# Problem? What Gender Problem?

Sigh. You know when you are sitting there in a scientific meeting, thinking good sciency thoughts when...you notice. Oh damn.
Let me do some quick calculations on the program notes here...hmmm, zero, zero, two, one, zero, zero, one, one, two, zero, two. Ugh. 22% in one set of platform presentations, less than 10% in a set of roundtable breakouts.
Women scientists, that is. Dammit. Guess I have an email or two to write...
Go read DrDrA's post on the success of senior women investigators in acquiring NIH funding to cheer yourself up- it's at least better than this dismal showing.

• Dave says:

Meetings with federal supplemental funding typically need to show evidence of women and underrepresented minority representation. Which is why a few prominent people with mediocre science get talks at every meeting I go to.

• acmegirl says:

That's funny, Dave. It sounds like you are trying to say that the only reason any women and minorities get invited to give talks is because organizers are trying to cover their asses. I've seen plenty of prominent white male scientists give talks about mediocre science. What's their excuse?

• Dave says:

acmegirl: SOME women and minorities get invited because organizers are trying to cover their asses. Organizers of prominent conferences have told me so. And as an organizer, I have been told explicitly to invite women and minorities to ensure continued support for future meetings.
So yea, if you're a woman or a minority who gives halfway decent talks (even if they are about mediocre science), and most of all are fun to have at meetings... you'll get lots of invites.
The fact that DM (and anyone else paying attention) observes so few senior women in certain fields actually suggests that the problem is even worse than his headcount data suggest.
There IS a real problem with women dropping out of science. I have asked people who study the problem professionally why. They tell me the loss of women happens at many stages, for many reasons. Most reasons appear related to sacrifices that need to be made in two-career families and women giving in to traditional gender roles when things get tough.
My wife is a scientist, by the way. We talk about this stuff all the time. She gets lots of meeting invites. But she also gives great talks, is fun, and has an average of one Nature pub a year over the last decade of postdocing and faculty-ing. She is awesome. She also says I do better science, but she is just being nice. That's why I love her.

• DrugMonkey says:

Interesting Dave. In all my years of seeing scientific presentations in different contexts I can't say I've ever noticed a consistent trend for women to be "mediocre" in comparison with men. In fact, given that the balance is slanted toward many more men presenters in various series and symposia, I'd have to observe that my data suggest there are many more "mediocre" presentations from male scientists.
Now, what I DO happen to notice is that it is occasionally the case that when a poorer-than-average presentation is made by a woman these issues raised by you are brought up. Funny, poorer than average presentations by men never seem to bring up speculation about what type of affirmative action (say, for big name labs' trainees or gender/skin reflectance similar to inviters) resulted in a clearly inferior scientist getting an invite...
There IS a real problem with women dropping out of science. I have asked people who study the problem professionally why. They tell me the loss of women happens at many stages, for many reasons.
Another reason is the bigoted expectation that women have to be better, on average, than the male population of scientists to be thought half as good. Since you are all read up on the leaky pipeline and all, I won't bother to link to the studies and data which confirm this.

• becca says:

(Disclaimer: Dave, you're probably onto something- people can be unimaginative when thinking of speakers, and if they are asked to think of women and minorities the problem gets worse.
That said, the first bit of what you said was spectacularly obnoxious, and so smackdown shall ensue...)
Am I the only one who immediately imagined something like this?
Dave: *insert long pontificating BORINGASS rant here about why he should be speaker*
Conference Organizer for Bigdeal Meeting: "Oh I'm Sorry Dave, We've already invited Dr. Bigshot!"
Dave: "What, her AGAIN?! But I'm so much cooler! Blah blah blah blah blah-"
Conference Organizer (interrupting, finally): "Well you know... there are rules, federal funding... have to have some women and minorities... if it were up to me..."
Dave: "OH I see. Gosh, running a conference must be hard with all those unsavory elements clammering to get in. You poor guy. Let me buy you a beer"
Conference Organizer (*thinks* Maybe you'll be more tolerable if I'm wasted; you doesn't seem to be going away anyway) *brightens*: "Oh sure Dave"
Dave walks away thinking the conference organizer is totally on his side.
Conference organizer walks away with a beer.
Dr. Bigshot gets a speaking opportunity.
Everybody wins! Until the next time Dave goes a whinin'...

• Funny, poorer than average presentations by men never seem to bring up speculation about what type of affirmative action (say, for big name labs' trainees or gender/skin reflectance similar to inviters) resulted in a clearly inferior scientist getting an invite...

HAHAHAHAHAH! This is why assmonkeys like Solly and Dave ever got faculty positions in the first place. If they had to compete on a level playing field without over half of the population effectively excluded they'd have been fucked.

• Meetings with federal supplemental funding typically need to show evidence of women and underrepresented minority representation. Which is why a few prominent people with mediocre science get talks at every meeting I go to.

Ass. ASS!!
The problem with female representation at meetings is representation in general and drdrA discusses this in her post. In the Americal Physioloigcal Society's newsletter a few months back they made casual mention that, among senior scientists, their membership is only 30% women. I think that's not far off from the 22% DM noticed at his meeting and reflects a greater problem in science, not a problem unique to scientific meetings. And, then again, who really wants to have to work twice as hard to be thought of as half as good?

• Most reasons appear related to sacrifices that need to be made in two-career families and women giving in to traditional gender roles when things get tough.
WTF? You're an ass, Dave.

• neurolover says:

"people can be unimaginative when thinking of speakers, and if they are asked to think of women and minorities the problem gets worse."
One concrete solution to this is something I saw done -- at one of the societies (and I'm not trying to be coy about which one, I just don't remember). A group of prominent women, who were being asked repeatedly to speak at meetings (think, people like Carla Shatz) produced a list of other women who they would recommend as speakers, and put it on the society site. In doing so, they were trying to open the network to new scientists, and help people be more "imaginative."

• Anonymous says:

So, Dave, the real problem is that we either totally suck or are just no fun at meetings. Fun? Seriously? Do you have any idea how asinine that is?

• drdrA says:

DM- Hey, thanks for the link!
Dave-
'So yea, if you're a woman or a minority who gives halfway decent talks (even if they are about mediocre science), and most of all are fun to have at meetings... you'll get lots of invites.'
ummm. Where to start. I am cranky today.
First- there are plenty of women and minorities out there who give awesome talks- if you haven't been able to find any to invite to meetings you chair- I suggest you are not looking hard enough.
Second- ... I work my ass off, I am buried under grants, manuscripts, and teaching- all of which I enjoy. I can give an awesome talk... but 'most of all' I should be 'FUN TO HAVE AT MEETINGS'. I suppose this is true so that I can entertain all those boring, old, introverted, leering, and completely socially inept senior men at said meetings.
WTF???
If it is a lap dance you want, order a stripper- then at least you won't be complaining about the 'quality' of the science.

• Dave says:

Whoa, settle down, folks. I'm not saying it's a good thing that women and minorities are underrepresented in science. I think women and minorities do science as well as anyone else, often without the hierarchical dick-waving and ego battles common among old-school white men. I'm just reporting the facts.
At the very least, before you start calling me an ass, at least learn to check your facts. A simple Google search backs up my statements...
From PA-06-041: NIH Support for Conferences and Scientific Meetings...
Describe plans for the appropriate involvement of women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in the planning and implementation of the proposed meeting.
From Conference Grant Information (R13 and U13)... Inclusion information...
POLICY
It is NIH policy that organizers of scientific meetings should make a concerted effort to achieve appropriate representation of women, racial/ethnic minorities, and persons with disabilities, and other individuals who have been traditionally underrepresented in science, in all NIH sponsored and/or supported scientific meetings. The plans to seek appropriate representation should be specified during selection of organizing committees, speakers, and other invited participants, such as session chairs and panel discussants. In addition, efforts should be made to encourage attendance by women, minorities, and persons with disabilities at all NIH sponsored and/or supported scientific meetings as a means of increasing their participation in the particular scientific field. The quality of the proposed plans to seek appropriate representation will be an evaluation criterion used during the scientific and technical merit review of requests for funding to support scientific meetings.
From NSF Program solicitations for conferences...
Currently, women, minorities, and persons with disabilities are under-represented among our nation's science personnel. The Division of Mathematical Sciences expects organizers of conferences and special meetings to be attentive to these concerns. How these human resource issues are addressed in the proposal description is one of the factors used in reaching a recommendation on the proposed project.
From Gordon Research Conferences NSF Grant guidelines...
To ensure that barriers to full participation by women are examined and removed, BIO programs recommending awards for meetings that do not include women among the invited speakers must describe the actions taken by the Principal Investigator to identify qualified individuals and must provide an explanation for the omission. It will be the responsibility of the Division Director to monitor that this evaluation is completed.
----
And if you don't believe this stuff is (and needs to be) taken seriously, talk to a meeting organizer, or try being one. There is a reality outside blogs, you know.
@Physioprof: Solly and I (and many others) got where we are by generally having our facts straight.

• If it is a lap dance you want, order a stripper- then at least you won't be complaining about the 'quality' of the science.

I love you, drdrA.

• DrugMonkey says:

Dave, you are being called on the carpet for your assertion in #1 that those scientists recruited to present work with an explicit nod to extrinsic requirements for diversity are "mediocre". Not for the observation about extrinsic requirements for diversity.

• Dave says:

I said: "Most reasons appear related to sacrifices that need to be made in two-career families and women giving in to traditional gender roles when things get tough."
Professor in Training said: "WTF? You're an ass, Dave."
----
Maybe so, PiT, but my statement above is almost verbatim what was said to me (and expanded upon) by an NSF ASCEND program coordinator and NSF WISEST administrator and former sociologist. This was, incidentally, at a small administrative meeting where I was specifically consulted and thanked for my aid to the local programs.
Which, as long as we're on the topic and since the fire's already burning and several people have already declared me an ass...
I might as well share the observation that the worst women scientists I've seen tend to participate and take advantage of programs like WISEST. The best women scientists I have talked to about this stuff (which include two National Academy members) acknowledge the leaky pipeline for women but have personally generally avoided the politics and activism and bitching and just gotten on with their work.
With minorities, my experiences are a bit more mixed.
The most deluded young scientist I've ever met was a black woman. She spent more time looking for programs to support minority scientists and getting fellowships than she did science. She was an assistant research professor with the knowledge of a mediocre high-schooler. Every former supervisor told me they hired her because of her grant-getting skills, but that she was useless in the lab and in teaching. She was seeking a job in my lab. I had a straight talk with her; I told her to go back to her former institution (where her supervisor didn't even know she was looking for jobs), focus on getting her science done and publishing if she ever wanted a tenure-track faculty position.
The best undergraduate I've ever had work in my lab was also a black woman. She came through on a SROP fellowship. She was smart and I was able to treat her like a colleague. She is going to be great at whatever she does (she is currently in a top grad program).

• Dave says:

"Dave, you are being called on the carpet for your assertion in #1 that those scientists recruited to present work with an explicit nod to extrinsic requirements for diversity are "mediocre". Not for the observation about extrinsic requirements for diversity."
Fair enough. Let me then humbly request that people more carefully read what I wrote. I'll add emphasis to a key word:
Meetings with federal supplemental funding typically need to show evidence of women and underrepresented minority representation. Which is why a few prominent people with mediocre science get talks at every meeting I go to.
My wife, by the way, was the one who originally suggested that a particularly prominent meeting speaker was mediocre. My wife assumed she was a recurring Gordon conference speaker because she was flirty and fun. I pointed out, as had been pointed out to me when I was asked to organize a meeting elsewhere, that having women & minorities helps get federal support for meetings. After which my wife said: "That's probably why I get asked to talk so much." My wife is also flirty and fun. As far as I know, she has never given a lap dance to any meeting organizer. I would be willing to give a lap dance to a meeting organizer to get some of the awesome international invites my wife does.

Cheers,
Isis

• Maybe so, PiT, but my statement above is almost verbatim what was said to me (and expanded upon) by an NSF ASCEND program coordinator and NSF WISEST administrator and former sociologist. This was, incidentally, at a small administrative meeting where I was specifically consulted and thanked for my aid to the local programs.
Dave, the problem is that you are making statements that you attribute to others but do not acknowledge that these people are talking out of their asses. To make it worse, you then make generalizations about your own experiences that are so completely insulting that my jaw hit the floor (particularly the examples of the black women with whom you've worked with).
All of us can tell tales of white, black, asian, female, male, young and old people who have been lazy, stupid, ridden on the coat tails of others, whatthefuckever, but dragging up solitary examples to disprove the undisputed fact that women are under-represented in all aspects of science is just mindblowing.
Fact: women make up just over 50% of the world's population, yet are under-represented in science. You are yet to acknowledge this.
You got yourself into the shit when you suggested that the quality of scientific presentations is lowered when pro-active session chairs invite (apparently) sub-par female researchers who subsequently give mediocre talks ... as though this was indicative of female researchers overall. Speaking as one female researcher who delivers fucking good seminars, I would respectively suggest that you have conveniently overlooked the overwhelming number of bottom-of-the-barrel talks given by men. The fact that there are less women presenting at meetings just makes the occasional poor talk all the more obvious.

• anon says:

There is a certain amount of affirmative action for mediocrities of particular backgrounds out there, but (1) its effects are quite minor compared to the effects of "good old boys" networks and (2) the attention it receives is vastly disproportionate to the outrage it provokes. Topic (2) is probably related to the fact that affirmative action is discussed far more than it is practiced. Obligatory statements about "We particularly encourage applications from a diverse range of people...." are printed everywhere but are rarely backed by action (whether a preference in selection or a more fundamental attack on the sources of disparities).
I once had a candid talk with a white male research student who was upset over affirmative action. I told him that:
1) Affirmative action is rare, far rarer than obfuscating language about it.
2) Consequently, it's highly, highly unlikely that you'll ever be the guy on the margin who got turned down in favor of a woman or minority simply because your competitor was a woman or minority.
3) If you are on the margin and get turned down, who's to say it was affirmative action? It could just as easily be some other quirk of the reviewers or interviewers or whoever--they know your competitor's PI, they have more interest in that topic, they flipped a coin, whatever.
4) Even if you were indeed the guy on the margin who got turned down because of affirmative action (rare, but it probably happens now and then) you can either rail against a well-intentioned effort to address real problems, or you can improve your science so you aren't the marginal case next time.
5) Women and minorities practice the political side of academic science just like anybody else, and it's entirely possible that you got turned down because the person you were up against was better-connected. Yes, there are factors that often disadvantage them in the politics, but some are quite good at it nonetheless. Blaming your rejection on a person's melanin or X chromosomes is completely missing the fact that you went up against a formidable competitor. Fail to size up the competition, and you deserve to lose.

• Becca says:

DM- will you do me a favor, pretty pleeeeeeeeeeease?
Call up the Seed overlords. Ask them to set up a wiki or something that can do for all fields of science what neurolover saw implemented.
I just saw a kickass talk by a scientist who happened to be a woman yesterday (Joann Sweasy if you're in the DNA polymerase/structual biology/cancer biology realms).

• Matthew says:

Time will fix this. More women are getting into science. There will be more female senior scientists after there are more female junior scientists. Give it time. Loading up senior level positions with a disproportionate number of any given people group, just for the sake of parity, will only do the science a disservice. The best thing we can do is to inspire a young woman to find interest in science.

• drdrA says:

Dave-
For the record I didn't call you an ass- and I don't think that you want to keep women out of science or out of meetings.
What did get me riled was- and this isn't just about you but has happened in my conversations with other male faculty at my level- the apparent laziness in seeking out excellent women. There are plenty- but they might not have the first names that roll off of your tongue. They might not be as senior as you would like. To these things I say- you must make more of an active effort to find these accomplished women... more active than just asking one person.
Second- as to the lap dance comments- I was specifically offended by the suggestion that I must first and foremost be 'fun' or entertaining to be invited to speak at meetings. To me, meetings are business straight up. I'd be really happy if we could do away with those cliques of men at the bar after hours huddled around their bottle of whatever.
Third- as to your wife- and your comments pertaining to her comments. It is *important* to note that women have the same unconscious biases about gender that men have. Unless we actively work to be aware of these biases, we will remain stuck right where we are in terms of gender in academic science.

• drdrA says:

Matthew-
I completely disagree that 'Time will fix this.' If you will take a look at my post (http://bluelabcoats.wordpress.com/2008/12/07/this-just-in-pipeline-broken-before-first-r01/) and the Science article- you will see that we have had plenty of time- and things aren't fixing themselves as far as the numbers go.
Young women are ALREADY inspired to enter sciences- as evidenced by the parity in men and women training to be scientist. The problem comes later- when women drop out in massive numbers.
Time is NOT going to fix that problem.

• Stephanie Z says:

Dave, you're talking as though there are scientists, women scientists and ethnic minority scientists. Yes, yes, you do get a tiny bit of credit for saying women and minorities should be represented in science. Congratulations, you're a human being.
Now, step back and reread what DM had to say about how few people feel a need to explain mediocre white, male science. Then ask yourself why you feel a need to explain the performance of women and ethnic minorities in terms of what makes them stand out from "other scientists." You might start to understand why you're pissing people off.
By the way, your wife buys you nothing in this discussion. In addition to what drdrA notes, there is a particularly ugly type of exceptionalism in which a minority embraces stereotypes about the minority because it makes them feel they've come that much further and achieved that much more. I'm not saying your wife does this, since she isn't here to defend herself, but we can't know she's doesn't, either.

• DSKS says:

Time will fix this. More women are getting into science.
The problem is neither getting women interested in science (they've been interested in it since long before Hypatia was ruffling the feathers of the bishop of Alexandria) nor getting them into science (that's been resolved for over a decade judging by the ratio of men to women pursuing the life sciences in college); the challenge is in enticing women to stay in science.
I'm not convinced affirmative action is the way forward here, because I suspect that it will fail to address what are some complex issues lying at the root of the problem; Issues that perhaps have far broader significance to our society's culture and priorities.
I wonder that if we lived in a society that demanded a more reasonable balance between work and family - one that acknowledged the laughably underestimated importance of procreation - we might start getting somewhere. But we don't demand any kind of a reasonable balance. Instead, we live in a society that demands a distinct separation of the two to the degree that one half of the gender divide is too often unfairly coerced into making a flat either-or choice between the two, rather than a compromise.

• Dave says:

Quite a lively conversation. This is one of the real values of blogs; conversations like this can be held in the open instead of whispered to confidants over beer.
Let's see if I can dig myself in a little deeper...
Isis: The link in these replies didn't work for me, for some reason. Perhaps DM could fix this? But I clicked your name and was able to read your blog entry and the replies. I have no reply, except to say you're welcome for the traffic.
And anyone here who does not think having a 'fun' personality helps get invites to meetings and talks at other institutions is woefully naive.
PiT said: "...dragging up solitary examples to disprove the undisputed fact that women are under-represented in all aspects of science is just mindblowing.
Fact: women make up just over 50% of the world's population, yet are under-represented in science. You are yet to acknowledge this."
I never said women are underrepresented. In fact, I said the opposite in #3:
"The fact that DM (and anyone else paying attention) observes so few senior women in certain fields actually suggests that the problem is even worse than his headcount data suggest.
There IS a real problem with women dropping out of science."
In other words, I said the problem is actually WORSE than DM suggests. I do not know whether you are a woman or man, PiT, and don't care. I am not about to generalize your lack of reading skills to your entire gender.
I agree with anon in #19 and Matthew in #21. Which I guess makes them misogynistic jerks like me. Sorry.
Becca's suggestion in #20 is a good one. I too have seen many great talks by women, but there are no doubt lots of great women speakers I don't know of. I think seeing great talks by people similar to oneself is inspiring, and having more great talks by women and minorities can do a lot to encourage people who might otherwise feel a sociological headwind to keep going. Note that I never said I disagreed with the policies of the funding agencies. Those rules force people to do exactly what drda suggests in #22. I DO find it disappointing that I MAY have had to sit through a boring talk simply because the meeting organizers needed to fill some affirmative action requirement.
Interestingly, men are a minority in my department, and the two most accomplished, respected, and well-funded women in the department are women. My own lab is composed of (besides me) one man and four women. I am very selective in who joins my lab (because they have to shoulder all the work while I screw off on blogs like this). My preference for women colleagues is not because I like looking at their tits all day; the women I have interviewed (formally as postdocs or informally as graduate rotation students) have simply been better scientists. I'm happy to hire guys too.
When are we going to get back to bashing the Chinese?

• Isis: The link in these replies didn't work for me, for some reason. Perhaps DM could fix this? But I clicked your name and was able to read your blog entry and the replies. I have no reply, except to say you're welcome for the traffic.

I don't need the traffic, Dave. I hold my own well enough around these parts. I simmply feel the need to point out misogynist bullshit when I see it so that we can deal with it and then get back to what's important -- posts about science and shoes. That's actually much better for my traffic.
And Dr. Isis totally has a colleague who is a guy and agrees with her. Thus, I feel I can generalize about all men.

• yolio says:

A lot of Dave's comments are obnoxious, but this is the one that is sticking in my side today:
"So yea, if you're a woman or a minority who gives halfway decent talks (even if they are about mediocre science), and most of all are fun to have at meetings... you'll get lots of invites."
Most of all are fun...translation: as long as you play nice and aren't one of those mean lady minorities who make men feel crappy about their condescending attitudes towards you. As long as you make a point of not noticing that you are considered less than everyone else in the room, regardless of your achievements or credentials, then you are okay to have around. But if you are going to be a pill and demand actual respect in accordance to your rank, then you are not worth the trouble.
I fucking hate this attitude. It is a very real part of my day to day life in science. This is pretty much the meaning of "boy's club." And I hate it.

• Dave says:

I would like to publicly thank Stephanie for her reply, #24. It actually made me realize that regardless of what I wrote, the very fact that I brought up affirmative action for women in response to DM's post was in itself revealing of a deep-seated bias. Maybe some other people here were trying to make the same point, in which case they get credit for the aim but not the delivery. Maybe it was my own personally unrecognized misogyny that crippled my understanding. Whatever. But why was DM staring at the women in the audience? F**cking pervert!
To Yolio in #28: As long as you are going to fantasize wildly about what I said or meant, you may as well know that I also kidnap, murder, and eat babies. But only female and minority babies; the rest I hope will grow up and maintain power.

• whimple says:

DSKS: the challenge is in enticing women to stay in science
I think this misses the point. The real challenge is in making the doing of science not suck, and making it not suck for everyone: men and women alike. Discriminatory behavior is part of why science sucks extra bad for women, however, if the discriminatory behavior went away completely (as indeed it nearly has, in terms of percentage successful R01 grant funding), I think the pipeline would still leak women like crazy, because unlike the willing-to-sacrifice-everything-and-everyone men, the women generally have a better sense of where to draw the line between living your life, and your science career.

• anon says:

I have to weigh in here. I gather from the comments that several people think that if women didn't have families, they'd be treated equally to men. Bullshit.
I know many unmarried and/or childless high-power women scientists, in academia and industry, from fresh out of undergrads to biotech/pharma VPs, and there is still plenty of discrimination to be had soley for being female. I find discrimination is more pronounced the higher up the woman is. Perhaps there's more resentment or bias on the part of the privileged when the stakes are higher? I know several women who left science because it just wasn't worth putting up with the hostility, discrimination and other crap AND have enough energy left over to continue to do their jobs effectively.

• anon says:

if the discriminatory behavior went away completely (as indeed it nearly has, in terms of percentage successful R01 grant funding), I think the pipeline would still leak women like crazy, because unlike the willing-to-sacrifice-everything-and-everyone men, the women generally have a better sense of where to draw the line between living your life, and your science career.
This sounds dangerously close to "Women just don't have it in them to compete, besides, you know they'll just have kids and do less work."

• Shorter Dave: Damn whiny bitchez oughta shut the fuck up with their demands for equity and be fun and flirty! I know this because my wife's fun and flirty and she publishes in Nature and gets invited to lots of cool parties!

• I do not know whether you are a woman or man, PiT, and don't care. I am not about to generalize your lack of reading skills to your entire gender.
Dave, it's not been a good day for you, has it? I apologize unreservedly for the implication that you had not acknowledged the under-representation of women in science - I clearly had not read your post in sufficient depth.
For the record, I'm female and proud of it ... but if we're generalizing about the lack of reading skills, you would have known I was a woman if you had read my post.
**still chuckling at CPPs #33 comment ...**

• D. C. Sessions says:

22% ? I'm impressed.
Wander by ISSCC (Big high-profile electronics conference) in February. I'll be going with my (XX) junior engineer, and having her there in a room with 700 present will raise the total XX count by about 5% all her ownself.

• DSKS says:

"I think the pipeline would still leak women like crazy, because unlike the willing-to-sacrifice-everything-and-everyone men, the women generally have a better sense of where to draw the line between living your life, and your science career."
There are no shortage of women driven thoroughly by their careers, as there is no shortage of men who like to cut out at 5 pm and head home for story time with the kids. What's clear is that women are more likely to compromise career for the sake of the family unit. But is that a biological instinct, or is it simply because they suspect that hubby doesn't have to batter through a glass ceiling to succeed, and thus is going to be a surer bet for getting the kids into college?
I'm skeptical of the appeal to evolutionary biology on this issue. I'm inclined to think that there are no profound hormonally-related reasons for women being more or less singlemindedly career-driven than men, and that the excess of one over the other is more representative of a social trend than a genetic one.

• juniorprof says:

Anon, I think you are misinterpreting whimple. I think that whimple is trying to say that maybe its possible that our profession has its priorities a bit out of whack. We work too many hours are overly competitive and some spend alot of energy trying to squash new ideas before they even get a chance to be tested. The road to success is paved with having to make sacrifices that often put an undue burden on daily life issues like spending time with kids. We should strive to create work environments where anyone can balance being a successful scientist with being the type of parent they would like to be (for instance). That's how I interpreted whimple... Now, whimple's parenthetical seems to be at odds with DrdrA's most recent post (that includes the data). I'll go with DrdrA and the data on that one.

• D. C. Sessions says:

The problem is neither getting women interested in science (they've been interested in it since long before Hypatia was ruffling the feathers of the bishop of Alexandria) nor getting them into science (that's been resolved for over a decade judging by the ratio of men to women pursuing the life sciences in college); the challenge is in enticing women to stay in science.

FSVO "Science."
Female enrollment in US physics and engineering programs (to pick the fields I know about) peaked in the early 90s, and the number of US grad students in those fields has been dropping since. Apparently (and this is far from clear) the turning point is somewhere around middle school or high-school freshman level, when the popularity of math in particular among girls has tanked. No math beyond (abysmal) high-school graduation requirements is a serious handicap for many of the physical sciences and seems to steer women who would otherwise be interested into other fields.
Yes, it's a near-to-home subject -- $DAUGHTER would, by all appearances, be a far better physicist/engineer than her brothers (or father, for that matter.) She agrees -- but instead she's in sociology of gender trying to figure out why she is instead among a large number of other women who aren't interested. • Dave says: I think that PhysioProf's summary of my attitude and evidence in #33 is actually pretty accurate, except that I think men should also be fun and flirty. Especially if I am going to be spending a week trapped with them at some weird isolated New England school in the middle of nowhere. • whimple says: We should strive to create work environments where anyone can balance being a successful scientist with being the type of parent they would like to be. Yes, that was the intended meaning. The parenthetical statement refers specifically to the bottom panel of this figure: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/322/5907/1472/F2 Anytime you see a graph where people have to add asterisks saying, "no really, these two values are different with statistical confidence x", you know that the values under discussion are pretty much the same (even if statistically non-identical). To anon: Don't be so eager to try to find the haters that you wind up identifying the wrong people. • kiwi gal says: To reiterate some of the points above (and a big shout out for Dr Isis and Drdr A): In my field, ecology, we have a very large number of world class women scientists. At our national meeting in 2007, at an invited symposium reviewing progress in ecology over the last decade (to be published in a special issue of the journal etc etc), there was one woman speaker and 19 men. Gosh, I guess we really do get alot of invites. . . .so how does this work again? I guess 50% of our scientists are just not doing the same exciting work as the other 50%. • Dave says: D.C. in #38 makes a good point. Given all the whining about how hard a science career is, is it possible that women are just generally too smart to get suckered into wasting their life in science? Maybe the problem is really that males never wise up before they end up spending wasted lives ? Of course, if this is true then the women scientists reading this must be dumber than most other women. And we need affirmative action to help males into other careers. • Katharine says: kiwi gal, you're possibly one of the dumbest people I've ever seen the words of. You are an embarrassment to women. Science is not a waste of life, it actually produces results on which society is dependent, and it is interesting; in addition, ease is not exactly what you'd call important. • Katharine says: Oh shit, I meant Dave, not kiwi gal. My browser was being dumb. • DSKS says: "Especially if I am going to be spending a week trapped with them at some weird isolated New England school in the middle of nowhere." Long shot, but that wouldn't happen to involve learning some molly-bolly techniques, would it? • Muse142 says: Dave: I initially disagreed with you, but thought that you were very possibly making a decent point. Now that you've descended into troll territory (seriously now, what you said about #38 has no relation to what D.C. was actually saying...) I'm a lot more likely to think you were just spouting off at the mouth with your initial point. Blah. • D. C. Sessions says: seriously now, what you said about #38 has no relation to what D.C. was actually saying... As with all great artists, my work transcends my own feeble perceptions of meaning. Maybe #38 did contain that meaning; after all, who are we to constrain reality to our own limited understanding of it? Consider my words a sort of literary Rorschach test: reactions to them reveal more about the reader than about their intrinsic meaning. For instance, am I flaming Dave in this comment? Does the question itself have any merit? • Dave says: Now that I think I've pissed off the entire female scientist blogosphere, I think tomorrow I am going to have to switch emails, start posting with the pseudonym "AsstProfKate", and griping about old tenured white guys. Consider my lesson learned. • AsstProfKate says: This whole thread is so male-typical. Guys like Dave make some sexist remarks, and then when they're called out for it they attempt bad jokes and misdirection like it's not a serious matter. It makes me sick. Sorry, Dave, you are NOT forgiven. You are a shit. P.S: You suck, Sol Rivlin. Somehow this is all your fault. Bastard. • anon says: whimple, I don't think you're a hater. But I do think that if people seeking diversity in science keep saying that women leave science don't become professors at research universities (there's a difference) because the job is demanding and competitive, eventually some of the haters are going to say "Oh, yeah, you're right!" I probably sound like a concern troll right now, but the argument commonly advanced is a double-edged sword. In my defense, some other commenters pointed out that sexism stalks even women scientists without children, or women scientists who (with or without children) live crazy unbalanced lives. Moreover, balancing work and family is not easy for professors in fields outside STEM, yet those fields often have more diversity. The root of the problem involves cultural issues that go well beyond childcare, and the focus on children and family issues is a double-edged sword that the haters can easily turn around. • BugDoc says: DrdrA@#23 "The problem comes later- when women drop out in massive numbers" Although there has been some discussion here about why women drop out at the faculty level due to factors such as lack of work:family balance, "too smart" to put up with the BS, etc., I think larger social norms and expectations for both men and women play a major role in decisions to drop out. Several of my female colleagues at different universities have decided to close down their research programs, and all of them weighed two options, staying home vs. running a lab. I have never personally heard a male PI, no matter how unhappy or unsuccessful he was, consider closing down the lab and staying at home with the kids as an alternative. That is not to say that there are no men who stay at home to raise children, but rather that male scientists tend not to do so. In addition to all of the well known reasons that keep women out of science, there may be great social pressures that keep men disproportionately IN science, if it is still deemed a social stigma for a man to stay at home and not be the breadwinner of the family. • anon says: One of the other comments that I cited is also by a person posting as "anon." The anon in comment 31 was not me. Perhaps I should change to a more differentiable handle. • Dave says: "I have never personally heard a male PI, no matter how unhappy or unsuccessful he was, consider closing down the lab and staying at home with the kids as an alternative. That is not to say that there are no men who stay at home to raise children, but rather that male scientists tend not to do so." One of my closest friends dropped out of a successful science career and is now a stay-at-home dad. His wife is a physician. That said, I know many more women who dropped out of science as grad students and post-docs to raise children while their husband continued his career (which was not necessarily in science). I also know quite a few male scientists who are basically supported by non-scientist wives who make much more money than the husband. • whimple says: ... the job is demanding and competitive I didn't say "demanding and competitive", I said, "sucks". Demanding and competitive is fine, it's abusive, capricious and exploitive that I have problems with. One of my closest friends dropped out of a successful science career and is now a stay-at-home dad. His wife is a physician. Also true for a (former) colleague of mine. Got a TT position at a good medical school and decided three years in that it wasn't worth it and bailed (upgraded?) to stay-at-home-dad. His wife is an investment banker. • S. Rivlin says: Wow, I almost missed the big celebration here. With the risk of the foulmouthed CPP's wrath, here's my view on certain aspects of the topic with some historical perspective. Women in science are a minority issue like any other. They deserve, though they don't have, equality and this is mainly due to white men in science, just as lack of equality in any other endeavor is the fault of white men. That said, as a neuroscientist who joined the SFN in 1979, I have seen with my own eyes the significant increase in the numbers and the percentage of women neuroscientists members in that society. Though I did hear many complaints in the early days about the scarcity of women in neuroscience, mainly from men, these complaints were voiced with real concern that women tended to stay away from neuroscience. Things improved greatly since 1979 and I personally have never witnessed in scientific meetings I attended the crap yolio (#28) has described. In contrast, where home departments are concerned, I know that the situation is much worse and does fits in many way yolio's desription. I believe that without men getting strongly involved in advancing women equality in science, such equality will be very difficult to achieve. I have done my share, and still doing it, in assuring that women scientists will get a fair shake in science and I were and still am personally involved in my university defending women scientists in cases of harassment, discrimination and unfair treatment. I published the story of one such case ( http://www.brownwalker.com/book.php?book=1581124228&method=ISBN ) and was late to get to this discussion since I was testifying in a grievance case brought up by a woman scientist against the head of her lab who is a man. I testified on her behalf. • D. C. Sessions says: I testified on her behalf. [Preemptively:] Yeah, and I'll bet some of your best friends are women. • Dr. Feelgood says: You people are all so deluded. It is I, and my fellow jews that rule the roost. I will let you know who gets tenure at my next jew meeting when we divide up our jew gold. Oh, and we jews love the ladies. Dr F. • BiophysicsMonkey says: There are deep structural problems in science right now (overproduction of Ph.D.'s, lack of any sort of financial or other type of stability during the postdoc years & etc.) that make it harder than it should be for everyone, but particularly for women. And these will require a great deal of work to fix. Then there are problems right in front of our faces that are easily fixed if people would bother to make the slightest effort. I think that DM's point in the post is that finding female conference speakers is the latter. Really, getting a reasonable gender balance at a conference or symposium just isn't that difficult; there's no excuse for whinging about how hard it is. • With the risk of the foulmouthed CPP's wrath, here's my view on certain aspects of the topic with some historical perspective. HAHAHAHAHAH! You must be a motherfucking nightmare at family gatherings. "Oh, fuck! Run away, Uncle Solly's wandering over here!" • anon who really needs a better handle says: There are deep structural problems in science right now (overproduction of Ph.D.'s, lack of any sort of financial or other type of stability during the postdoc years & etc.) that make it harder than it should be for everyone, but particularly for women. Clamping down on PhD production presents certain problems if the system's bias in favor of unbalanced people is a key stumbling block for gender equity. A system that accepts fewer Ph.D. students and/or weeds out more of them with qualifying exams or whatever will be an even more viciously competitive system that favors the people willing to make the biggest sacrifices for the competition. Plus, any "reform" that involves accepting fewer and/or weeding out more students will be ripe for exploitation by the haters. If there are to be cuts, we all know where the haters will seek to have the cuts. Besides, I'm not convinced that the problem is too many people pursuing advanced studies in science. I'm all in favor of the studying and training. Educating people is not bad. What's bad is if they all pursue the same narrow range of jobs and spend forever in insecure and low-paid positions rather than trying something else. Science recently profiled a group of Ph.D. students who all started at Brown the same year and mostly graduated about 10 years ago. Only a handful went into academia, and I don't see that as a bad thing or a failure on the part of the students or the program or even the profession. A bunch of people got advanced education and pursued a wide range of opportunities. • anon who really needs a better handle says: EDIT: I think they actually started at Yale, not Brown. My bad. Anyway, it was one of those Ivy schools. • Dave says: Anon (fer chrissake if you want to be anon then EMBRACE the ambiguity) nailed it in #61. There is only a problem with the pipeline if one assumes all those who "leaked out" are failures. Are they? Or did they simply find a better way to spend their lives? People seriously need to quit whining and blaming. I tell grad students and postdocs all the time that if they hate it, then something is seriously wrong and they need to change things ASAP, because nothing magical happens when you become a PI. It's basically the same stuff, only more. • anon who really needs a better handle says: The pipeline has to leak, Dave, but when it leaks more for one group than another, then there may be a problem worth addressing. I'm skeptical about a lot of approaches taken to the problem as is quite obvious: I suspect it goes more to cultural issues (which affects the choices made early in the pipeline and the ways that people evaluate those in the pipeline) rather than the difficulty of leading a balanced life at the later stages of the pipeline. However, despite my obvious skepticism on the nature of the problem, I'm not about to join you in denying the existence of the problem, Dave. • whimple says: Anon (wrnabh): A system that accepts fewer Ph.D. students and/or weeds out more of them with qualifying exams or whatever will be an even more viciously competitive system that favors the people willing to make the biggest sacrifices for the competition. You might think so, but you'd be wrong. Look at the 2008 statistics for medical school application, admission, and graduation: (http://www.aamc.org/data/facts/2008/2008summary2.htm) females are: 48.2% of all applicants to medical school 48.0% of all applicants admitted to medical school 47.8% of all admitted medical students that subsequently graduate It's MUCH harder to get into medical school than graduate school (our medical school acceptance rate was 5% last year), but the MD's have gender balance totally worked out. • People seriously need to quit whining and blaming. Yep. Those damn bitchez need to quit whining and demanding equity, and just be fun and flirty! • S. Rivlin says: D.C., Actually all my best friends are women. Dr. F, You people are all so deluded. It is I, and my fellow jews that rule the roost. I will let you know who gets tenure at my next jew meeting when we divide up our jew gold. Oh, and we jews love the ladies. I guess it is safe to make those kind of comments on this blog as long as you do not include Jewish women, just men. • anon who really needs a better handle says: I will always defer to data, whimple. Is there a good explanation for why med school does well on gender diversity despite a selection process that is not necessarily conducive to a balanced life, but not the later stages of academia? • Dave says: Comrade PhysioProf, demonstrating his usual vulgar simple-mindedness, sez (parodying me): "Those damn bitchez need to quit whining and demanding equity, and just be fun and flirty! OK, smartypants, cut the unhelpful wisecracks and actually try enlightening us. How do you define equity? 50% men and women in the profession? Fine. How do we go about achieving that, oh wise one? • kiwi says: Sol, I think you should check out the comments on Isis's blog too. Some of my best friends are women . . . Just sayin'. • OK, smartypants, cut the unhelpful wisecracks and actually try enlightening us. How do you define equity? 50% men and women in the profession? Fine. How do we go about achieving that, oh wise one? 1) Don't be such an ass. 2) Create an environment that is supportive rather than being utterly misogynistic, penalizing women who choose to have families while paying them less than their male colleagues (see step 1). 3) Don't be such an ass. And, for the record, Dr. Isis is totally fun and flirty. That doesn't seem to be helping her any. • whimple says: Is there a good explanation for why med school does well on gender diversity despite a selection process that is not necessarily conducive to a balanced life, but not the later stages of academia? I have to think the problem in academia is structural. In medicine, the selection is all up front: getting in to medical school. In academia it's a pyramid scheme, with a long succession of little cuts. In medicine, if there's a gender disparity, it is screamingly obvious where the problem is, and therefore relatively easy to fix. In academia, the pipeline is just gradually "leaky" so it's hard to pin down what you'd need to do to fix it, and easy to dodge responsibility for the problem. My guess for a fix is to make academia more like medicine: only train the number of Ph.D.'s needed to replace existing academics and keep the demand:supply ratio for Ph.D.'s in industry healthily high. We'd also need to make post-docs work 80 hour weeks (like the residents), and have strict licensure requirements for industry so they can't just cut the feet off the system by importing a stack of non-licensed foreign Ph.D.s. For what it's worth, my own contribution to the solution is to tell anyone and everyone who asks about it to go to medical school, instead of graduate school. 🙂 • Dave says: Isis jumps in for PhysioProf: 1) Don't be such an ass. 2) Create an environment that is supportive rather than being utterly misogynistic, penalizing women who choose to have families while paying them less than their male colleagues (see step 1). 3) Don't be such an ass. And, for the record, Dr. Isis is totally fun and flirty. I f by 'ass' you mean honest, then no sweat. I'll lie and tell you all sorts of doopy-woopy B.S. that makes you feel better. But it won't get you more publications, or grants. Or do you mean I should give you special treatment as a reviewer because you're a girl and girls have such a hard time because they have to raise families and buy bras and crap like that? Then sorry, no deal. As reviewer, I have a responsibility to the editor and/or taxpayer to give my honest opinion of your science. If you mean speaking slots at a meeting, like I said earlier, I'm happy to give you a speaking slot at a meeting if you're a good speaker and fun. But I have a responsibility to all the other attendees to not fill the schedule with crappy bitter bitches (I'm not calling you one; I'm just saying...) As for raising a family, last I remember it takes two to make a baby -- It's not my fault you married a loser who won't pull his weight, or got dumped by one. Whine to him, not me. I am sorry to hear that Dr. Isis' scintillating personality is not bring her fame. She ought to try blogging non-anonymously. It worked for PZ Meyers. To PhysioProf: What, you're gonna let a GIRL do your fighting for you? -Dave (finished grading grad class papers*, outlining a new grant**, and now having more beer***) *The best paper by far was from a woman. I made a special effort to email her and tell her so, lest she consider dropping out of grad school to raise a family or get a better job or some bullshit like that. **You can never have enough money. It's all about money. To hell with actually figuring stuff out. You're not a REAL scientist unless you get money. ***I am a guy so I drink beer. Now I am going to scratch my crotch and burp. • juniorprof says: I'm not the oldest cat on the block but I can honestly say I've never heard of "fun and flirty" coming into the equation when inviting speakers, and I have been part of these conversations. I am proud to say that I was on a committee that invited the first woman scientist for a very well known lecture (after 10 years of no female keynotes). They have now had 3 woman scientist keynotes in a row. They were all great talks (although I wasn't there for the last one) and it is important for the female trainees. The last two also drew the biggest attendance in the history of the lecture. My little area of neuroscience has a very serious gender inequity problem. There are some heavy hitting woman-scientists in my area but I can say that I have seen them dismissed at meetings and other venues for totally sexist reasons. We also have what I consider to be a very serious good-old-boy-network problem in my little neck of the woods. As far as I am concerned these two problems appear to go hand in hand. I think that NIH (or whatever federal funding agency) should demand to see salaries for men and women in equivalent stages of promotion advancement at individual institutions. If you have inequity in salaries between men and women, your institution likely has an endemic problem. If you don't fix it, no more funding, end of story. • BiophysicsMonkey says: "Is there a good explanation for why med school does well on gender diversity despite a selection process that is not necessarily conducive to a balanced life, but not the later stages of academia?" Many of the standard explanations for the lack of gender balance in science (requires insane hours, not conducive to having a life, etc.) run aground on the fact that both law and medicine do much better than science regarding gender representation despite being just as demanding in terms of work/life balance. I think the two most likely explanations for the difference are a) due to various factors, including the fact that it's part of academia, the culture of science really has been slower to join the 21st century than the professions, and b) the academic timetable. In law and medicine, you work like crazy in your 20s, but by your late 20s/early 30s (if all goes well) you'll be starting to achieve some kind of career/financial security. In science, this is deferred for an additional 5-10 years on average. • If you mean speaking slots at a meeting, like I said earlier, I'm happy to give you a speaking slot at a meeting if you're a good speaker and fun. But I have a responsibility to all the other attendees to not fill the schedule with crappy bitter bitches (I'm not calling you one; I'm just saying...) As for raising a family, last I remember it takes two to make a baby -- It's not my fault you married a loser who won't pull his weight, or got dumped by one. Whine to him, not me. Yeah. Let it flow, Dave. Show us your deep inner core of despicable misogynist scumbaggery. It is very instructive for our readers to really see the hot molten center of your hateful essence, and know that you are not an aberration, but rather an examplar--along with Solly--of the kind of deranged asshole that is burrowed into the scientific enterprise. • Dave says: Whimple, usually quite reasonable, veers off into impracticality: "My guess for a fix is to make academia more like medicine: only train the number of Ph.D.'s needed to replace existing academics and keep the demand:supply ratio for Ph.D.'s in industry healthily high." First off, I don't think this is quite how medical schools set their numbers. Second, most Ph.D. students suck; they have no chance at being a worthwhile PI and unfortunately that's not clear until they are well into grad school, or postdocing. So we have to stuff the pipeline. Which makes it leaky. Another angle: 'Leakiness' is an inevitable result of competition along the way. Competition is good, right? NIH grants are millions of dollars. You don't want to give them out to just any moron. The only real debate is how much and how intense the selection process should be. We want goodness but not waste. Competition but not discouragement. • drdrA says: Shoot- walk away for an afternoon and miss the whole shitstorm... Isis #13 I appreciate your saying so. AsstProfKate#39- • anon who really needs a better handle says: I wonder if part of the reason why medicine does better than physical sciences is also a bit of history: Women were in nursing for a long time, so there's already some cultural and historical precedent for entering a health profession. Obviously the diversification of medicine hasn't been easy, but it's clearly done better than, say, physics, and perhaps a history of women in health professions helped? This would also then explain why biology does better than physics: Biology gets the benefit of all the people who considered pre-med but decided on something else. • If by 'ass' you mean honest, then no sweat. I'll lie and tell you all sorts of doopy-woopy B.S. that makes you feel better. But it won't get you more publications, or grants. Or do you mean I should give you special treatment as a reviewer because you're a girl and girls have such a hard time because they have to raise families and buy bras and crap like that? Then sorry, no deal. As reviewer, I have a responsibility to the editor and/or taxpayer to give my honest opinion of your science. If you mean speaking slots at a meeting, like I said earlier, I'm happy to give you a speaking slot at a meeting if you're a good speaker and fun. But I have a responsibility to all the other attendees to not fill the schedule with crappy bitter bitches (I'm not calling you one; I'm just saying...) As for raising a family, last I remember it takes two to make a baby -- It's not my fault you married a loser who won't pull his weight, or got dumped by one. Whine to him, not me. I am sorry to hear that Dr. Isis' scintillating personality is not bring her fame. She ought to try blogging non-anonymously. It worked for PZ Meyers. To PhysioProf: What, you're gonna let a GIRL do your fighting for you? Wow. I mean, wow. • Dave says: Uh, drdA: That comment in #39 was from me. You have to read my post above it to get it. Maybe too subtle. Sorry. But hey, can I say: Go Girl! ? Thought not. • ...tom... says: ... As one not in the environ being discussed here I can freely say ...you guys argue really good. I even learned me a thing or two. Too bad I ran out of popcorn before the bottom of the comment thread. ...tom... ' who works it a field totally dominated by women . . .it just aint fair, no matter how fun I is... ' . • Dave says: Yow, I'm outa control. We already got the baby in the SEED top five. Let's see if we can hit 100 replies... Anon in #78: "I wonder if part of the reason why medicine does better than physical sciences is also a bit of history: Women were in nursing for a long time, so there's already some cultural and historical precedent for entering a health profession. Obviously the diversification of medicine hasn't been easy, but it's clearly done better than, say, physics, and perhaps a history of women in health professions helped? This would also then explain why biology does better than physics: Biology gets the benefit of all the people who considered pre-med but decided on something else." I think the dropout rate in med school is something like 1%. So the output of course approximately equals input. We really need to see whether there are gender differences in admission rates. It might also be interesting to see data on women who start demanding traditionally male-dominated residencies like surgery vs the number of women who become surgeons. • drdrA says: Yeah- sorry Dave- I meant #49. I goofed. • Dave says: Re my post #82: I meant 'demanding' as an adjective. Not a verb. Settle down. • drdrA says: '..you guys argue really good. I even learned me a thing or two.... ' Tom- you are making me laugh- being scientists defending your point and the evidence is a huge part of the job, we don't like to take no for an answer, ....and we've got a few personalities that keep things interesting... • anon who really needs a better handle says: While I feel dirty agreeing with Dave, it is true that the cut for scientists has to happen some time after getting into grad school. Grad school is full of people who had good grades as undergrads and were able to do some work in the lab with minimal supervision. These are certainly promising qualities to look for in a Ph.D. student, but not everyone possessing these qualities will ultimately prove to be good at designing and implementing research projects that yield new, interesting, and significant results. That's not necessarily an argument for deferring any sort of stability in one's life until the tenure decision in the mid to late 30's. It is, however, an argument for making the cut somewhere after entering grad school. I dunno, make a hard cut at the M.S. level, with only the good students going on to the Ph.D.? Fewer postdocs? There is probably some way to reach that decision point before tenure in the mid to late 30's. • Dave says: To: drdrA: Yea, that's what I meant. I am the only 'AsstProfKate' here. Remember that old cartoon (was it New Yorker?) where the dog is typing at the terminal and says; "On the internet, no one knows you're a dog..." • drdrA says: Dave- That's a funny one! I read the New Yorker religiously- but I must have missed that one... • whimple says: dave: I think the dropout rate in med school is something like 1%. So the output of course approximately equals input. We really need to see whether there are gender differences in admission rates. There aren't gender differences in medicine in either application or admission rates. Don't take my word for it, look at the data: http://www.aamc.org/data/facts/2008/2008summary2.htm • becca says: "I guess it is safe to make those kind of comments on this blog as long as you do not include Jewish women, just men." Oh Uncle Solly, GeeGolly you're so old-fashioned! *giggles* I'm Jewish, and a woman, and I love the ladies. COincidence? I think not! Course, I'm only half Jewish... but then I'm only bisexual, so the model still works! (confidential to Dr. F- Oh, you're Jewish! that's why I fell into such a comfortable argument pattern with you. I should seriously patent my snarkiness style as Jewdar) "As reviewer, I have a responsibility to the editor and/or taxpayer to give my honest opinion of your science." Oh Dave, Dave, Dave... When did you loose sight of the fact that as a human being with some remaining shred of decency, you have a responsibility to be introspective enough to examine if your honest opinion might possibly be ocassionally slightly tainted by a hint of bias? Focus on being a good Person; you are obviously in a comfortable enough position so that you are already a good scientist/reviewer/conference organizer. "Second, most Ph.D. students suck; they have no chance at being a worthwhile PI and unfortunately that's not clear until they are well into grad school, or postdocing. So we have to stuff the pipeline. Which makes it leaky." I think this is pernicious poppycock. First, many excellent PhD students that will go on to be highly successful in scientific careers will never be tenured faculty, or good grant writers, or publish in GlamorMags. In short, they won't be 'worthwhile PIs'. Second, many med students seemingly "suck". Yet they don't stuff the pipeline in the same way in medicine and somehow it works out in a quasi-respectable way. Third, what makes it leaky is the eat-your-young "SPARTA FIRST!" dickwaving macho masochistic bullshit. You know what I envy most about doctors? Not that they know they can make a good wage. Not that they are more hireable in terms of being able to both write NIH grants and treat patients. Not that they have the satisfaction of knowing they are saving lives. Not that they get lots of respect. (though all those things sound nice). No, as a grad student I most envy doctors a single day of their careers. The day they take the hippocratic oath and are told "if you got here, you're good enough. It'll be hard, sometimes insane, but we're here for you". I cried at the White Coat ceremony I attended. Medicine looks after it's own in a way science does not. And all this without giving a license to practice medicine to too many morons. • There aren't gender differences in medicine in either application or admission rates. I wonder if there are gender differences in numbers of clinical faculty in medical schools, and whether those differences get bigger and bigger at higher and higher levels of seniority? I wonder how many chairs of departments of medicine and departments of surgery are women? I wonder how many medical school deans are women? • S. Rivlin says: CPP's contributions to the discussion: HAHAHAHAHAH! This is why assmonkeys like Solly and Dave ever got faculty positions in the first place. If they had to compete on a level playing field without over half of the population effectively excluded they'd have been fucked. Shorter Dave: Damn whiny bitchez oughta shut the fuck up with their demands for equity and be fun and flirty! I know this because my wife's fun and flirty and she publishes in Nature and gets invited to lots of cool parties! HAHAHAHAHAH! You must be a motherfucking nightmare at family gatherings. "Oh, fuck! Run away, Uncle Solly's wandering over here!" Yep. Those damn bitchez need to quit whining and demanding equity, and just be fun and flirty! Yeah. Let it flow, Dave. Show us your deep inner core of despicable misogynist scumbaggery. It is very instructive for our readers to really see the hot molten center of your hateful essence, and know that you are not an aberration, but rather an examplar--along with Solly--of the kind of deranged asshole that is burrowed into the scientific enterprise. • Dave says: beccas says: "Third, what makes it leaky is the eat-your-young "SPARTA FIRST!" dickwaving macho masochistic bullshit." Hmmmmm.... That's a good point. Perhaps we SHOULD nurture young scientists, instead of weed them out. I like that idea. Certainly I try to nurture people in my lab (once they are accepted into my lab; only about 5% who seek it get a slot in my lab). But you are advocating that the system somehow be reorganized to be nurturing instead of competitive. But to be nurturing, we have to first unstuff the pipeline. That requires eliminating the pyramid scheme that is modern biomedical science, which means reducing Ph.D. program slots and post-docs and soft-money faculty positions. That'll be painful. Basically, it's already happening due to funding constraints. Then we have to stop rewarding competitiveness for positions and grants. How do we do that? What else should be done? Seriously. I'm listening. • Holy cow! I work all afternoon and then have dinner only to find that in my absence, Dave has returned but is now talking about not wanting to fill seminar schedules with "crappy bitter bitches". Aaaaaaargh. I'm also not entirely certain that there is gender equality in medicine. Sure, there might be equal numbers in medical school, but what about those that complete fellowship training? How many female surgeons have you seen? There's a few on tv, so I guess that means they must exist in real life too huh Dave? No wait ... I'm sure Dave will say that the bitches should be satisfied with practicing general medicine and tending to babies and the elderly because that's where feminine traits are best served. ** Sigh. Back to dreaming about finding a manly man who will take care of me so that I don't have to do the really difficult sciencey stuff anymore. ** • Peggy says: I wonder if there are gender differences in numbers of clinical faculty in medical schools, and whether those differences get bigger and bigger at higher and higher levels of seniority? I wonder how many chairs of departments of medicine and departments of surgery are women? I wonder how many medical school deans are women? I think one of the major differences between medicine and science is that a physician with a medical license can set up shop as an independent contractor, while that isn't really possible for a molecular biologist or physicist, so comparisons between clinical faculty and academic scientists is more apt than MDs vs. PhDs. According to these 2007 stats, there is indeed a significant gap between men and women on medical school faculties, particularly at the full professor and associate professor levels, and in some specialties such as surgery. • Dave says: PiT: "How many female surgeons have you seen? There's a few on tv, so I guess that means they must exist in real life too huh Dave?" Way back in #82, I already made that point: "It might also be interesting to see data on women who start [...] traditionally male-dominated residencies like surgery vs the number of women who become surgeons." Which means you accidentally agreed with me, PiT! Hoo ha! It's OK. We all have things to secretly feel guilty about. I once got anal sex from a transexual. And liked it. • anonymous postdoc says: I'm just catching up on all this. So, I'm a female. Not just any female, a female with a disability! The holy grail! If only I were also a minority I could really rack up the affirmative action points. I have got to work on that if I ever want to get an RO1. I always thought the fact that I have more papers than any one else in my lab and many of my peers, got a number of dissertation awards, and frequently participate in scientific meetings was because I was actually becoming a good scientist! Now I know its because they feel sorry for me, I like beer just like the boys do, and I'm a fun gal. Thanks for setting me straight! Hopefully now I don't turn into one of those bitter bitches- that would be a shame, they sure are way less fun at meetings! • Silver Fox says: @Becca, your #91 comment is awesome, and thanks. • Which means you accidentally agreed with me, PiT! Hoo ha! It's OK. We all have things to secretly feel guilty about. I once got anal sex from a transexual. And liked it. Perhaps, although I notice that you deleted the word "demanding" when you quoted your own comment. I understand that you meant it as an adjective in your original comment, but you seem to be suggesting that women aren't capable of succeeding in high pressure/difficult specialties. Who's to say that the lower number of female surgeons isn't a result of bias by predominantly male selection committees (whether unconscious or intentional) when reviewing candidate applications for surgical residencies and fellowships? I'm not even going near the latter part of your comment. • becca says: Dave... on the off chance your question is in earnest, or anyone out there actually gives a rodent's posterior about my humble grad student take, here's what I think individual faculty members can do... 1) Visit a Toastmaster's meeting and pay attention to the style of evaluation. Toastmasters is like crack to me. It's the only place I get positive feedback on a regular basis. 2) Every year, students at my institution organize a research forum. Last year's speaker was Scott Hawley, who gave one of the most inspiring talks about scientific careers and life that I've ever heard (http://www.hmc.psu.edu/gsa/forum/index.htm). (confidential to CPP- watch this video- from 8:08-9:01; your "mentoring writers" post made me think of it) Anyway- Hawley describes how he thinks good teaching works. He thinks it's fundamentally coaching. You let people do their thing, while 'watching them like a hawk'. You push them further than they think they can go, while letting them fall on their bums as many times as it takes (he uses the example of his daughter's ice skating). Afterwards, one of the professors in the audience came up to ask Hawley a question. This professor is simultaneously one of the most fun and scary scientists I've ever met (very blunt, very incisive questions). He seemed very taken by the ideas (he's a sports coach), and asked earnestly "How do you do that? How do you push people to higher achievement without pushing them around?" Hawley replied instantly, and physically, with a gesture... pulling someone up. Dave. Go back to your grading. Go back to that student you complimented. The next time you see her, tell her how she can do even better. Then, help her get there. Noticing excellence isn't enough. You have to invest yourself in their success. It's obviously in your 'rational self-interest' to invest yourself in your lab members success... when you can do that with all your students, then you'll be one of those admired teachers. One of those trailblazing scientific leaders. One of those consumate scholars. And, shockingly, most of those people... seem to do pretty well on the competitive metrics too. • msphd says: Thanks for this post and the link to DrDrA's. I quite liked that this one had 101 screechy monkeys (not quite dalmatians, eh?). That makes me #102. I guess it's a hot topic. I'd like to see somebody do something about it, as one commenter at Dr.DrA's put it, YESTERDAY. • Dr. Feelgood says: Becca, Will you marry me? I mean, I am already married, but I think she's cool with it. While this goes off thread topic, your comments on #91 hit the nail on the head for me. However, you have to realize that the system has created that cutthroat competition. Doctors are taught to guard each others' mediocre asses liability-wise. Thin white (coat) line, and all that. But still, it would be nice if we were more universally supportive of each other. This jew luvs becca! Where are we going on our honeymoon? Dr. F • D. C. Sessions says: But you are advocating that the system somehow be reorganized to be nurturing instead of competitive. I submit to you that this notion, that "nurturing" and "competitive" are mutually exclusive, is [1] a fucking sick relic of testosterone-poisoned male dominance politics, not to mention an excuse for leaning on the scales. [1] I think this calls for channeling CPP • Dave says: To becca, regarding #101: I *was* earnest. Yea, I know it's hard to tell whether I actually care among all the goofy B.S. I've put here, but I really do think the length and heat of this discussion is good. Subtle biases hide in dark corners. Anyway, I'll check out Hawley's stuff. I don't actually know the guy personally, but am well aware of him as a scientist and by reputation, and have loads of respect for him. That said, I am not really the ass you may think I am, either. In 5 years as a faculty member, I've won several teaching awards, including the most coveted student-nominated award my university gives. I routinely get cards from students after graduation thanking me. With that in mind, I have to humbly point out that you misunderstood what I was asking. Or perhaps I was not clear enough. As D.C. emphasized in #104, I think the *system* is the problem, not individual scientists. Yea yea yea I know you're going to say that the system is nothing more than what individual scientists do. And that's a reasonable point, but shallow. The problem is not with individual teachers. In fact, good teachers may be exacerbating the problem by enticing otherwise valuable members of society into a sucky embittering career. In that case, what we need to do to unstuff the pipeline is drive more people away at the undergraduate level. No, I think the problem is that the system itself rewards competitiveness, and therefore only the competitive survive to 'be' the system. So really we somehow have to topsy-turvy things to punish competitiveness, which on the face of it seems great to a lot of people. So how do we do that? Should grants be preferentially given to collaborative projects? Should NIH value 'broader impacts' like NSF does? What? Let's discuss. Or maybe it's time for DM to weigh in with a brand new blog entry. Blog entries with over 100 replies try the stamina of even the most hard core web addicts. • D. C. Sessions says: No, I think the problem is that the system itself rewards competitiveness, and therefore only the competitive survive to 'be' the system. So really we somehow have to topsy-turvy things to punish competitiveness, which on the face of it seems great to a lot of people. I submit to you that your reading comprehension, at best, is short several cups of coffee. Please have a few and re-read #104. Pay particular attention to the part about "mutually exclusive." • Dave says: To D.C., regarding #106: Alas, I do not like coffee. And I fear my comprehension deficit is deeper and wider than you kindly allow. Let me clarify: I was originally trying to say that the system is inherently competitive, and that it would need to be SWITCHED to be nurturing. I was already assuming that nurturing & competitive were exclusive -- as a given. So, as I understood it, we were in agreement and you were simply emphasizing an assumption I made. That's what I meant in my last post. Does that make sense? Are we on the same track? If not, please explain things to me more clearly. Like I said, I don't like coffee and it's still relatively early. • D. C. Sessions says: I was already assuming that nurturing & competitive were exclusive -- as a given. So, as I understood it, we were in agreement and you were simply emphasizing an assumption I made. The whole point of #104 is that "nurturing" and "competitive" are not mutually exclusive and that any cultural pretense that they are is fucking sick and destructive. • drdrA says: Becca #91- Wanna join my lab? and also #101- Funny you should mention the coaching thing- as my husband (who is also an academic scientists) has been reading books about successful coaching of athletic teams..as a model for coaching in science, and running a successful team. #101- 'Go back to that student you complimented. The next time you see her, tell her how she can do even better. Then, help her get there. Noticing excellence isn't enough. You have to invest yourself in their success.' This is RIGHT ON TARGET. And finally Becca- this has been a most interesting comment thread but has veered away from being constructive at various points. I know you are no shy flower for speaking up (because I notice you are not shy about leaving comments, which is great)- but I want to commend you for turning the discussion/interaction with Dave back to a place where everyone is actually listening to each other again. I'm looking forward to the continued comments on this thread... • whimple says: And finally Becca- this has been a most interesting comment thread but has veered away from being constructive at various points. I know you are no shy flower for speaking up (because I notice you are not shy about leaving comments, which is great)- but I want to commend you for turning the discussion/interaction with Dave back to a place where everyone is actually listening to each other again. drdrA, you're not just supposed to notice her excellence, you're supposed to suggest ways for her to make it even more excellenter. 🙂 • drdrA says: Whimple- If she joins my lab I'll devote myself to that... like I do for everyone that works for me... 😉 • Odyssey says: drdrA, you're not just supposed to notice her excellence, you're supposed to suggest ways for her to make it even more excellenter. 🙂 She offered Becca a position in her lab, didn't she? 🙂 Beat me to it... • Dave says: To DC, in response to #108: Ah, OK. Got it. Thanks for the clarification. So let's accept that the system if full of people like me who are so inherently sexist and moronic that their givens are not only not givens, but plagues on the whole thing. What do we do about it? Oh -- get rid of guys like me. NOW I see what Isis was saying. So, OK, I may be an ass. But I CAN learn. • Dave says: Wait. Now I am disturbed. Seriously. In #113, I concluded that the solution to the problem is for people like me to get out of science and make way for more enlightened and inherently nurturing newcomers. That's fine, but before I step aside, how do we prevent my department from hiring another asshole just like me? Maybe I should keep my job, at least for now? I'm not doing THAT bad. Like I said above, I've only been a faculty member 5 years, but my lab is mostly women, and my first grad student (a woman) is already in her second year of a tenure track position in exactly the area she wanted, with an NIH grant. She still likes me. I think. Or did she succeed in spite of me? How can I know? Argh. No wonder people kill themselves. • Dave says: waaaaiiiittt a minute... (I suddenly got a little burst of testosterone that's either made me think logically again, or re-clouded my mind). How can nurturing and competitive NOT be mutually exclusive, in practice? The fact is, there are not enough positions or grants for all the people seeking them. So 'nurturing' really means one or both of two things: 1) 'Nurturing' is really just training someone to be more competitive. and/or 2) 'Nurturing' is really just making someone feel better when they fail. I can sort of see how nurturing along the lines of #2 can lead to a less leaky pipeline for women if women, by their nature, tend to give up more easily. Is that it? Did I get something right? Or am I still an incorrigible asshole? Really, I am trying. • S. Rivlin says: Whimple- If she joins my lab I'll devote myself to that... like I do for everyone that works for me... 😉 Better to say "...like I do for everyone that works with me..." • Lora says: Question for the group-- How do you think the structure of graduate school in the sciences might foster & encourage sexist behavior vs. the structure of medical or law school? I'm thinking specifically here of how in medical & law school you have several different professors and mentors to work with, and you're not tied down to any of them; if one of your professors is a discriminatory pig, you only have to suffer through them for a class or two. You have a wide option of other professors to choose from for instruction or mentoring. Whereas in the apprenticeship system in science grad school, you are tied to someone for many years on end. At any given institution, there may be only a few researchers working on anything remotely related to your field of interest. If you select a particular school based on HotShot's brilliant work on XYZ, then find months later that HotShot is a real pig, you might not have a whole lot of other choices for labs without a major sacrifice in time, opportunity and$$. You will be forced to put up with HotShot's asshattery for many years, in close quarters, and are unlikely to get relief from adminstrators. The question is not about the science or competition or hours in the lab, it's more about your capacity for asshattery. How much sexism, racism and unfairness can you take? Now, I see this as semi-related to questions of academic honesty, in that if you're stuck in a lab that is not academically honest, where falsification of data is the norm, there is nothing in The System that makes it easy for you to get out of there or get justice done. The apprenticeship model encourages, fosters, and abets shitty personalities and sociopaths in their jerkishness, and the supposed ways of getting recourse are infeasible. Thus, change is slow. Can we think of a method for creating a science graduate program that would not involve having an advisor per se, where the student would continue having multiple professors throughout their graduate degree? It seems to me that this would more truly require the student to be independent in their work and avoid a lot of the academic honesty pitfalls too, as there's less pressure from above to get a certain result. • drdrA says: Sol- sure, of course- Like I do for everyone that works with me! • whimple says: Or, more generally, just try to elevate the game of everyone around you. (Is this 'nurturing'? It isn't obvious to me that this is incompatible with a competitive environment.) • drdrA says: 'Or, more generally, just try to elevate the game of everyone around you. OMG- Sol and Whimple- WHY do you think that I blog??? 😉 '(Is this 'nurturing'? It isn't obvious to me that this is incompatible with a competitive environment.)' And whimple- I don't think these are mutually exclusive at all- I think that setting up a nurturing teaching environment does not imply that you make everything easy for everyone. It's just not a zero sum thing between being positively constructive without damaging someone, and remembering that there is a healthy element of competition in everything we do in science. • Dave says: Lora (#117): Those are good questions, and maybe a practical approach. Ideally, one's graduate committee is a bunch of secondary advisors, all fully committed to the welfare of the student as much (or more) than the primary supervisor. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to ignore students one doesn't see every day. When we started as faculty 5 years ago, my wife and I were horrified by the old boy network of faculty and the number of students still lost after 5-10 years of grad school. We tried to institute some reforms, including more regular meetings with the committee and more organized and thorough mechanisms for tracking student progress. The amazing thing was, it was mainly the STUDENTS who resisted the changes. They found it a hassle to meet with their committee members more regularly or communicate progress and problems. Of course, certain faculty were lazy about chasing problem students down, but ultimately grad school is a two-way street. We faculty are here to help, but if we have to hold your hand every day, you really just don't get the point of grad school. My lab webpage has a section devoted to 'advice'. I offer some valuable words of my own (which I won't print here, given Google's power to compromise my identity and my growing reputation here as a sexist sociopath). I also have links to a few sites with info that hits the nail on the head: The first link is to: http://www.cs.unc.edu/~azuma/hitch4.html The second link is to: http://www.hhmi.org/resources/labmanagement/moves.html Those two links take you to the best career advice I have ever seen. Regardless of whether you think I am an asshat, I strongly suggest them. • Dave says: drdrA says: "It's just not a zero sum thing between being positively constructive without damaging someone, and remembering that there is a healthy element of competition in everything we do in science." But it IS a zero sum game. Universities have a tenure track slot, and they intend to fill it. There can be 10 sucky applicants or 9000 great ones. They will still more than likely fill that slot with exactly one person at the end of the search. Similarly, NIH and NSF have a certain amount of money to give out. The scores may all be sucky, or they may all be great. But they will give out the money regardless. Ultimately, there are only so many slots and so much money. If someone gets wins, someone (or many others) must lose. That's how it is. Can it be different? I don't know. How? Describe a system where it is different and still rewards the best science. This is the challenge. Not all of us white males are truly evil. If there were an obviously better way, I'd be all for it. • D. C. Sessions says: Or, more generally, just try to elevate the game of everyone around you. (Is this 'nurturing'? It isn't obvious to me that this is incompatible with a competitive environment.) Give the lady a prize! (Damn that sounds condescending. Sorry.) Seriously, that's the point. The absolute most competitive environments are extremely nurturing, in the positive "now how can you do better?" sense. The trick is that the "competition" is not a zero-sum game. Back when I could run, I would race with my friends. The objective wasn't to cross the line ahead of them, it was to cross the line ahead of me -- they were just there to push (or more often pull) me on. Then we'd all collapse gasping and grab a cola before going around for something else. This week I have three design reviews. It's taken me a while to get$JUNIOR_ENGINEER to the point where she's sharpening her knives for attacking my work, but I think she's almost there. Sure hope so, after that she can coach some of the others in how to make my life harder -- because I need them after me to keep me on form.
But she's not competing against me, she's just playing a different position on the team against Murphy.

• D. C. Sessions says:

But it IS a zero sum game. Universities have a tenure track slot, and they intend to fill it. There can be 10 sucky applicants or 9000 great ones. They will still more than likely fill that slot with exactly one person at the end of the search.

There is a household-name company that believes in keeping the troops on their toes by setting them against each other, with "losers" being shown to the door and "winners" being promoted etc. Now, the internal competition is in fairly narrow groups so a simple game-theory analysis rapidly turns up the fact that your best strategy is often not doing well yourself (too many things can go wrong) but to sabotage your competition.
And that's what happens. Projects may suck, but as long as the competing projects suck worse life is good. Needless to say, this is not a happy work environment and to those of us in the trade not a terribly efficient one either.
Is this a failure of market economics, or is this a failure of management? I know of a major university where tenure is openly conditioned on one metric and one only: it's a race for funding. If your research sucks up cubic dollars, you're going to ace out someone who is working on something that can be done economically. That sucks, but does it suck as much as a system which rewards sabotaging fellow faculty?
See #104. Setting up the false dichotomy between "nurturing" and "competitive" is sick, and represents a fundamental failure of leadership and/or management.

• S. Rivlin says:

http://www.the-scientist.com/2008/12/1/70/1/

• anon who really needs a better handle says:

There are 2 different aspects to the competitive angle:
1) Within a lab, within a department, and often even within a university, it can be to your advantage to lift up those around you, collaborate, and generally work together so that when you compete with others you have the strength that comes with numbers. That sort of environment can be positive. If people don't recognize that, it can be quite toxic.
To the extent that cooperation rather than competition is the rule within a lab or department, I think that's a positive thing for everyone involved.
2) However, at some level you'll still be competing with people outside your lab or your university or your group of collaborators. There are finite grant resources, and publishing first does matter. That sort of competition will often (but not always) favor those who work the longest hours and make the biggest sacrifices. (Caveat: Working those extra hours only pays off if you are getting stuff done in those hours rather than burning yourself out.) This aspect of science will always be in tension with work-life balance. It's not an insurmountable balance (too many counter-examples are out there) but it will always be a tension. And I don't see any way get rid of this problem.
Point 1 is understood by a lot of people concerned with diversity in science, and dismissed or minimized by the haters. Point 2 is not as widely acknowledged by those concerned with diversity, and is over-emphasized by the haters.

• Dave says:

Well said, anon (#126). I think you have defined the problem very well.
Based on what you say, it seems to me that the best strategy for us all, as scientists, is to ensure that we are for all practical part of the same 'group', in which case cooperation is always the best tactic among ourselves. Basically, this means re-defining the zero-sum game so the competition is scientists vs non-scientists.
I think scientific societies do this for us, to some extent. Certainly Society for Neuroscience sees that as an explicit role for itself. A rising tide lifts all boats, right?
Ultimately, though, the moon doesn't make water. When the tide is high here, it's low somewhere else. We have to live with that. If you want more faculty positions, state taxes or tuition will have to go up. If you want more grants, congress needs to shift funding from something else.
Of course, nothing I wrote just now has do do with why women leave science more than men, or how to change that. And actually, now that I think about it, NOTHING said here (that I can remember; feel free to remind me) proposes a specific solution for women. Presumably, nurturing is good for everyone, and will increase retention of both males and females in science. But that doesn't change the sex ratio.
So really, we're back to trying to identify exactly why women drop out of academic science careers at a higher rate* than men.
[*By 'rate', I mean 'rate' in the kinetic sense, as in more per unit time]
And assuming* that's a problem, I still haven't seen any sex-specific solutions.
[*Yea, I know this will get me back into trouble, but see my post somewhere above where I note that the leaky female pipeline is only a 'problem' if you consider it a failure when women find something they like doing better than academic science.]

• anon who really needs a better handle says:

Ah, and Dave does a reductio ad absurdum to dismiss point 1 so he can over-emphasize point 2. See, you're just trying to make me feel dirty by agreeing with me.
Obviously you can't collaborate with everyone. But the point is that you can have a positive environment by working well with the people around you. Whether the group you collaborate with is large or small, work well with them, especially the people lower on the totem pole.
Obviously you will be competing with others. And the best way to kick their asses is to do the best science you can. You'll probably do better science if you work well with your collaborators, colleagues down the hall, trainees, staff, etc. So point 1 can help you on point 2. But if you do a reductio ad absurdum, then of course you can always dismiss point 1 and just focus on point 2.

• D. C. Sessions says:

1) Within a lab, within a department, and often even within a university, it can be to your advantage to lift up those around you, collaborate, and generally work together so that when you compete with others you have the strength that comes with numbers. That sort of environment can be positive. If people don't recognize that, it can be quite toxic.

What you said, but ...
Competition within a group can be very positive, helping everyone be better at what they do. It can also be horribly destructive.
The gender dynamics enter in right there. On the one hand, there are wonderful examples of "male bonding" where intense competition brings men closer. To the extent that this works, it's a Good Thing.
Unfortunately, the model examples are also used as cover for some really toxic and abusive practices, and the victims are not always women. Long before women even showed up on the field, the same tactics were use for slap-on-the-back-with-a-knife jockeying in all-male environments (for examples read any number of 19th century British accounts of life in public schools.)
The abusers use the good examples for cover, which discredits the potential good. I could speculate that this is the more common perspective for women, but really don't have any basis for saying so.

• Dave says:

It's OK , anon, I am used to my role here in this thread and comfortable with it. But your populist approach still doesn't conceal the fact that you failed to answer my questions or address in a sex-specific way the sex-specific problem that is the topic of DM's original blog entry.
I am all for being nice. I am a nice guy. I work hard on behalf of students, and have been recognized for doing so at the departmental, university, and national levels. I honestly believe at the core of my being that my students' success is my success.
So what? Being nice makes me popular, but isn't the answer to why women (as opposed to men) leave science.
...Unless you think nice environments would preferentially lead to female retention over male retention.
Which makes the logical inverse: Non-nice environments preferentially drive women away.
Is that it?
If so, then I humbly submit again that there really is no leaky pipeline problem. Perhaps, women just have the good sense to stay away from an annoying profession full of jerks.
Let me say this again:
Perhaps women just have the good sense to stay away from an annoying profession full of jerks.
The fact that women do this more than men means: a) that women have more sense than men, or b) that women tend to find the profession more annoying. Whatever. I find lots of professions annoying. I would hate to be one of those sales reps in a department store, for example, getting in people's face when they are trying to buy underwear. I would hate to be an accountant. Or a cook, Or a soldier.
The key thing is: I have the sense to not go into, or stay in, those professions I know I'm not suited for. I was a cook for one month once. I knew enough to quit something I hated. I didn't try to change the restaurant business. As an undergrad, I wanted to go to med school. But I was already up to my neck in loans and had no money for med school, and thought about joining the army to get it paid for. I even took ROTC classes. But I realized the army would never be fore me. I would never be good at following orders or chewing tobacco or doing gung-ho boy pranks. I did NOT join the army and whine about how much I didn't like it and try to convince the officers that I should do whatever I wanted and that camraderie among the boys was not important.
I am the second person in my family to ever have even completed college, and the only one to have ever attended graduate school. There's no way I'm going to say that non-academics or non-scientists are lesser people or deserve any less respect. Which means I don't necessarily consider it a failure to drop out of my career.
Do what you love. If you don't love this scientific career, get out. Don't whine. Find something else you love.
P.S. Hawley's talk at Penn was awesome, becca. Thanks for the link; I plan to share it with students. Let me repeat it here, so others who might have missed it can watch him say in the end what I'm trying to say above: it's all about passion: http://www.hmc.psu.edu/gsa/forum/index.htm

• anon who really needs a better handle says:

Actually, I'm not completely convinced that these phenomena have gender-specific explanatory power. Rather, what I'm trying to do is to distinguish the different phenomena for the purpose of examining them.
FWIW, I find it plausible that #1 might have gender-specific explanatory power, since it relates to how people interact with each other. I am more skeptical on gender-specific explanatory power for #2, and my wariness of that explanation is amplified by the fact that it sounds dangerously close to the old sexist canard of "Don't hire a women, she'll just get pregnant and stop working."

• anon who really needs a better handle says:

Also, I suspect that different mechanisms may have different degrees of explanatory power (gender specific or gender neutral) at different stages in the pipeline. For instance, concerns about work and family probably don't explain why 18 year-old females decide not to major in physics. They might explain why 30 year-old women are less likely to go into tenure-track positions at major research universities.

• DrugMonkey says:

Do what you love. If you don't love this scientific career, get out. Don't whine. Find something else you love.
No sale. Despite having a bit of a point, it only goes so far.
Suppose you are a highly talented, fast, huge, male Gay American who is really, really good at what would be a professional sport. Suppose said sport is notorious for homophobia and you would have to endure a life of secrecy and fakery or else a whirlwind of sheist.
Suppose you, at times past, really really wanted to be in the fire department or police department and had the aptitude and talent to go far. And yet you faced rampant discrimination on the basis of you skin color that meant you couldn't even get in the door or would always be blocked from certain avenues within the profession.
Should you just shrug and say "not for me"? Or should you work to dissociate the necessary hard parts from the unnecessary hard parts of the career path?

• Becca says:

Marriage proposals and offers to join labs? Holy wow, maybe I said something right!
Dave- I didn't entirely misunderstand what you were asking; but I started where I did for two reasons 1) I've thought about how to solve it more from that angle and 2) change begins at home.
That said, there is also utility in top-down measures. I'm definitely not the authority here, but here are some thoughts:
* I think one strength of program grants/collaborative projects is providing a bit of stability for fledgling faculty. There's no reason we couldn't build some requirements for the inclusion of scientists at multiple career stages into these grants (anyone know if they usually work that way? I've only seen a handful up close, and they tended to work that way). The one major disadvantage in facilitating these programs is that all collaborations can be hard. If they go bad, the more junior person in the project grant can be rather screwed. So it might also be time to build some protection into the system (more modular budget control?)
* We need more institutional structures for role transitions. Junior faculty mentoring programs, postdoc organizations, GSAs that actually focus on representing students and pair up students for mentoring or provide support groups- these things are all necessary for filling in gaps in personal mentoring. Formalizing them sufficiently such that they endure without a single motivated person is critical.
* New NIH federal granting agency rule: the overhead institutions can add onto grants is capped, but permitted to top out at a higher level for institutions that provide the following benefits to their staff:
-Onsite childcare
-Family care leave
-High quality (at least what congress gets) healthcare
-Snooze button on tenure clock for family care
* There needs to be an expectation that every graduate student admitted to a program will earn a degree. If we decide we cannot afford to let too many people get their 'union cards', then there must be a well-traveled path to an efficient Master's-and-get-out with job placement assistance for industry, ect. You must track your students and figure out where they go, and if all 12 of the students kicked out of labs in the past year were minority women (true story!), you need to implement some changes.
* I want the denominators (the people who are lost at each stage) posted on institution websites, or no NIH dollars! If places aren't forced to collect these numbers and share them, there can be no rational self-interest based competition for good students, postdocs and scientists.
* Don't admit so many students. You need to have more slots then students- fill in with undergrads when possible, or techs if necessary. This is precisely because of the difficulty in the advisor/apprentice model, it's important to have a little slush room. Rotations are obvious, but bridge funding for graduate students is necessary to make 'divorces' feasible (as well as situations where students quit because of cruel fates of their advisor dying, deciding to go to industry, or getting caught taking pharmaceutical company stocks in exchange for publishing certain 'findings').
* Yes, we need a "broader impacts" like NSF. It's absurd to think that the NIH mission doesn't include the human-resources infrastructure capacity to do biomedical research. The dichotomy between 'training' and 'research' grants might make sense in some cases, but I don't see why we aren't trying to do both the vast majority of the time.
* New INS rule: foreign students/postdocs have at least three months before they are kicked out of the country if they loose their job (ok, so I don't really expect Santa to bring that one in his bag this year...)
* Process and product count. If we only cared about the "best science" and not (at least a little) about how we get there, we can just throw in the public accountability towel and go back to Tuskegee.
Dave- what I see as 'nurturing' requires emphasizing that science is a competition of ideas more than a battle of people. This notion doesn't remove the emotional impact of failure, but (properly applied) it allows failure to be more of a learning experience.
As to why 'nurturing' came up in the context of Women in Science... This may be controversial, but I think that the population of women (on average) are somewhat more attuned to external feedback. We could argue about how it's a career skill to develop a thick skin and a sense of your own intrinsic self-worth (my email sig is "Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained." -Marie Curie ).
However, in the mean time (until we all attain our zen states of self-repleteness), we can learn to give positive and constructive feedback in ways that most facilitate learning. I suspect this may disproportionately have an impact on women, but it's the right thing to do in any event.
P.S- I'm glad you enjoyed Hawley.

• anon says:

And to add to Becca's list, part-time postdoc and tenure positions. More emphasis on quality not quantity pubs.

• whimple says:

Marriage proposals and offers to join labs? Holy wow, maybe I said something right!
Heh heh heh...

• Dave says:

Thanks, becca. I am going to forward your post to our university's WISEST in an effort to find out how much of the stuff you mention (as appropriate) is already instituted at our institution, and for the other stuff, why not. I know that some of the practices you ask for are already the case (stopped tenure clock and leave for family reasons -- for both males and females, BTW, etc.), but at least I'll know. Sometimes, I think, there are actually women and family-friendly policies that can help, but students (and supervisors) just don't know about them.
So you can be happy you're changing the world. We can be hopeful we'll be able to attract better students like you.
..after which we can torture them in our usual misogynistic way, of course 😉

• Dave says:

OK, so I checked in with my vice-chancellor for academic affairs and head of our WISEST. I'll update here if I learn anything. Thanks again, becca.

• S. Rivlin says:

Just wonder; soon we'll witness and feel the failing economy in academic institutions. State universities are already suffering budget cuts that will limit student admissions, teaching jobs and soft money research positions. Will we see a gender bias in the thousands of lost jobs accross the country in the next year? Will the bad economy delay any progress that could be achieved otherwise?

• anon says:

you might also want to check on DrDrA's site for ideas as well Dave.

• anon who really needs a better handle says:

As to why 'nurturing' came up in the context of Women in Science... This may be controversial, but I think that the population of women (on average) are somewhat more attuned to external feedback. We could argue about how it's a career skill to develop a thick skin and a sense of your own intrinsic self-worth (my email sig is "Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained." -Marie Curie ).
Another person who would agree with Curie is Richard Feynman, who wrote a book titled "What do you care what other people think?" Say what you will about Feynman as a womanizer, but when it came to science he was never, ever one to let somebody else's negative feedback get him down. He marched to the beat of his own drummer, he did his own thing, and he learned marvelous things about the natural world. And he never let anybody else stop him from solving a problem that he wanted to solve, because he just didn't give a damn what they thought about him.

• Lora says:

Dave @ 121:
Well, you miss the point. The point is that all that great advice is not working for women and people of color. "Grad school is hard for everyone" and merely telling PIs that they should make a concerted effort to be nice, is not sufficient to succeed at removing institutionalized sexism and racism. That you seem to think it would be, gives the impression that you neither know nor care about the scope of the problem.
Becca has some interesting ideas, I was thinking something much more radical though. Personally I would like to see a graduate program in sciences structured like the graduate programs in medical school and law--coursework combined with a student-run thesis, which could be supervised by the whole committee. So you had communication problems with managing student projects; you couldn't solve them what with modern technology and all? Crikey, I meet with my collaborators several states away all the time, across multiple language barriers. It's not like it's hard to set up a private chat room and shared applications on these newfangled intertube-thingies, you know?
I'd also like to see grants re-structured, so that all research assistant and postdoc-type work would be done by a central pool of talent staffed mainly by technicians and advanced technicians. Sort of similar to how industry gets junior people from contract staffing agencies. That would do a lot to change the pyramid scheme of science as a career, plus it would put economic pressure on PIs to be good PIs to work for--if they had to compete in a realistic sense for staffers, instead of being replete with dozens of applications for a single opening, they might have some incentive to tone down the personality and adopt a modicum of professionalism. This gives junior staff a back door in the event of asshattery, provides full-time employment for science grads with a not-unreasonable career progression, and puts a check on exploitative "training" practices that result in endless postdocs/studentships with no permanent career in sight.
Here's a game: How many jerks does it take to wreck your department?
Ni = N0keat
a = R + G - {S[Pd*N0/P0]}
R = 10(rho) + rp - (rs*rn)
G = gm/g0
N0 = initial number of female and minority trainees in your department
Ni = final number of female and minority students at time t
R = reputation index. (rho) = # Nobel laureates in your department, rp = # CNS pubs, rs = number of people an ex-scientist tells, "don't go there", rn = number of people the ex-scientist is networked to
G = Grant index, gm = your grant total
Ni must == 0.22.

• meh says:

If you need a reminder of where the problem's at for professional women, just click on this:
"Obama speechwriter photographed groping Hillary Clinton likeness"
http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/washington/2008/12/obama-favreau.html
If you think this environment doesn't also prevail in science, you're dead wrong.

• daedalus2u says:

Getting rid of the ability of PIs to exploit grad students and post docs would be a gigantic step forward.
The first thing to do is to measure the amount of exploitation. Becca has a number of good metrics. Exploitation index above a certain level; not eligible for government funding. PIs should not be rewarded for exploiting anyone, even themselves.
We all know what exploitation is, uncompensated work, inability to spend time with friends and family, too much work, too much stress, bad working conditions, bad compensation, bad health care, hostile work environment, unsafe working conditions, no potential for advancement, career development and growth, not getting credit where due.
It doesn't take exploitation to do science. It doesn't take exploitation to be "competitive", unless exploitation is tolerable. If exploitation is tolerable, then [sarcasm] lets outsource all research to someplace like Somalia, where there are no laws and underlings can be worked to death. Think how "competitive" a PI can be if he/she can chain the post docs to their lab benches and only feed them if they are productive. Or use whips if they are not fast enough. [/sarcasm].

• whimple says:

lets outsource all research to someplace like Somalia, where there are no laws and underlings can be worked to death
Actually, it's much simpler to insource these underlings from Somalia, although as a practical matter we usually go with China and India.

• leigh says:

on exploitation: inability to spend time with friends and family, too much work, too much stress, bad working conditions, bad compensation, bad health care
but these things are also inherent to graduate school... and incentives to get the fuck out. how do we reconcile that?
i know far too many people who would be perfectly content to delay entry to the real world if grad school paid well and had good benefits. (and this is at a big name uni where students are supposedly hardcore and driven, the cream of the crop.) that's not healthy either.

• Eppendork says:

hehehehe 147 skreechy monkeys - mwahahahaha! (Seasame street styles)

• Lora says:

Damn, I forgot to define S. Sorry!
S = si/sy
S = Naivete index, si = # of times trainee has thought, "it won't happen to me, I am special" sy = # of years of post-baccalaureate work experience

• MarkusR says:

I'm in an Engineering program, and in our student council there wasn't a single woman. It was something I noticed after about 5 minutes after getting the invite, and looking over the names to see if I knew any of the other people.
I was invited to it, but I'm not sure if it was just because I've had some pretty good GPA semesters in a row.
I know this isn't as high-brow as the meeting in the blog posting, just an observation. Especially since engineering appears more gender biased than sciences.

• Dave says:

Followup on my #138...
becca's list now seems to be flowing throughout the administration of my university (which has one of the largest medical schools in the country, a very large biomedical research program, and has a 'diversity index' in the top 5 for research I schools -- so it's a big deal).
But here is the info I got from the vice-chancellor last night & this morning...
-Our faculty Handbook has an appendix that contains all of our life/work-family policies. I didn't know this. I've never read the thing.
-becca's list and my email have been forwarded to the assistant vice-chancellor and faculty affairs coordinator in charge of revising the handbook and organizing the policies therein.
-Our local WISEST coordinator is going to put all these policies in a pamphlet, to be distributed to potential students and women faculty.
I'll be updated, and haven't had a chance to personally compare becca's list to our official policies. I assume administrative people are doing that, and as PI one thing I've learned to embrace is delegation (informally known as 'trick people into doing stuff for you').
Of course, I recognize that 'policies' don't change entrenched misogyny or a tradition of heartless competition. But maybe, just maybe, a woman destined for success but on the verge of giving up will be able to take advantage of a certain policy, or at least take heart that the policies are there in case she needs them.
.
.
.
[Off-topic editorial]
OK, at this point I am sure someone out there wants to write that I am still an ass and that I shouldn't be too proud of myself, that there's no absolution for my attitude or some of the things I've said here.
To that, I would like to say: OK, so I'm not necessarily proud of myself. But I'm unrepentant. I think we did some good here, thanks to some great opinions and input. I certainly learned something.

• daedalus2u says:

Leigh, I know you don't mean it this way, but one interpretation of what you are saying that some people need to to be exploited for their own good.

• drdrA says:

Dave-
You are a perfect example of what I have posted about before- when I said that potential allies (to women in science) may not see the problem, may not know what to do about the problem...thus and may not be able to act to fix the problem.
I know that you are only human and people make mistakes- I make a ton of them, every.single.day. But- I appreciate the way you stayed with this discussion regardless of how ugly or personal it sometimes was from all directions (including mine and yours), listened and took to heart the various points of view in this discussion, and then ACTED in a positive way to change things at your institution.
Honestly, I'd 1000x rather have you do that listening and then taking action - than I would have you grovel and apologize.

• DrugMonkey says:

What drdrA said.
There were a couple of times when I felt like jumping in here in Dave's defense but he seemed to be handling the heat admirably. Admirably.
Beyond real life actions, this is an object lesson in the usual online warfare interesting discussion when it comes to "alienating allies". The typical online discussant in Dave's apparent position of well-intentioned guy who manages to step in it becomes rather... entrenched in face of the sort of fire Dave has been taking. Dave's response was, to my eye, appropriate and productive.
Major props to drdrA for eye-on-the-prize de-flaming and discussion moving.
And a big hat off to becca not just for her insight but for skillful direction of the conversation whilst maintaining her typically entertaining banter.

• Dave says:

"I know that you are only human and ..."
---------
Wait, why do you assume I'm human? Do you have something against other species? I am tired of hearing women whine all the time about their leaky pipeline. But really, how many non humans do you know in tenure-track positions?
We're not just 'research animals', you know.

• Dave says:

Yea, I know. I'm incorrigible. Seriously: Thanks for the wise and kind words, drdrA, and the advice & suggestions becca, and clarifications DC and DM, and constructive feedback & discussion from everyone else.
In the spirit of the impending holidays, I'm even going to say I like PhysioMonkey and his cleverly spicy vocabulary.

• daedalus2u says:

Following up on my earlier comment on an "exploitation index"; if there was a such a metric, along the lines of the infamous citation index, authors of papers could list the exploitation index next to their institution in their publications. Just as all (good) journals require researchers to not exploit human subjects by conforming to the Declaration of Helsinki as a condition of publication, so too could good journals (eventually) require an exploitation index below a certain level.
Even if the exploitation index was purely voluntary, if you are a PI and you have a good one, you would put it in. If you are an exploited underling, and have a bad one, you would put it in too. If the PI refused to allow co-authors to list their exploitation indices, the journal could make note of that.
Once enough journals, authors and labs started doing it, it might be possible to evaluate different fields and see where the real problems lie, are they institution based, field based, PI based, funding agency based. Then you would be able to cross correlate citation index with exploitation index and see if exploitation really does help a field or hurt it. My intuition tells me that it hurts it by wasting the scientific talent of the underlings and driving the most frustrated and exploited out of the field.
I think the exploitation index would be a good metric on which to make a final decision between research proposals that are otherwise equivalent. If we are going to fund science that is equally good, better to fund the science in a lab where the underlings are not exploited.
becca, I would be happy to work with you to figure something like this out.

• drdrA says:

Drugmonkey- Once again, you are very kind to me. I appreciate your taking on this topic, and I have been trying to quietly learn a few things from you about participating/managing discussion on blog and otherwise. 🙂

• anonymous postdoc says:

re: # 150
I think that it is great to get this kind of stuff sent out to the female faculty and students. But, I think that that is also part of the root of the problem... only when BOTH men and women are encouraged to balance family and work will anything change. Women need their partners to be able to take time off to care for a newborn if they have something critical at work- they don't just need to delay their own tenure clocks. There is this inherent idea that we need to allow women to have more flexibility raise families so they can do all that work at home and then continue to do all their science, which is great. But what about giving the men the flexibility to be able to give them a hand!

• Becca says:

For the sake of marketing, I would take this "exploitation index" and call it a "broader impact index" where (like a "citation index") a bigger number is a good thing; reflecting that a PI/graduate program/institution is promoting the progress of science by building human resources. Otherwise it becomes a selling point to say "I don't exploit much!" (although, that is funnier).
I'm not reinventing the wheel here; I'm shamelessly stealing from NSF, who I probably wouldn't even know about had it not been for this conversation and checking out Odyssey's link and finding http://ponderingblather.blogspot.com/2008/12/so-you-want-piece-of-nsf-pie-broader.html.
Confidential to daedalus2u- your blog is trippy yet awesome; you've got my contact, but I'm kind of a fan of wiki-style collaborative writing, so as long as DM doesn't begrudge the comment space discussing things here is good too.
DM- Thankeesir. *bows elegantly*
Confidential to Odyssey & drdrA- I'm assuming the lab offers are on par with the marriage proposals, but if either of you is remotely serious let me know. Right now I'm really into malaria/TB/HIV, autophagy and innate immunity and epigenetics... but for postdocing I'll be looking for a mentor first, a project second (I have to fight the dilettante urge as far as my scientific interests go, but it makes me open-minded about opportunities to consider).
Confidential to just Odyssey- if you didn't check out Hawley, some of the stuff he says about being NSF funded at a medical center might amuse you (but it is a long vid).
Dave- I'm kind of amazed. My pessimistic side wants to say "and thus, one soul was saved, but the document entered the bureauacracy, never to be seen again!". But I'll still count this as a win! It's already way more than I expected to come out of this.

• Dave says:

"There is this inherent idea that we need to allow women to have more flexibility raise families so they can do all that work at home and then continue to do all their science, which is great. But what about giving the men the flexibility to be able to give them a hand!"
----------
According to our university faculty handbook (which as I said above I've only just become familiar with, though for all I know it was handed to me sometime when I started), family leave and tenure rollback are available regardless of whether the applicant is mother, father, or same-sex domestic partner.
But how does one compensate a frustrated pre-tenure PI watching his grant money and lab productivity piffle away while a parent is at home nursing a kid? And how does one keep a grant review committee from penalizing a new parent for apparent lack of productivity? University policies alone can't solve all the barriers to a successful work/family balance.

• DrugMonkey says:

And how does one keep a grant review committee from penalizing a new parent for apparent lack of productivity?
I do have a note on this. It is not a panacea and may be very selective to a specific set of circumstances (study section, specific reviewers). I have seen, occasionally, and applicant respond to grant critique by referring to child birthing. In at least one case that I recall this came up during discussion and there were what seemed to me to be understanding nods around the table. For damn sure if I happened to be the one defending such a grant I would describe this as "appropriate justification". Remember, what one is supposed to be using prior performance metrics for is a predictor of performance in the future on the grant under discussion. It is not supposed to be some sort of punitive evaluation. So if a woman or man has gone through a slow patch and says "Yes, I happened to have two newborns during this 5 yr interval" well, this is relevant.
It is very hard to work this into an original submission, of course and you just have to wait to use it in revision, if the productivity question arises...

• Odyssey says:

It is very hard to work this into an original submission, of course and you just have to wait to use it in revision, if the productivity question arises...
In the renewal of an NSF grant you basically have to address your own productivity. I don't see why you shouldn't be up front about this. "Despite having a set of triplets followed by quadruplets in the prior funding period, I managed to publish three full articles in the Journal of Really Exhausted PI's..."
Becca, I'll check out Hawley's video. And are you interested in making the leap to molecular biophysics? 🙂

• It's a motherfucking care bears tea party and Dave's the guest of honor! Enjoying those cookies, dude?

• Muse142 says:

Amen, PP.

• S. Rivlin says:

It's a motherfucking care bears tea party and Dave's the guest of honor! Enjoying those cookies, dude?
Another great contribution to the discussion!

• Dave says:

becca said:"...but for postdocing I'll be looking for a mentor first, a project second...
---
This is completely off-topic, and you clearly said it was confidential to people different than me, but my advice is to pick a project first, mentor second.
In your postdoc, you are basically laying the groundwork for your first grant proposal and building the argument for why you need a faculty position (which is sort of like getting a grant, even more explicitly so in Europe). So whatever you do as a postdoc is generally what you will most likely be doing as a new PI and perhaps for the rest of your life. You're not going to get a first grant or faculty position proposing to do something completely different than what you've done as a postdoc.
So my advice is to think carefully first about what sort of problem(s) you want to solve as a scientist. The appropriate mentor is then whomever will best help you do that.

• This is completely off-topic, and you clearly said it was confidential to people different than me, but my advice is to pick a project first, mentor second.

This is completely absurd. The details of the post-doc project as conceived of from the perspective of before the post-doc has begun is vastly less important than whether the mentor is both a creative scientist and a good mentor.

• leigh says:

Leigh, I know you don't mean it this way, but one interpretation of what you are saying that some people need to to be exploited for their own good.
i'm getting off topic here, but-
note i only included a few items from that list that could be considered the generalities of grad school. i didn't include specifics- really important stuff like credit where due, a nontoxic workplace, etc. grad school is not fully exploitative. i'm fully of the opinion it's not the worst thing ever:
http://lalaleigha.wordpress.com/2008/11/23/lets-get-one-thing-straight-shall-we/

• Dr. Isis says:

There were a couple of times when I felt like jumping in here in Dave's defense but he seemed to be handling the heat admirably. Admirably.
Beyond real life actions, this is an object lesson in the usual online warfare interesting discussion when it comes to "alienating allies". The typical online discussant in Dave's apparent position of well-intentioned guy who manages to step in it becomes rather... entrenched in face of the sort of fire Dave has been taking. Dave's response was, to my eye, appropriate and productive.

This from you, DrugMonkey, saddens me.
How very admirable of Dave to stay in the discussion in spite of the unsubstantiated attacks on him from a few whiny shews. He acted with nothing but dignity and grace in the face of unjustified flaming. I, personally, am thankful to have men like Dave, true advocates for the advancement of women, in science.

• DrugMonkey says:

It is true that Dave said some trollish and dickish* things for which he rightfully took shots. He also exhibited some atypical behavior for the category in which you and CPP are determined to leave him, Isis. I am not so certain as you which makes me look to the upside rather than determining if a given web persona is an asshat or not. Time will tell. An inability to let this one go or to make the argument more general and less personal is getting a bit churlish in my view.
Oh and PP? Let us all beware of our cookie seeking, eh?
*and I think we all recognize my blindspot onthat

• phagenista says:

Dave said: This is completely off-topic, and you clearly said it was confidential to people different than me, but my advice is to pick a project first, mentor second.
CPP said: This is completely absurd. The details of the post-doc project as conceived of from the perspective of before the post-doc has begun is vastly less important than whether the mentor is both a creative scientist and a good mentor.
Becca: If you can find a good fit with a good mentor, then go to s/he and the project(s) will follow. Also, consider applying for postdoctoral fellowships so you'll have your own money, and you'll have a greater ability to steer your projects.
It's worth thinking about what skills you want to leave your postdoc with. Do you need practice writing, and writing grants under a gifted editor's eye? (hmmm your writing seems like it's in good shape already...) Is it more important to publish some papers that show you can do coolnewtechnique and set yourself up for the first grant proposal? Are you more concerned with figuring out how to manage your own lab, how to manage personality conflicts in a successful lab group? Do you want a mentor whom you can learn from by watching their example, or who teaches in more concrete ways? No mentor is good for everyone, and many advisors are poor mentors to most of their trainees.
As near as I can tell, people get out of a postdoc what they selected the postdoc for, but often not much more. If they wanted lots of papers, but hadn't considered mentoring very important, they leave with a long CV and some unhappy memories of the time spent in the lab. If they wanted the recommendation letter from the BigName, PI but didn't think about how much of their work they'd be able to take with them post-postdoc, they got a job, but are now competing with their much more qualified, old mentor. If they wanted a good relationship with their advisor more than particular metrics of career advancement, they took more than a couple years to get their first paper out.

• Becca says:

CPP- the whole point of a motherfucking care bear teaparty is that everybody gets motherfucking cookies. Cause we all need cookies, not cause we all deserve them.
(NB: the definitive internet work on cookies is located at http://www.phdcomics.com/proceedings/viewtopic.php?t=9169&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=15&sid=4a7c47bd862ac3f69e9764b778d92fd8 )
Odyssey- Molecular biophysics taught me that I can learn anything I set my mind to... but it might take a while. I had an abusive relationship with electrophysiology of Plasmodium ion channels. Or possibly just a dysfunctional relationship with ex-advisor. I'd need to look before leaping in the direction of biophysics (not that there isn't some Totally Hott Research there...).
Dave- see above. Research is hard (if it's not, you probably aren't being as original as you could be). When you have an exploitive PI, or are in an institution filled with sexist jerks, or if you're just trying to communicate with someone with whom the fit is really bad (ex-advisor), things get even harder. It's a source of frustration I'll try to avoid. That said, I've definitely heard the advice "choose based on the science" and "choose based on mentor". Of course, if wishes were horses we'd all be in labs with AwesomeMentor doing AwesomeScience all the time. In reality, looking for one aspect first has advantages. Hmmmmm...there's probably an awesome blogpost there somewhere *hint hint*. Then again, looks like phagenista just covered some of it.
"Dave's response was became, to my eye, comparatively appropriate and productive."
Fixed that for you, DM.
*extra delicious cookies to the beloved Dr. Isis* (I didn't mean to encourage any of the yucky stuff toward you; I'm sorry for any role I played in that.)

• pinus says:

"consider applying for postdoctoral fellowships so you'll have your own money, and you'll have a greater ability to steer your projects."
I wonder how many PIs agree with this statement.

• Dave says:

AwesomeMentor doing AwesomeScience
-------
They can be found. See the post by S. Rivlin to the article in The Scientist. Don't settle.

• drdrA says:

'Confidential to Odyssey & drdrA- I'm assuming the lab offers are on par with the marriage proposals, but if either of you is remotely serious let me know.'

• "consider applying for postdoctoral fellowships so you'll have your own money, and you'll have a greater ability to steer your projects."
I wonder how many PIs agree with this statement.

(1) I encourage all of my trainees to apply for whatever fellowships they are eligible for.
(2) Those of my trainees who have their own fellowships have much greater leeway in choosing their research directions.

• Dave says:

I meant: see the post by S. Rivlin with links to the article in the scientist.
I have this tradition where I watch My Name is Earl and drink strong margaritas. I get all sappy but can't always type well.
The important part is: Don't settle. You've demonstrated incredible cluefullness (that's the opposite of cluelessness) here, becca. After a couple years, Profs learn to spot good students really fast. You should be able to do very well and deserve to aim high. I don't know Odyssey or drdrA, and they may be great. But you don't need to settle for anonymous internet offers. So my advice is to contact them, but make sure YOU are in the driver's seat. Decide what you want to accomplish, and then find people who can help. If your interests and their interests align, everyone will be happy. Once you are doing something you love (first priority) with someone extremely helpful and supportive (second priority), then being from a big-name institution and/or big-name lab DOES matter. I hate it too, but that's the way it is. It's OK to use your PI's reputation to open doors. But remember it won't get you the whole way. You still gotta produce. Postdoc is all about being selfish, publishing like crazy, and grwing to the point where your ambition exceeds your ability to do things yourself. At which time you get a lab to help.
That was a really good margarita.... I shuld have another. Anyway, I think that's all my advice on postdocing.

• drdrA says:

Dave- That's pretty much what I would have told her off blog- with some minor modifications- and off blog just because I'm tiring of keeping up with the 177 long comment thread. Despite my selfish interest in attracting someone who is obviously very bright to my group- the choice of post doc lab shouldn't be made lightly or take the first available easy option.
Maybe someone needs to write a 'how to decide on a postdoc position' post. Then we can start the whole flaming thing all over again from zero.

• anon says:

Hear hear for the how to decide on a postdoc position post.
Which might hopefully include the best way to go about changing the direction of your research eg from PhD to postdoc: one of the requirements for assessment of postdoc applications where I live is that the applicant shows a pub record that has a "good fit" with the proposed research - they don't seem very keen on breaking new ground, or trusting that you might be able to. . . so if your PhD research ain't what you want to do for the rest of your scientific career, you are in a bit of a hole really.

• Maybe someone needs to write a 'how to decide on a postdoc position' post.

On it!!!!
Start here, and I'll post something soon:
http://scientopia.org/blogs/drugmonkey/2008/04/physioprof-is-seriously-pissed-off

• anon says:

awesome. Looking forward to it PP

• whimple says:

becca sucks as a student. she wastes way too much on the internet.

• Becca says:

drdrA- I admit, I am partial to the idea of joining the lab of a mentor who thinks I'm "very bright". It's a weakness. Actually, I've never thought of it this way, but that may be what made it all the more soul-crushing when things don't go smoothly.
Let this be a lesson: imposter syndrome that kicks in with lack of external (other-person) praise + identity tied up with "being smart" + sufficient failure that any positive feedback is denyed = desperately unhappy student.
Anyway, I wasn't sure about responding seriously. I was worried; did it make me seem conceited to assume people could actually want to hire me after just reading my totally non-scientific writing?; wasn't it obvious neither of you was serious given the context? isn't whimple right?...but I figured I'd follow up on the off chance one of you was researching something I'm already terribly passionate about. It's one thing to not take the first offer you get*, another to Deny Fate.
🙂
*which, incidently, they aren't (again kicking myself for sounding conceited). Which actually brings me to a better question. If I come up and ask some questions after a seminar and get to chatting about what I've been working on, if that person then proceeds to tell me to look them up when I'm looking for a postdoc, how do I know how serious they are? I seriously feel like one of those awful "Ack! A member of the gender I'm attracted to!" geeks who never learned how to figure out if someone's really interested in them or is just being friendly.
CPP- WOOO! Rockin'awesome.

• Dave says:

"...so if your PhD research ain't what you want to do for the rest of your scientific career, you are in a bit of a hole really."
I have to disagree with this. I think PhD time is all about learning to think like a good scientist and trying out lots of techniques, so that when you have a good idea of what you like when it comes time to find a postdoc and begin to settle down on one thing for the long haul. Because the next opportunity to really change direction is a decade later when your lab is finally humming along, probably after tenure.
Your postdoc is where you set the trajectory for your career. Your PhD is all about training and then getting a good postdoc. And having fun. Honestly, if you're not having fun as a grad student, then something is wrong.
"if that person then proceeds to tell me to look them up when I'm looking for a postdoc, how do I know how serious they are? "
People say this all the time. But they're serious. If you're interested, definitely don't be afraid to look them up. There is a psychological trait called 'confirmation bias' which in this case is working in your favor. If a PI has already decided through some interaction that you'll be a good postdoc, then he/she will find excuses to confirm that bias despite evidence to the contrary. Which means you're golden. Take advantage of it.

• who are you dave? says:

holy crap, there are a lot of comments for this post.

• Way too many. Hopefully, DrugMonkey will soon post something interesting that will redirect our attention. Otherwise, in the mean time, I fear I will have to check out some internet porn.

• Cherish says:

DM, I have to say that I'm a bit disappointed with your response to Dave. The feeling I got was the whole, "Oh, he's says awful things, but in the end he did something good (tm), so his heart's in the right place and all is forgiven."
This sort of response is endemic to the problem. Maybe he did do something good, but, on the whole. However, that doesn't excuse the fact that he made some strongly sexist comments, and doing one good thing doesn't mean someone is not sexist. And so often that one good thing can turn into stupid comments like, "But I can't be sexist because I did so-and-so" or helped so-and-so or has women friends, etc. And worse yet, it allows the person to continue to delude themselves that they are not sexist because that one good thing seems to make up for all the wrong things they did. There are no consequences because they can always make up for it with some gesture and be let off the hook.

• DrugMonkey says:

Cherish, I have not suggested all should be forgiven. Nor have I defended any of the dickweed comments made by Dave. Neither have I come to any strong conclusions regarding Dave's nature and purpose here. I consider the evidence to be mixed. Consequently, now that the assclown remarks have been addressed it is not necessary or strongly indicated to pursue the the line of personal attack.
Whether we are dealing with obnoxiousness and ignorance (for which I see evidence) or evil trollishness it is still worth pointing out the difference between this behavior and the typical alienated-ally schtick.perhaps it is merely a new variant, I don't know. For now, it strikes me as an improvement.

• D. C. Sessions says:

becca:

If I come up and ask some questions after a seminar and get to chatting about what I've been working on, if that person then proceeds to tell me to look them up when I'm looking for a postdoc, how do I know how serious they are?

Well, I'm in a totally different field (industry, senior engineer with hiring authority) but the dynamics of "look me up" in my case are:
1) I don't say it if I'm not hiring.
2) My time is worth more to me than yours is. I'm offering to spend it on you. Take a hint.
3) I've already invested time in you and still think it's worth investing more. Considering that I've just offered to jump you past the first three steps in the hiring process (which are designed to keep you from wasting my time) this should tell you something.
Of course, if you don't take me up on the offer, it is indeed like one of those high-school standing-by-the-phone-but-never-calling dramas. You'll never know, will you?

• Yagotta B. Kidding says:

Maybe he did do something good, but, on the whole. However, that doesn't excuse the fact that he made some strongly sexist comments, and doing one good thing doesn't mean someone is not sexist.

Sexism is like virginity in reverse: once you do something sexist, you're a irredeemable sexist for life and there's not a damn thing you can do to ever be a worthwhile human being. Suicide is the best solution.

• I think that the reason some women are disturbed by what is going on here is that they might have considered this blog to be a space with zero tolerance for misogyny, not a misogynist encounter group/recovery session. What was intended to be a discussion of gender issues in science has been diverted into being all about the magical awakening of some random misogynist scumbag who materialized out of nowhere to tell women what to do. This shit is completely typical same-old-same-old, and deserves only the same-old-same-old response.

• D. C. Sessions says:

This shit is completely typical same-old-same-old, and deserves only the same-old-same-old response.

Chalk up another vote for the status quo ante.

• S. Rivlin says:

There will always be those who support the death penalty. They are, of course, perfect and thus have no problem throwing the first stone.

• whimple says:

Meetings with federal supplemental funding typically need to show evidence of women and underrepresented minority representation. Which is why a few prominent people with mediocre science get talks at every meeting I go to.
Not to get all on-topic or anything, but to me, this reads like a complaint about affirmative action. Now that you're all reformed and rehabilitated and everything, are you now in favor of demographics-based quotas at scientific meetings?

• Cherish says:

Sexism is like virginity in reverse: once you do something sexist, you're a irredeemable sexist for life and there's not a damn thing you can do to ever be a worthwhile human being. Suicide is the best solution.
If you think so, but what I was hoping for, and what I got, was DM's condemnation of Dave's overall behavior. I didn't get that before, and I thought it was just too convenient that all be forgiven. Most places, I wouldn't have been surprised, but part of the reason I enjoy reading this blog so much is because the authors are generally sensitive to women's issues. I wanted to make sure that DM wasn't letting Dave off the hook (as I have seen happen in real life far too many times for far worse transgressions).
What would be better is if Dave honestly admitted his behavior was wrong and apologized. Dave said a lot of things that were quite sexist, and he has neither apologized in sincerity for them nor been held accountable (which are, by societies standards, the way that one redeems themselves...although accountability is the preferable route). I'm guessing Dave still thinks he did nothing wrong, and therein lies the problem. If he did nothing wrong and has convinced himself he's not sexist because of his One Good Thing (tm), then he will probably keep doing those same things and still believe that he is not sexist.
So you may be right that someone will be condemned for being sexist for the rest of their life because, when it comes down to it, they'll probably keep repeating the same behavior until they decide their behavior is wrong. A good way to redeem oneself is to openly admit the behavior was wrong. I haven't seen it yet (with any sincerity) on Dave's part...most likely because he feels justified in what he said.

• DrugMonkey says:

What was intended to be a discussion of gender issues in science has been diverted into being all about the magical awakening of some random misogynist scumbag who materialized out of nowhere to tell women what to do.
I would suggest that part of making this "all" about one guy instead of the many issues of substance that actually were raised is attributable (again, in part) to an insistence by some parties that we concentrate on talking about what a weebag Dave is being.
I'm guessing Dave still thinks he did nothing wrong, and therein lies the problem. If he did nothing wrong and has convinced himself he's not sexist because of his One Good Thing (tm), then he will probably keep doing those same things and still believe that he is not sexist.
No offense but if Dave is intractable, we are not going to argue or shame him into a revelation here. leading horses to water and all that. the purpose then inevitably shifts to serving an obvious example to others. I think the thread has done that by exploring just why the dickwad statements were in fact objectionable.

• Odyssey says:

Becca wrote:
wasn't it obvious neither of you was serious given the context?
I was semi-serious-ish-ish, and do have a potential opening. And I don't work on electrophysiology. Wouldn't touch it with a ten foot barge pole. It's for far smarter people than me.
And DCS #189 absolutely nailed it. There has been some talk on other blogs I read about the luck involved in landing a TT position (of which the right postdoc position(s) are a crucial step). There's not really that much luck involved. It's a matter of being ready and willing to respond to opportunities when they arise. And being able to recognize them in the first place.
Having said all that, when looking for a postdoc position the area of research is very important (as is the mentoring aspect of course). If you don't love the area then you'll screw yourself royally in terms of your future. I'm looking forward to CPP's post on this subject. Based on previous writings it's clear he has thought deeply about these things.
Becca, sometime in the next couple of days I'll add an email address to my blog. If you're interested in continuing the discussion send a few electrons my way.

• Cherish says:

No offense but if Dave is intractable, we are not going to argue or shame him into a revelation here.
Agreed. I was merely pointing out to the poster above that if someone said something sexist and then is "branded" for the rest of their life, it may be self-induced. I'm not expecting him to change (although it would be nice), but I'm not going to say he's no longer sexist because someone convinced that maybe there are some things to be done (aside from getting rid of sexist jerks) to improve the lot of women (and hopefully everyone else) in science.

• drdrA says:

Becca-
There is a contact email address on my blog, feel free to send me an email.

• S. Rivlin says:

DM will probably mark this post as the one attracting the most traffic of all the posts he has ever produced on this blog.
With all the interest in the topic, I believe that if not for Dave's comments, early, medium and late, the traffic would be much lighter. Clearly, significant number of commenters have used the opportunity presented by Dave to place themselve on the right side and to make sure that everyone notices that. Many accused, judged and executed Dave on his initial comments. In this court there were no mitigating factors. The crimes were inexcuseable; "Dave was beyond rehabilitation" said his judges, probably PIs, mentors and teachers. People who are filling one position or another where they functioning as present or future educators of those who otherwise will become the new generation of the banner carriers of sexism. These very educators are strongly arguing that once you are infected with the disease, there is no way you can be cured yet, they will flaunt their own virtue and lecture to all of us how to get rid of the plague - you must be born with the defenses, with the immunity to sexism.
I wonder how many men among those 'holy than thou' bullshitters are the ones who look at the woman candidate or the woman gradstudent or the woman fellow participant in a scientific conference without noticing that she is a woman? How many PPs, CPPs etc, ignore their biochemistry, endocrinology and physiology when fronting their womam colleague scientist? And if one notices the fact that the scientist in front of him is a woman, does that means that one is sexist? Or is it OK to notice as long as one knows how to separate natural flexes and reflexes from one's judgement about and respect for the professional woman in front of him?

• S. Rivlin says:

And, of coure, is there really no hope for the "sinners"?

• D. C. Sessions says:

Having said all that, when looking for a postdoc position the area of research is very important (as is the mentoring aspect of course). If you don't love the area then you'll screw yourself royally in terms of your future. I'm looking forward to CPP's post on this subject. Based on previous writings it's clear he has thought deeply about these things.

What Odyssey wrote.
Remember, the path of least resistance is generally downhill.

• Yagotta B. Kidding says:

These very educators are strongly arguing that once you are infected with the disease, there is no way you can be cured yet, they will flaunt their own virtue and lecture to all of us how to get rid of the plague - you must be born with the defenses, with the immunity to sexism.

And, of coure, is there really no hope for the "sinners"?

Welcome to the Land of the Protestant Ethic. You are predestined to be either of the Elect or of the Damned, and you don't get a vote. Which raises the question of why the Pilgrims were so Hell-bent on parading the Fallen as examples to the rest of the community? It's not like the example, good or bad, would alter anyone's eternal fate or (prosperity being the mark of the Chosen) mortal destiny.
Well, there is the minor matter that seeing the mortal degradation of the damned was rather comforting to their betters ...

• Dave says:

I said: "Meetings with federal supplemental funding typically need to show evidence of women and underrepresented minority representation. Which is why a few prominent people with mediocre science get talks at every meeting I go to."
..and started a firestorm.
Much much later, whimple in #194 asked: "Not to get all on-topic or anything, but to me, this reads like a complaint about affirmative action. Now that you're all reformed and rehabilitated and everything, are you now in favor of demographics-based quotas at scientific meetings?"
My answer is: Yes, I am in favor of affirmative action. I said so way way back in #26:
"I too have seen many great talks by women, but there are no doubt lots of great women speakers I don't know of. I think seeing great talks by people similar to oneself is inspiring, and having more great talks by women and minorities can do a lot to encourage people who might otherwise feel a sociological headwind to keep going. Note that I never said I disagreed with the policies of the funding agencies [which encourage meeting organizers to go out of their way to get women speakers]. Those rules force people to do exactly what drda suggests in #22. I DO find it disappointing that I MAY have had to sit through a boring talk simply because the meeting organizers needed to fill some affirmative action requirement."
People were too busy disemboweling me at the time to pay attention, or perhaps I was not clear enough, or perhaps my last sentence got everyone spiraling further into a tizzie. I don't know. But since you've asked, whimple, let me clarify:
It annoys me when meeting organizers select bad speakers. Period. I understand why organizers might select bad speakers, but I don't care why the organizers selected the bad speakers. I don't care if the organizers and old speakers are drinking buddies. I don't care if the bad speakers are potential reviewers of the organizer's grants. I don't care if the bad speakers were the organizers of the last meeting and asked for a slot. And I don't care if the organizers selected the bad speaker because they were trying to fulfill some affirmative action requirement. I don't care. All I know is it annoys me to fly halfway across the country and pay hundreds of dollars in registration and hotel costs and crap to sit and hear some lame-ass speaker drone on about some probable artifact or bit of incrementory minutia.
As others (and I) have pointed out, there are plenty of great women speakers doing awesome science. There is no excuse to select bad ones. For any reason. Many of these inspiring women are even fun and flirty, which is a gender non-specific attribute I personally happen to value in people I hang out with. When possible, as meeting organizer, I would always try to invite great speakers doing great science who are also fun to have around in the parts of the meeting without talks. REGARDLESS OF GENDER. Why would anyone want to do otherwise? Meeting organizers have an obligation to make sure the audience is entertained and informed by the talks. If DM hadn't been so damn bored at the meeting he was at, he wouldn't have been sitting there staring at and counting women.

• PGIV says:

This whole thread was totally weird. DM was simply pointing out that there was a noticeable lack of women speakers at a conference. Then Dave said (among other things) that "there's no excuse to select bad ones." The actual number of women speakers at a conference is an objective measure. Who is a "bad one," is entirely subjective. Could it be that someone in the audience actually LIKED some of the women speakers who you thought were mediocre? And I don't mean liked as in they were "fun and flirty" but more like "thought-provoking" and "furthering discussion." You don't have to answer, it is a rhetorical question...

• Dude, I think you are missing a very important point here. No one gives a flying fuck whether you're earnest, joking, learning, growing, spurring discussion, or whathefuckever. The problem is that your long-winded masturbatory gibbering, which seems to always end with some kind of exhortation to people that they are doing whatever it is that they are doing wrong, is WASTING OTHER PEOPLE'S VALUABLE TIME.
No one wants to show up at what should be an interesting discussion and have to wade through thousands of words of your inane pedantic fuckwittitude. Get your own motherfucking blog and knock yourself out. But stop acting like such a motherfucking asshole in other people's spaces.

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