Fish In The Field

It's pronounced "ghoti"

Of Being a Woman in Science

I’ve been looking at and applying for more jobs recently as the end of the dissertation looms ever nearer. It’s really been a mixed bag: some opportunities that are decent but really pretty unexciting, other opportunities that sound fantastic but might be a tad over my range of experience. Some I just oggle and moon over, a small handful I actually apply for.

At the bottom of nearly every job posting is the fairly obligatory statement: “We are an equal opportunity employer and strongly encourage women and minorities to apply, blah blah blah.”  And in a way, I’m sure they mean it – women and minorities are encouraged to apply, it would look great on that institution’s diversity report. I work in a cross-section of fields (genetics, fisheries, natural resource management) that have a noticeable lack of female representation. However that does not mean you’ll be treated any better, though. And by better I mean like an equal.


I applied for a job last weekend and this past Monday I told my PI that he could be expecting a reference call soon. He was excited for me. I told him about the position and he thought it sounded perfect for me. Then I told him who was the hiring organization. He paused. Thought. Then he offered a word of caution: this well respected research facility I had applied to has a bit of a patriarchy/misogyny problem. He offered that, if I got an interview for the position, he’d give me the numbers of a couple women who might be good resources to talk to about issues they had had there, which might help me troubleshoot the interview process and eventually working with the higher-ups there. I was surprised. Then disappointed. Then that particular brand of frustrated-angry that comes from disappointed expectations.

It then makes me think that I’ve been spoiled at the research lab where I’ve spent the last six years. Because you see, they’ve all treated me as an equal. I’m one of the very few women, but regardless of gender or status I have always been treated fairly and with respect and as part of the team. And that’s the saddest part of all – that equality feels like being spoiled.

One of my favorite lady-scientist bloggers wrote about women in soft-money research positions at universities recently. Basically women hold most of these positions, building their own funding at the cost of sometimes rather tenuous support. Meanwhile, menfolk get the vast majority of tenure and tenure-track positions. A friend who works in forestry research at a prominent East Coast university is my own data point to add to Dr. Isis’s surface research. She recently finished her post-doctoral work, but has a sort-of position as an research professor based entirely upon her ability to pay herself through grant money. Luckily she just came through with just over $1mil in collaboration with several big-name tenured researchers there, so she’s set for a while. But it stands to reason, once she’s done with that grant she has no security there. That’s not to say that if my friend were a man in the same position that it would be any different. But is there something about women’s hiring in universities that makes one opt for the devil-you-know soft money option rather than the devil-you-don’t of applying for all manner of tenure track positions that you’re not going to get?

I’m trying not to let this all affect how and where I apply for work. I’d love to believe that the playing field is level and that I’ll be evaluated by my past work and my future ideas. I know it’s not true – some will see me and think I am a liability because I am a woman, someone else will see me as an asset for the same reason, and somewhere down the line I will be recognized as an asset for my skills regardless of my reproductive organs.


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This entry was posted on March 16, 2014 by in A better world, Don't be a hater, Futures and tagged , .
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