When did most people start taking you seriously? (as a science professor)
That is: At what age did the number of incidents of being ignored/disrespected become significantly less frequent than incidents of being taken seriously/respected in a professional context? When did it become routine to be (or feel) respected?
Or, as a male colleague recently put it in a more direct way: You have won. (And then we mused about when I officially "won", although I would not have phrased it that way.)
The answer is 45 (± 0.5).
This is of course a very personal number because it is influenced by a wide range of specific factors such as details of education and employment history and personal characteristics. This number will vary considerably from person to person, and for some people, the question is not even worth asking because they have always been taken seriously in their profession.
At some point in this blog, I wrote that the last time I felt routinely respected as a woman involved in science was when I was an undergraduate in a very supportive science program with excellent mentors, but I realized recently that I had mostly re-attained this level in the past few years (Figure 1). It took nearly 25 years.
This is not a fair comparison in some ways (i.e., comparing now vs. then) because then my professional universe was so much smaller than it is now and the challenge of being respected was in many ways much less, but, as you may have surmised, this is not a rigorous quantitative analysis. Note also I am not talking about professional fame, or even success (although success and respect in a professional context do tend to go together). This is about perceptions and interpersonal interactions.
I think the key factors contributing to my delta-t of ~25 years were:
- gender (F),
- specific field (physical sciences),
- specific decade of PhD (i.e., my PhD 'generation'),
- personality (mostly nice, rather quiet, totally lacking in charisma);
- appearance (not tall; very to somewhat 'youthful' until.. ~ age 45).
Developing a respected reputation as a scientist is of course essential to reaching the tipping point in terms of being respected most of the time by most people in most professional contexts, and there are many factors in one's professional evolution: e.g., publication record, funding history, prestige of university/department/associates. This all adds to the complexity and fun. In addition, some subsets of the academic ecosystem will 'tip' before others, and there will be some hold-outs no matter how respectable a professional record you amass over the years.
It is possible that my perception of having surpassed some sort of tipping point at 45(ish) is an illusion, as I have not had nearly as much time collecting data at t > 45 as I have at t < 45, but that is not a nice thought. I prefer instead to feel some contentment at having apparently won (something), at least much of the time, at least for now.