lunch did not want these men to show up. That was a very tense place with issues for which I could provide no real help, but we had a very constructive discussion that seemed to provide comfort, if not confidence, to some of the women.
What do you talk about and/or what are you asked about?
The Big 3 are: (1) my career path, (2) when I had a child relative to my career path, and (3) how my husband and I managed to get jobs in the same place.
Do you have to eat pizza?
In my experience, 97% of these lunches involve the eating of pizza in a room in the host department. Also in my experience, these lunches typically involve my watching other people eat while I talk.
Do you enjoy doing these or are they a burden and/or humiliating because MSPs don't do these?
I enjoy them. I meet a lot of interesting people and we talk about important things. I think these mentoring sessions used to be more essential when there were fewer female students and postdocs, but I get asked to do just as many of them now as I did 10+ years ago.
These days, the mentoring lunches and the specific designation of women visitors as a distinct category from male speakers might be counter-productive in some ways. Even better would be if there were recognition that visiting male speakers might have interesting things to say about life/career, although I admit that it boggles the mind to envision certain Distinguished Professors being asked to do a pizza lunch with students and muse about their personal lives.
I once visited a university as a Distinguished Woman Speaker and found that the male students weren't comfortable talking to me about research. When I tried to talk to one male PhD student -- whose adviser had specifically arranged for me to meet in the hopes that I would give him some input on his work -- he asked me "Aren't you just hear to talk to the girls?". I replied "If you are unable to explain your research, I would be happy to ask your adviser to arrange for me to spend this time speaking with someone else."
I most prefer to have lunch with a diverse group of students and/or postdocs and talk about a wide range of topics, from research-related to career-related, but I certainly don't mind doing the FSP-as-role-model thing if requested to do so.
8 months ago