According to the National Science Foundation (NSF), in 2004, women received 42% of the doctorates in science and engineering fields but made up less than 18% of all tenured positions (Dirks and Cunningham, 2006). I apologize that I do not have the numbers on hand for the social sciences and humanities, but reports from Harvard and Princeton about their respective institutions suggest that women are better represented in those fields, but not by much. I’m sure we’ve all experienced or seen the factors that lead to this disparity, so academic-pals, let’s talk about whether or not tenure is in our future and why.I’m not really expecting to hit all the issues now, but I figured it’d be good to just sort of go ahead and jump in. I expect the comments to provide a lot of great insight as they have basically every week I’ve done this thing. It’s just that it’s hard to parse these issues out without additional input, even within the graduate community that I interact with here on campus. Many of the seminars focusing on women in academia tend to focus on the family-forming aspects. Honestly, bias against hiring women with children coupled with the difficulty of juggling family and career probably plays a role in the disparity between men and women in tenure track positions. I don’t have children, but I have conversations with women who try to plan conception ““ dissertation writing year seems like a popular time, as does the first year or two after being hired into a tenure track position. Men do not express these concerns.
Compounding the issue, recent studies suggest that female scientists, when coupled, still do about 54% of the housework (yay! Almost parity!). But let’s compare that to male scientists with partners ““ BAM! They do only 28% of the housework. Just from a selfish standpoint, how the heck can I compete with someone who has, on average, five extra hours of free time a week (Schiebinger and Gilmartin, 2010)? Five hours, they don’t even have to be spent on work. If I had five extra hours a week to unwind, man, I don’t know, I guess I’d spend more time online or reading bad books, but ideally, I’d spend it enhancing my life in real and productive ways.
But even without these temporal obstacles, women tend not to be as drawn to academia as men. That’s the part that I find most interesting: what are we responding to that drives us away? To some extent, there’s the OBC (old boy’s club) mentality. Then there’s the emphasis on women to pursue careers that add to the social good, you know, community involvement, “giving back.” Honestly, with the recent emphasis on strengthening broader impacts sections (basically, how will you use your research to build a strong community outreach program) in grant applications, I am beginning to see that this ivory tower vs. community involvement dichotomy is false. It’s still marketed as real, but there is a lot of potential for giving back within academia. Heck, even without having complex outreach plans, female faculty members can serve as models for future women academics.
Personally, I’m not sure if I’m going to stay in academia when I’m done with my doctorate. I’m really torn about it. One the one hand, I feel like there is so much I could do outside of academia and I don’t know if the constant fight for funding is for me. Honestly, I sometimes don’t feel like I “belong” in academia, and I know I am not alone in that. On the other hand, I like what I do and I love teaching/working with undergrads/having access to all these cool resources.
So how about you? Do you want to get a tenure track position? Why or why not? What are your experiences in navigating a career in academia?