Women in Academia: Earnest Job Talk

I am maybe breaking one of my rules today. I am very, very sorry about this, but I am going to reference work done at one of the blogs at the journal Nature. Why am I so sorry? Because I am not sure that this information is freely available to people without a subscription and I hate talking about something not everyone has access to. Really, if you cannot access it, you have my most sincere apologies. But this article is just that valuable.

Recently, the naturejobs blog ran a piece that compiled the guest blog posts of 13 people who have made transitions into or out of academia. The stories are interesting and compelling. Each person outlined what drew them to science and how they continue to be engaged with the scientific community and research even when their careers lead them elsewhere. I will warn you that if you choose to read these blog-posts, there is one amazing woman who works as a science professor and writes novels in her spare time – do not let her intimidate you like she intimidates me.

But apart from showcasing the stories of people moving into and out of academia, the article really hits home a valuable lesson: it is possible to move into and out of academia. The academic track feels like a very strict, straight pipeline: you move from undergraduate to graduate student to post-doc (in some fields) to some sort of professorship until you make your way to tenure. There are few examples of deviation from that path. There are few examples of ways in which graduate degrees and graduate work can help develop skill sets that can lead to careers outside of academia. This blog series includes all of that, and boy is it a breath of fresh air.

Graduate degrees are valuable, in many cases more so for the skills learned while getting that degree than what the degree actually stands for. Stories of people taking their degrees and the resultant skill set and making careers beyond the traditional academic path work for them are increasingly important. The world is changing and academia needs to change with it. Acknowledging the potentially useful skill set gained through graduate work is one place to start.

9 thoughts on “Women in Academia: Earnest Job Talk”

  1. I actually entered into my Masters and  PhD with very explicit ideals of not staying in academia. It is (in some circumstances) a ridiculously awful place for women in science, or maybe it’s just my field (fisheries and ecology). There is so much more freedom outside of academia. In a magical, perfect kind of world, I would be able to get hired on full time at the government research institute where I am presently funded through grants. But the way government funding is going, that dream is almost laughable. There are other government institutions, or a wide variety of non-profits that I would love to work for, but I will not teach. I will not go back to a university. There are a great number of  factors that are part of that decision, but it is a decision that I am firm about.

    So many people see academia as the end all be all- but what change are you really creating in academia, what practical use are you? I want to make sure that my work and my research are making a difference. I work at being interdisciplinary so that I can go wherever I will be needed most, that I can fit into nearly any niche when I am done. I just want to be of some use, and I feel that the best use of my time is not to lecture undergrads…

  2. We’re trying to organize a career day for women in our department, for the very reason that not many of us will end up staying in academia! Knowing how to expand beyond that is always useful, and I hope to figure out in the coming years how else I can make use of my skills.

    1. I never attended graduate school, so it’s really interesting for me to hear about the expectations of grad students as far as whether they will have an academic career. Perhaps it depends upon the field of study? Or maybe there’s a big difference between Master’s and PhD programs? I have a friend who got a Master’s in speech pathology as a means to the end of working as a speech therapist. But maybe a degree with a straight line from study to profession is the exception rather than the rule.

      1. Most of it is your field, from what I understand, and I think a lot of the issues stem from seeking a professorship. If I remember correctly, the odds of getting a job in philosophy as a professor are 1 in 10. They tell you to not do it unless you cannot imagine yourself doing anything else with your life.

        It’s odd knowing how highly impractical it is for me to chase this dream. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that they think I’ll be fine, people who haven’t even necessarily talked to me for very long. I try to take that in stride, but it’s still highly concerning. Honestly, right now, I try not to think about it.

    2. Of all the women with higher degrees that I know (either in real life or peripherally) academia has the most limitations whether in terms of marriage or children or any other amount of flexibility- academia has just not reached that point. It’s really unfortunate that women continue to bend over backwards to accomodate that Ivory Tower career when no one in academia seems to be too keen on helping out women…

  3. I have a M.ed and a teaching certificate, both of which are valuable to me but I am not using in the “official” capacity.  I like where I am and how I am able to help my current clients because of my education.  Sometimes I think I should try and get back into a classroom, either with a school district or back into a community college.  I loved teaching at the college level.

  4. Oh, that’s cool! I’ve wondered about this, since there’s a very real chance that I will not get a job in my chosen field after I spent 10+ years on the path from beginning my undergraduate degree to getting my PhD. I don’t have much of a Plan B, which sort of scares me. What the hell could I possibly do with myself if I don’t get a job in philosophy?

    I could probably see myself pursuing the goal of being a Gifted Ed teacher again if I had to. And I’d probably try to make money off of writing. It’s good to know it’s not necessarily a “you make it in academia or you don’t” environment.

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