Friday, August 09, 2013

Imported Talent

The topic of a recent email to me involved a male science professor who wanted to find a female science professor to talk to his female students "about being a woman in the sciences and work/life balance". The MSP did not write to me; the woman he asked for help wrote to me. She was not having much luck finding a local FSP who would participate in this, so this institution was willing to pay to bring someone in. This is all very well-meaning etc. etc. but I would like to make the unoriginal, non-radical suggestion that women should not be singled out to talk about work/life balance, either as givers or receivers of information on Family Issues, even by well-intentioned men.

I hasten to say that I am quite supportive of groups of women who voluntarily get together to discuss issues related to being a woman in science and I don't mind (too much) being asked to talk about these things at "pizza lunches" with female students, postdocs, and others (although I would like to see these become less common and necessary). I also hasten to say that I know very little about the particular situation described in the recent email; maybe the women students specifically asked the male professor to organize something involving FSPs and he asked around to see if some colleagues could help. OK, fine. It is good to meet possible role models, especially if few are available locally.

What would be a bit troubling (and may or may not be relevant to the specific situation that inspired this post) is if the MSP didn't think that men would be useful participants in a discussion of work/life balance, either as givers or receivers of information.

Whatever the case: what to do? Because these topics are so complex and vary so much from person to person, it might be useful to have a panel discussion involving FSPs and MSPs, and open to all students. Another option would be to find out what the questions and concerns of the students are, and then compile information from online resources (blogs etc.), or whatever else might be relevant. Certainly many blogs, including this one, welcome questions and comments, so there could even be some interactive discussion. Or maybe this blog is not the best candidate for this, as my opinions of work/life balance as a discussion topic are summarized here.

Anyway, maybe male and female students have some different questions and concerns, but I think both would likely benefit from having an integrated discussion with people who have had different work/life paths and who view these issues in different ways.