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Scientific Status Quo July 12, 2015

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, family, feminism, research, societal commentary, work.
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A couple days ago, @katiesci posted this opinion piece from Science by Eleftherios Diamandis on getting noticed.  I was rather frustrated with the article because the way to get noticed was apparently to put in a lot of face time (which is probably decent advice) and to publish like crazy (also not bad advice), even if it means you have to work unrealistic schedules and foist all of your childcare duties onto your spouse.

It was this last part that got under my skin because it’s so much a recapitulation of the status quo: you can’t do anything else and be a scientist, forget balance if you want an academic career.

I have to admit I jumped to a pretty lousy conclusion when I read the following:

I worked 16 to 17 hours a day, not just to make progress on the technology but also to publish our results in high-impact journals. How did I manage it? My wife—also a Ph.D. scientist—worked far less than I did; she took on the bulk of the domestic responsibilities. Our children spent many Saturdays and some Sundays playing in the company lobby. We made lunch in the break room microwave.

I can’t presume to know the dynamic between the author and his wife, and it may be that she was perfectly happy with this arrangement.  Academic couples tend to understand better than others how frustrating this career path can be, and I know there were several occasions where either my husband or myself was bringing the other dinner/microwaving in the lobby or lunch room to help ease the stress of deadlines along with an empty stomach.

But what about the people for whom this is not an option?  Most of the people I know get very upset if their spouse is putting in more than 60 hours per week.  Are they just supposed to give up?  What about people who are physically unable to work those types of hours?  Even if you are physically capable, it’s bad for you in the long run and turns out to be rather useless.

If anything, this just reinforced that to make it in science, you don’t have to do good science, you just have to be willing to give up any semblance of a family life and turn into a squeaky wheel.  I’m not sure what the author intended to convey, but reading this piece was rather disheartening.

Instead, I’d rather have heard about how the author’s wife did it: how is it she was able to work less hours than him, raise their kids, and still manage to have an apparently successful career?  At least, that’s the implication at the end of the piece.  To me, it sounds like she was able to handle a very unbalanced load successfully, and unless it’s, “don’t sleep,” I would think she may have some advice worth sharing with the rest of us mere mortals.  If you happen to be from Science magazine, could you please let her know?

 

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Comments»

1. karifur - July 13, 2015

I too would love to hear from the author’s wife. How did she manage to be successful in Science while not completely sacrificing her own sanity and family connections?

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mareserinitatis - July 17, 2015

Yes, sometimes you get a very different story from the other people involved. 🙂

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2. andyextance - July 17, 2015

This may not be the place for this discussion, but why the assumption that one must have children? The planet seems pretty full already, and surely if you intend to be a great (or even average) scientist, that might be just as good a way to ensure one’s legacy?

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mareserinitatis - July 17, 2015

No one *has* to have children, and I have many friends that are intentionally childless. There is nothing wrong with that, but I get the feeling that at least some of them feel like the have to choose between a career and kids. They’d like both, but some of them feel the career is more important and fulfilling. It’s certainly their choice, but it seems sad that they have to pick one or the other and can’t do both.

On the flip side, there are a lot of very capable, intelligent women who choose not to go into academia because the expectation is that you essentially spend no time with family and devote yourself to your work. Because of the expectations of academia, we’re losing a lot of people who may be able to tackle some very important issues (like global warming) but choose family instead. And I’m seeing more men who also want to spend time with family and rethink the idea of an academic career. I think we’re losing a lot of potential problem solvers because of unrealistic expectations.

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andyextance - July 19, 2015

Yes, indeed. All of these points resonate with me.

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andyextance - July 19, 2015

This article appeared to day that is relevant to this discussion (from a UK perspective) http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/19/cant-ignore-penalty-of-motherhood-new-statesman?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

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