Sometimes it seems like I could write a blog post about how much I like pistachio ice cream, and I would get comments like "Why do you hate men so much? Why are you always writing about sexism? Why do you always twist things to be about gender?".
I have no good answer to those questions, perhaps because they are not sane.
Yes, I know, I should just do my work. I would be a better scientist (like the men!) if I focused more on Science and less on my actual life. I work 60 hours/week, as I just informed the NSF in their boring biannual survey of randomly selected Doctoral Recipients, but clearly I should work even more (like the men?).
Anyway, the various discussions of this week got me reminiscing about my distant academic youth, back in the days when there were so few women in my field that it was very easy to go through undergraduate and graduate school without ever directly encountering a female science professor.
That was my experience as a student, although after a couple of rather harrowing years in graduate school, in which I was routinely yelled at, pinched, and grabbed by a rather nasty old professor whose loathing of me was exceeded only by my loathing of him*, I started looking around for another graduate program, preferably far far away from my original one. I decided that I would try to find a female adviser, on the assumption that a female adviser would be less likely to abuse me physically.
I looked around and found two possibilities -- two women scientists in my field, both doing extremely interesting work at excellent universities. I wrote to them, describing my research background and interests and asking if they were taking on any new graduate students in the near future.
They wrote back. One was going to be denied tenure and was not taking new students, and the other was a research professor who had never advised a student before. When she got my message, she asked her department chair if she could advise a student, and he said no. She told me years later that it upset her greatly that the department did not respect her enough to let her advise a student although she was a senior researcher with her own grants; she had always assumed that she could advise a student if she had wanted to.
So that was depressing. Fortunately for me, though, the evil pinching professor was soon out of the picture, and my situation improved enough that I decided to stay on in graduate school.
Although my field of Science is still male-dominated at the professorial level, I would certainly have more options today if I were a student specifically seeking a female adviser, or if I just wanted to be in a department that had some female faculty. There's no way to know of course, but, if I were a student today, I think I would choose an adviser based primarily on scientific interests. A major component of my decision about graduate programs, however, would include consideration of whether a research group or department had at least some other women.
I don't feel any regret about the fact that I never worked with a female professor in my field during all my years as an undergraduate or graduate student. I had many excellent professors as an undergraduate Science major and as a graduate student, and some continue to be my friends and mentors to this day. Nevertheless, I am glad that it is more difficult to go through one's student years today without encountering a Female Science Professor.
To my young readers who are or were science students (you decide if you are young or not): Have any of you never taken a course from or been advised by a Female Science Professor?
* Note: I did hate this particular man. It would not be very scientific to conclude that I hate all men, but you can safely conclude that I hated this man.
6 months ago