I am applying for the American Dissertation Fellowship with AAUW, a really awesome organization that has been around for over 125 years. Their mission: to advance equality for women and girls through advocacy, education, and research. Going into academia has become easier for women, but staying there can be a little tricky. In academia, a young, new professor typically takes a tenure-track position, which means that they have to acquire funding, be involved with outreach, publish papers, graduate post-baccalaureate students, and (of course) apply for tenure. A lot of people don't realize what life is like for a newly graduated doctoral student.
There are a lot of challenges that I face, not only because I'm young in my field, but also because I'm a woman in engineering. But, to be honest, I don't look at it like that. I see myself as equal to my peers; both men and women are competing for funding and collaborating on projects across universities and oceans. We are striving for that pat on the back from Freddie Fu at a conference or the "grant awarded" email from the National Institutes of Health. There's something rewarding about the career path I've chosen, and I have to remind myself of the sacrifices I take. I don't make much money. I won't for a long time. Some of my brilliant ideas might work, but most won't. I can't let my self esteem get hammered too hard when I get the one-line email from a funding agency that starts: After reviewing the several thousand proposals we have received, we're sorry to inform you that...
I also can't let the statistics get to me. For example, here are some interesting facts about women in my line of work:
34 percent of women scientists and engineers are unmarried compared to 17 percent of men 1
Twenty-one percent of women scientists and engineers identified balancing family and work as a career obstacle compared to 2.8 percent of men 1
Women with babies are 29 percent less likely than women without to enter a tenure- track position, and married women are 20 percent less likely than single women to do so 2
Women faculty members earn less than men faculty members across all ranks and all institutional types. On average, women earn 81 percent of what men earn 3
It's interesting to me that the gap is still so large, that academia is such a challenge for women, even after all the strides that have been taken. What can we do about it? What needs to change? How can we better prepare women for the field of academia?
1. Tilghman, S.M. Ensuring the Future Participation of Women in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering. From: The Markey Scholars Conference, 2004 2. McTighe Musil, C. Harvard Isn’t Enough:Women in academia still face hurdles to equity—including the “Baby Gap”. Ms Magazine, spring 2007 3. American Association of University Professors, Faculty Salary and Faculty Distribution Fact Sheet 2003-04