A colleague of mine is in an academic system in which he, as Big Professor, directly selects a few graduate students who will work with him. There is no admissions committee or other complicating factors like that; he just looks around and selects 1-2 students to work with him.
All of these students have thus far been male.
Not long ago, this colleague was complaining to me about how he recently has had trouble finding graduate students who want to work hard. I should note that this colleague works very hard and no doubt expects the same, or more, from his students. I am sure that his definition of "hard work" is a bit on the high side, and it would not be easy to be his graduate student. Nevertheless, he always used to be able to find students, but is now having trouble recruiting.
He informed me that, out of desperation, he has recently accepted two "girls" as graduate students. The conversation was a bit surreal. Did he expect me to sympathize with the fact that he had no choice but to take on some female graduate students?
Anyway, I was semi-pleased to hear this. I hope these young women do well, for their own sakes as well as for the unfortunate reason that their status as pioneers as female graduate students of this adviser puts them in the unpleasant position of representing our gender. If they do well -- or maybe if at least one of them does well -- then this colleague may in the future be enthusiastic about working with female graduate students, thereby providing young women with a heretofore unattainable opportunity for graduate study.
It would be nice if my colleague also examined his advising philosophy, just in case his inability to attract graduate students has nothing to do with the slothfulness of the modern young male (his hypothesis), but that does not yet seem to be in the offing. It would also be nice if the young women were as free to fail as the male graduate students.
This colleague has had his share of failed male graduate students in the past, so it's not as if he has had non-stop success (until now) advising young men. In fact, I was a sort of co-adviser of one of his students who ended up costing me a lot of time and money before he suddenly dropped out of the graduate program. As soon as this student acquired a girlfriend, he lost interest in working long hours in a lab. My colleague was completely disgusted by this ex-student's lack of commitment to Science and his inability to balance work and girlfriend.
(Many years later, this student sent me an e-mail to say that he has long been filled with shame and regret that he dropped out without telling me or even thanking me for all the help I gave him. I told him that these things happen and he should not feel guilty about this ancient incident, although I appreciated that he communicate with me eventually.)
Even so, none of these men represent all of their gender. Those who dropped out did so because of their individual personalities. I hope the same will be true for these young women, whatever the outcome of their graduate studies, although mostly I hope they will succeed.
And if one of them does drop out for personal reasons, I hope my colleague will remember that he has had male students drop out for similar reasons. And if he does not remember this, I will remind him.
6 months ago