Today’s guest post was contributed by B Kiddo, a full professor at an R1 university
In a post by Dr. Isis not long ago, she discussed social time with colleagues (typically male) and their wives, and how she often ended up spending time with the wives, generally a great group of women. While it wasn’t her main point, something that struck me is how hard this makes creating a good network of scientists.
I’ve encountered that same type of social situation over the years, too. I’m often the only female career scientist in a social setting that includes partners and families. For example, at a recent event, all the other women were scientists that had moved away from their careers to take care of kids, or were stay-at-home moms just moving into the workforce. All had spent significant amounts of time raising their growing kids, and following their male partners around the country and world. We had a really fun conversation that ranged all over the map.
I eventually moved to join the other scientists. My husband switched to playing with kids, and then followed me. He gets a bit fed up always hearing about academia, so I changed the subject when he arrived to better include him.
Limited ability to hang out with scientists and talk about work happens on a larger scale at professional meetings of all sizes. I often bring my family with me, but when I do, I don’t get the social time out on the town that others get – as soon as talks or other duties are over, I give my husband a break from the kids. In contrast, it seems many women expect that their scientist partners will be busy day and night at meetings, and expect that even in the evenings, they will hang out with the kids and other partners and guests. My husband, as wonderfully generous with time and help as he is, absolutely expects that I will be sharing duties fully, and I share his expectations.
One of the women present the other evening described how she deals with her husband being busy over the summer with fieldwork. Three-week long car-trip vacations without her husband are completely normal for her, and she’s been doing them since her first of 3 children was an infant. Another female friend of mine, also a faculty spouse, is not pleased with her husband’s many trips, and many working weekends, but feels unable to change the situation, and is also thus used to most activities including her and her child, without her husband.
I can’t imagine either my husband, or me, allowing me to do my work and travel when and where I’d like. We both impose a standard on me for what is acceptable time away from family that seems quite different from what most couples appear to impose on male scientists.
For example, I recently flew across the country leaving on a Monday at 4:00 AM and returning Wednesday late (well actually Thursday at 1:00 AM), simply to minimize time away. In an ideal world, I’d get to spend an extra day or two away, socializing with scientists in the area as well as simply enjoying myself. That ideal world shouldn’t seem so far away in this day and age, but I seem to have ingrained the idea that on some fundamental level, I shouldn’t be away, period. If it is unavoidable, the time away must be as brief as possible.
The problem is thus partly, if not largely, self-imposed, but I’m still not certain how to change it. My own guilt and the price I’d need to pay to make up for more time away are daunting. To the extent that my experiences are general, it’s no wonder that the social networks in which science takes place are smaller lonelier places for women than for men. I’ve recently become aware of multiple collaborations started both at my home institution, and across other institutions, and wondered if I would have been invited to be included had I had more social connections with the scientists involved, since the scientific connections were obvious, to me at least. (Of course, I also wondered if I simply didn’t make the grade to be involved – good ole impostor syndrome.)
My approach so far has been to try to connect more with other scientists through social media (e.g. twitter) and to try to improve interactions at my home institution, starting with monthly lunches with women faculty. Strengthening those connections, even if few of the other women are people I’d collaborate with given our different research areas, will at least expand the social network in which I do my science.