Beryl Lieff Benderly: December 2010
December 28, 2010
December 19, 2010
December 18, 2010
December 13, 2010
[Editor's Note: For an excellent account of a scientist with a strong religious faith, read Elisabeth Pain's Testimony of a Young Christian Scientist.]
December 10, 2010
The first thing to go must be her crippling sense of shame. There is nothing dishonorable about re-evaluating decisions in light of experience and information. It is, indeed, the definition of intelligence and the essence of the scientific method.
If the original destination is not one that "Lost" still desires, then, as many of the letter writers indicate, there is no shame deciding to leave -- a decision that at least some of the postdocs apparently wish that they had made. (But, of course, one must also wonder what is keeping those postdocs from also evaluating other options available to smart, highly educated people. Is it perhaps because they have lost faith in themselves?)
December 8, 2010
December 7, 2010
For many former fellows, the program has opened the way to career opportunities in science policy or government. Applicants must be US citizens and members of at least one of the AIP's member societies at the time they apply. The deadline for applications is January 15.
December 4, 2010
December 3, 2010
Dean Calarco said that faculty members often don't want to know when Ph.D. students want to work outside of academe. When UCSF asked its graduate students in 2008 about their first-choice careers, a third named non-academic pursuits. The University has since established a program of formal 3-month internships in government and industry for doctoral students from its basic-science departments.
Could it be that graduate deans already suspect that Ph.D. students are unlikely to rank among the grateful future graduates who fork over handsome donations?
December 3, 2010
But for this week's column, "taken for granted" is an especially apt phrase, in at least two ways. First is the article's placement on Science Careers: Despite being an important piece of writing, it's listed fourth this week, pretty far down the page. This is partly because the top two articles describe such an exciting, and rare, career opportunity for people with the right skills -- including scientists. But whatever the reason, Beryl's article deserves much higher billing. It's important. So this month it may seem as though we're taking Beryl's art for granted.
The name -- "Taken for Granted" -- is also appropriate in a different sense: Established scientists take it for granted that any clear-thinking woman or member of an under-represented minority group (or any white male for that matter) would choose a career in science if given the opportunity, so all we have to do is remove barriers. That assumption is false and leads, I believe, to faulty policy on issues such as scientific-workforce diversity. Such assumptions also affect perceptions of a different kind of diversity: the diversity of career options. Some traditional scientists disparage non-traditional careers -- even careers like research in industry. It's remarkable how much space there is between common (among established scientists) assumptions about science's desirability and young peoples' perceptions.
Drawing on a recent study by Amanda Diekman and colleagues, this week's Taken for Granted column challenges the assumption that anyone in her right mind would study science, suggesting that that women often don't choose science because they don't think it's consistent with their values. Specifically, Amanda Diekman and coauthors determined that women embrace values of community and caring more often than men, and that people (men and women) who embrace those values most strongly are likely to pursue alternatives instead of the fields in which women are poorly represented.
This idea -- which, like a lot of important ideas, seems obvious once it has been pointed out -- has exciting implications. In recent years, many fields of science have, famously, become more communal. And in some areas -- basic biomedical research is an excellent example -- perspectives have started to shift away from intellectual mastery and penetrating insights and towards the more practical and therapeutic (think CTSciNet and translational research). If the ideas Benderly discusses in this month's column are valid -- and I think they are -- we should expect these changes to lead to improvements in the representation of women in the affected fields.
But there's a point underlying Beryl's column that has even broader significance. It is that good people, who could even be excellent scientists, often have real alternatives and sometimes choose them. It follows that, as I wrote in my commentary on the occasion of Science Careers's 15th anniversary, if you want to make science better, you have to make science a better career. Policy makers have to put themselves into the shoes of science trainees -- and bright young people considering a career in science but who have other appealing choices -- and think hard about how the science career path looks, and how to change it for the better.
Partly this is about perception: Some of the assumptions underlying women's career choices (as determined by the Diekman study) seem wrong. Yet, other unflattering assumptions about science careers -- the prospect of earning $30,000 a year with no retirement well into your 30s after 10 years or more of training, for example, with questionable long-term job prospects -- are accurate. So it's not just a matter of changing perceptions; realities must change as well. Changing perceptions is hard, and changing realities is much harder, but it's something that has to happen if science is to continue to thrive. The status quo is already failing.