1. I rebelled against the single-minded approach to a PhD for the first 5 years and was in a fairly successful band. It was wonderful, however I only just managed to keep my head above water (and am now in my sixth year). In the fall the band broke up. My productivity in the lab has definitely increased, but my state of mind has suffered. Clearly a life in research is not for me; I’m just too interested in life outside of research. But it seems to me that there is no other way to succeed in basic scientific research. The idea of part-time positions is great for women who would like to start a family, or equally for both men and women who would like to have a more normal work/life balance, but how is that going to work? As a postdoc the pressure is to publish, publish, publish. For tenure track professors there are the additional pressures to write grants and get funded, along with a fairly heavy teaching load and mentoring students and postdocs in the lab. How can the competitive nature of scientific research allow for anything other than an all-or-nothing approach?

  2. Sarah Webb

    To start, kudos for continuing to do something else you loved for 5 years! As a PhD student, I settled into the world of all-or-nothing pretty quickly. It took me a few years to realize that a vital part of myself was withering away.

    I think your observation of the current system is spot-on. The only way to succeed– at least in traditional terms– is to go all-in. Part-time or job-sharing positions would require a total rethink of the system. Do I think there’s any momentum to do that right now? Nah. Considering that there are so many more PhDs than there are academic positions, most universities probably see plenty of exceptional candidates to choose from.

    Over the years, other have figured out creative ways to stay in research and work part time. The NY Times interview with Janet Rowley (Feb 7) was a great example. But those are the exceptions rather than the rule. Such situations rely on someone with more seniority at the institution believing in the promise of the person who in turn is also brave enough to ask for that sort of unusual arrangement. Ideas and innovation benefit from lively crosstalk, so I think science will lose if its only leading practitioners are people who think about their subject, and only their subject, for 60 to 80 hours per week.

    So in the near term, I’m not particularly optimistic. I think most of us who pursue a PhD have to make the decision of whether the all-in lifestyle fits our goals. In the long term, I hope that some brave people in the academy will take a look at this paper and think about making the situation more flexible for the next generation of young women and men. A part-time scientist might not produce as much science as a full-time one, but that doesn’t mean that the quality won’t meet or exceed the work of a full-time scientist. How do we know that the next Janet Rowley isn’t out there wondering whether he or she should stay in the lab?

  3. After having a long stint in European science, where the pipelines are leaky as well and the women finally choose to stay eventually (after PhD and/or one post doc) back but they can opt for science communication, medical writing and other kinds of work in dry science where the work is not three dimensional in nature like in academics (research, teaching, administration) due to very shuttle reasons like no domestic help, supporting family and so on. In India although proper day cares are hard to find but domestic help is still handy providing new mothers to go and work for science but the attitude is to work from 9 to 9 and even on weekends, scarcity of resources in experimental science makes the work even more time consuming. Though there are few contractual opportunities for women scientists after PhD but they are not a sure shot to get into permanent academic position, additionally in India one or two international postdoc experiences with good publication is a must which many women whose spouses are in non academic sector does not prefer to go for. Result leaking out of women towards college teaching (with no research) or staying in academics in temporary post (with slowly fading out), scientific writing opportunities are minimal and a bunch of strong, lucky and extremely intelligent ones manage to stay. I personally feel that most of us (irrespective of any country) after years of struggle just loose it to the pressure of feeling guilt two ways at work and in family. Also we women are much more wired with the ‘guilty feeling’ nerves, which harms us maximum. I hope and dream that our next generation will learn to be more casual and less emotional.

  4. Whenever I see articles about why women don’t succeed in science, I want to know why men can. Women talking to one another for the thousandth time about why we don’t succeed — it makes about as much sense as my struggling students who sit together, ignoring the successful students at the next table. And it allows the people who are succeeding to continue in blissful ignorance of the strugglers’ existence.

    So how about it? Are there any series on men in science, identifying what made them able to succeed, what they gave up, what they require in the way of societal and institutional support? Are young men thinking about this when they plan their careers? Because I don’t see that the situation is going to change until both men and women with research ambitions identify what’s being asked of them and start setting healthy limits.

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