Saturday, June 9, 2007

Remember, You're a Woman

Two days ago, a young male professor gave a career planning seminar to the grad students in my department. He broke down the jobs available to new Ph.D.s by number and type--prize postdoctoral fellowships, grant-based postdocs, and lectureships. Very useful, because we need to know as much as we can about the job market before the spray and pray of fall application season.

Male Professor also gave us his opinion about how much each component of the job application--letters, research statement, bibliography, seminar--counts. Letters, he says, are the most important, followed by the job talk. The moral of the story: don't be shy about promoting your work, because no one is going to invite you, a lowly grad student, to give a seminar. You and your advisor have to contact prospective employers and make a strong case that you belong on the seminar schedule.

But then said professor couldn't resist throwing in a well-aimed dig at the women students. "Women," he said, "lack the confidence to showcase their work. They are too shy. This is something you guys (sic) will have to overcome."

Now, was that necessary? Admittedly, Male Professor had a point: women are socialized to be diffident and modest. This socialization is at odds with the academic requirement of tooting your own horn loudly and often, and might contribute to women faring badly on the job market. But I was nevertheless offended by Male Professor's discussion of women. Here's why:

1) Can't I even go one day without being reminded that I'm a woman? Do people think I forgot overnight?

2) If female Ph.D.'s aren't getting the best jobs, how much easier to blame it on the individual women for not trumpeting their greatness to all and sundry, than to acknowledge that sexism and patriarchy play a huge role in hiring decisions.

3) Whenever there's an academic culture issue where women are perceived to behave differently than men, women are always the ones asked to change. Message: science is a man's world, and men are the default scientists. I want to shout, "I'm not a guest in your club! This is my world too!"

So I'm saying it here: science is my world. So is academia. I've jumped through all the hoops, taken the exams, written the papers. The same work the men have to do, but at the end of the day, I'm still a woman, and I'll never be allowed to forget it.

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