Saturday, February 24, 2007

Women in Science - The Good Part

This weekend finds me in a rather bleak mood - lots of work that I REALLY WANT to do is coming up against lots of other work that I *have* to do, and fellow grad students who see "no, I don't feel like going out past my bedtime tonight with people I've spent the past five days with and spending $30 to buy myself a hangover" as a deep personal blow. In itself this isn't that unusual but it's coupled with me having a rather generic Discouraged With Academia moment. Reading my blogroll, I realized that it's not exactly cheering material - the overarching impression someone would get lately is that academia is a miserable abusive discipline that treats its employees like dirt, leaving everyone constantly angsting over the politics, poor lifestyle, and lack of job security it mercilessly inflicts.

Come one. We're smart chicks. If this was truly the case we'd all be throwing our hands up, saying "Fuck it!", and leaving to go into industry/finance/basket-weaving. So I'd like to ask you all to drop me a comment - or write a post, perhaps for Scientiae - mentioning what is wonderful about academia, and, if you so desire, what's specifically wonderful about being a woman in academia.

Does your subject make you dizzy with excitement? Do you like the lack of nine-to-five-ness? Is it the people you interact with? The intellectual stimulation? Is there eventually a level of flexibility not afforded to you in other fields? Are you looking up to someone who has the dream job/life? Do you like traveling to conferences? Teaching? Advising? Being advised?

I'll start. Three wonderful things:
1) I really do love what I work on - this shit is COOL. My subject, Useless Science, is in good company with all of those fantasy jobs eight-year olds list, i.e., "I wanna be a marine biologist/dinosaur digger/astronomer/Indiana Jones when I grow up!" I'm amazed that I can get paid ANYthing to do this stuff all day. And dammit, I'm GOOD at it. I think it's really true that if I became a millionaire I'd still want to be a Useless Scientist.

2) I know this isn't true for everyone, but I LOVE that there's no dress code in academia. I can go to work in jeans, in skirts, in shorts, in tank tops or sweatshirts or old T-shirts, and nobody cares. As a postdoc I might need to upgrade a little, but I will never be forced to wear a business suit, black pants, make-up, or anything remotely resembling a heel on a daily basis. This extends more to a general casual atmosphere - if I don't have class or a meeting I can show up at eight and roll out at 4, show up at 10 and roll out at 4, stay all day, come in for a couple hours and work from home, etc. My friends in industry have much stricter business hours. Obviously this freedom decreases a bit post-grad-school, but it's still a lovely little lifestyle upshot.

3) As a grad student, I have to keep looking up to the professors and researchers I admire and anticipate the "good part". Grad school, while certainly not the unbridled hellride that everyone would like to pretend it is, is NOT as good as it gets. I like seeing scientists who have various projects rolling that they love, classes they like teaching, and most importantly, a functional outside life. I see my adviser with his wife and kids and serious hiking habit, or a researcher I know from anothed department who funnels all of her monetary savings and personal energies into traveling with her girlfriend, also an academic, whenever she can (these ladies are amazing, the sort of late-forties "tough old bird" pair that are in better shape than me and periodically come out with stuff like "oh, that time when we biked through New Zealand carrying nothing but a water bottle, a knife, and a granola bar.") Nobody's life is perfect, but I see people leading versions of the life I'd like to lead someday, and this is encouraging.

Your turn: talk about what you love about academia! What are the good parts? How can the bad parts follow their example? What makes you stick it out? What makes you happy to go to work on the good days, and what gets you out of bed on the bad days? Come on, I've got an abstract and a proposal that I really want to get myself excited about, help me out! :-)



Jenny F. Scientist said...

What, academia isn't abusive????

I think there is a tendency to emphasize the negative; I don't feel the need to tell the internet that my PCR worked! And I am so happy! But the things that are big problems are then over-represented.

I'd also argue that even if it is awful, it wouldn't necessarily induce people to leave, because it's long-term sacrifice for future gain: it opens career doors.

That said, you have reminded me that there ARE things I like! So thank you. And good luck with being terribly motivated and successful with your proposal and abstract!

Veo Claramente said...

You're right, there are positives, and we should remember that. I try, but the majority of my posts are mroe negative than positive.
Thanks for the challenge, shall do my best to rise to it!