ScienceWoman has posted an excellent account of the life of a field-working scientist who happens to be a mother.
It's damn hard physical work going out to field sites, lugging big packs, equipment, and samples around for days on end. Just because I'm built with a smaller frame than some of my male geology friends hasn't made the rocks any lighter to carry out of the wildreness. In fact, as I discovered on one backpacking trip, spending money on ultralight camping gear to lighten my load, I simply ended up with more rocks in my pack, because I had the space.
She's posted before about taking Minnow into the field. I am having trouble wrapping my head around how difficult that is and finding sufficient superlatives to describe how kick ass SciWo is. I'm doing the not-worthy in your direction, my friend.
I should be doing the not-worthy in the direction of women in my own field(s) as well...
It is a bit unfortunate that ScienceWoman's post was sparked by a now familiar bit of writing at Greg Laden's blog on a paleoarcheologist he was trying to laud. Unfortunate because in his lovable way Greg managed to spend most of the original version of his post (it seems to have been updated significantly) talking about spousal interactions and relationships in science careers, waylay himself with some bizarre comments about "labrats" and undercut his eventual message about the talents and accomplishments of the woman he was trying to bring to our attention.
Nevertheless, being all about lemonade as I am, I note that the interesting thing here is the universality, rather than the specificity, of the experience. And here I am going to latch onto the idea of how spouses who work in closely-related fields are perceived.
In my fields of interest, there are a fair number of PI-level women scientists ranging from the ones nearing retirement to the ones who have just succeeded in landing their first appointment. What I find most fascinating is that for the most senior ones, I became familiar with their body of scientific work long before I had any information about their career arc and personal life. And so my perceptions were set long before I realized that in some cases, these women got their work done as the "other" spouse.
Laden is spot on to identify (I think this is one of his points) a bigotry in science and in scientific careers whereby when husband and wife share a research area or laboratory, the woman half of the relationship is often seen as lesser. And not infrequently, as in some of the science couples I am thinking about in my fields, the publication, grant and other CV-type record supports this hypothesis.
I don't have any insight into the life-arc of people I know only through professional interactions so I must extrapolate from the experience of similar peers I know better. From my own experiences and from a good understanding of recent history. Feel free to draw your own conclusions based on your own sets of biases and data.
ScienceWoman's post, while indirectly related to this specific set of circumstances, puts a fine point on it. If I have senior women figures whose body of work I admire and respect, when I think of the hurdles they overcame as the more junior partner I am even more impressed. Especially if I happen to know that the couple had children. As far as I am concerned, the old saw about Ginger Rogers which titles this post applies.
What about nowadays? Well, I see all kinds in my field. Couples sharing labs, couples within the same rough discipline with independent labs. Couples in totally different scientific areas who must, nevertheless, find academic jobs in the same University. Sometimes the man is the more-senior or more-accomplished and sometimes it is the woman.
Analysis of history, however, suggests caution in jumping to assumptions now about what capabilities are brought to the table by the scientist in each position. Reviewing grants is one specific domain-the evaluation of the Investigator capabilities is a big part. This can generalize to evaluations for promotions and recruitment.
Is it "fair" to account (positively or negatively) for any appearance that the PI under review is the "trailing" spouse?
That's really the question for today. The evaluation I do on grant review strikes into the heart of these questions. The past performance is only supposed to be used as a predictor of future performance. Independence, as I've mused before, really should be evaluated for the same reasons-- what does an attribute of the PI say about the conduct of the studies in the proposal under review. And yet there can be a whiff of punitive deployment of critiques based on the PI being the lesser or trailing spouse.
It strikes me that thinking hard about the eventual accomplishments of senior figures who may have been in similar "trailing spouse" situations earlier in their own careers can help us to calibrate our judgments.