Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Validity of Leaving Academia - Part 2

I started this post awhile ago but never really had the energy put together a thoughtful post. Today, however, I had the displeasure of finding out that another really awesome FPD (female post-doc #3) has decided to venture off the path of academic scientist. Note that I said she is venturing off, key words there. She is not quitting but choosing to leave a path that she could come back to if she chooses to. Back to my point, today I found out that FPD3 has won a full ride to attend a very prestigious business school. FPD3 was very well respected at our research institute for both her scientific abilities and her leadership. I am sad because although her choice is a legitimate one, it is one more person (and lets be honest another female) that is leaving academia partly due to the lack of mentorship and leadership she experienced at two different institutions.
I mentioned that I started this post awhile ago and I did, almost a month ago on the first long weekend of the year. I had gone into the lab on a Friday (I normally stay home on fridays to spend time with monkey) to set up cells so that they would be ready for a transfection on Sunday. SUNDAY people. I came in on the SUNDAY of the FIRST long weekend of the year. Don’t start leaving comments on how everyone has done that. I know, I worked many stat holidays and weekends while doing my masters, but that doesn’t make it OK. It is not OK that we are expected to put in >60 hours a week on a regular basis. I understand that I will have to come in on weekends to do 15 minutes jobs so that an experiment can be done quicker / easier (I did that on fathers day, yes we were at my research institute on fathers day!). I understand that I will have to be here for 20 hour days on weekends because an experiment needs to be done and we’re working with animals in a time sensitive experiment. Even with the best of planning, coming in to do stuff can not be avoided. But we should not be coming in all weekend for full days on a regular basis, yet we do or at least some of us do. I refuse to, probably to my detriment, but maybe not. This is the reason that men and women leave science, because the expectations are crazy, because we think scientists should be chained to the bench and enjoy only science. When in reality most of us want to spend time with friends and family, we want children of our own, and we want to read to our children before bed. Not unreasonable requests. If my colleagues in the science sphere think my science is less than theirs because I work on the bench only when I have to and because I enjoy social stuff then I guess its their loss. Not to beat a dead horse, but the culture must change in order for us to keep the best and the brightest.
If we want to be perfectly honest, science suffers when people like FPD3 leave. She is bright, intelligent, and has the skills to succeed in whatever field she chooses. It is people like her, the bright ones with multiple skill sets that are so critical to helping solve what is broken with system, that find it easy to leave. It is easy because she is intelligent and because she does have multiple skill sets. She is able to freely move into biotech, government, or anything else. Whereas those that maybe should leave, may not leave because they don’t have the transferable skills to make it possible. We, as a scientific community are losing valuable people because of “traditionalists” that don’t want to see change in the system.
Traditionalists - male and female, yes there are women scientists that suck ass as mentors, shocking I know, that make comments "children are closer to their moms", "its biology deal with it" "you made the choice, deal with it" basically ignorant asses that don't realize that without children we would not continue our species, and that having children is not mutually exclusive of having a career - dumb asses.


Fermi said...

chained to the bench and enjoy only science.

I *loved* this post. I am at the end of my 2nd year of grad school ( I am a phd candidate, yes) and I only went into science because it was the thing I enjoyed that I could get the most money for. I also enjoy painting and dog walking but those are lower paying jobs for my time.

There are two types of people:
The Priests of academia who treat their job as a vocation, and then the normal people who do science to put bread on the table. The priests might as well take the vow to do nothing but science.

Issues arise when the 'priests' have trouble accepting the way the normal people want to live their lives.

DC said...

I'm sorry about the long hours and weekends. That really stinks.

burner said...

I've been reading your blog for awhile, and this post really struck home. I'm finishing up my PhD and up until a few months ago was planning to pursue the whole academic/post-doc route (heck, I even accepted a post-doc position before I started to rethink my plans) Right now I've got one foot in post-doc and one foot in alternative careers, trying to decide what's right for me, and the impact of being another female scientist leaving the bench.

BTW, I'm also considering applying for that same fullride scholarship...do you think your post-doc would be willing to talk about her experience in moving to an MBA program???

ScientistMother said...

Burner - as much as its sucks to be yet another woman leaving the bench, you have to do what is best for you. I am pretty sure that FPD3 would be willing to chat about her experiences email me and we can chat offline :)

Anonymous said...

I am another FPD (with kids) who for ages wanted to stay in academic science to be a role model. I have a strong publication and grant record and could probably land a TT position (although maybe not a top university). But now I too and wavering from the path. I am exploring other options and finding that I really like many of them. I just want to be able to spend time with my family (which I choose to do now) but without the guilt. Without knowing that I should be working to get one more publication.