Friday, February 08, 2008

I . . . but . . .

A recent survey by the NIH paints a pretty bleak picture for women in academia. Among my numerous responses to that article was a great feeling of relief that my disciplinary research and the NIH don't really have any common ground.

But this was disturbing:

"Women are going to have a harder time than men succeeding" at every stage of the tenure-track academic career [according to Phoebe Leboy, president-elect of the Association of Women in Science]. Leboy points to data made available by the NIH that showed women lagging behind men in terms of grants per investigator, dollars per grant, success in getting grants renewed, and responsibility for big budget center grants. And because success is so closely tied to funding, particularly in academic health centers, says Leboy, all of these things mean that women are having a harder time achieving tenure than men.


Let me first say that from my limited knowledge of my colleagues' work (from their vitae and from personal communication), my own stats are very much in line with my guy counterparts ( . . . well, now I think they are. . . I know two years ago I wouldn't have said that, but it was because two years ago I was still deep in the midst of assistant professor angst).

I don't think this makes me unusual in any way. I also don't actually personally know ANY women who haven't gotten tenure, though I know some men that haven't (but of course I know way more men that have gotten tenure than women that have, because I just know more men in the first place). So even though I keep seeing reports like these, I've never seen it or felt it in my own life so it always seems really bizarre.

Am I blind?

Is my own (average) success with papers and grants and dollars actually extraordinary?


Is there something wrong with NIH-related disciplines that isn't wrong with mine?


EcoGeoFemme said...

I'm not in an NIH-related discipline either and I feel similarly to you (though I am still a student). From reading blogs by workers in the biosciences, I think there is something different going on for them. It seems to be more competitive with bigger labs and bigger budgets.

Ms.PhD said...

Yes, NIH-funded research is much, much worse.

I could go on and on and on about this, and more or less already have on my blog.

But to make it brief, I think one of the biggest problems is just complacency.

Everyone has been going on the totally false assumption that biomedical research is somehow less sexist because there are a lot more women going into these kinds of fields.

But perhaps because of a total lack of outreach and support, the phenomenon Phoebe Leboy describes is still endemic: departments that were once forced to take affirmative action to hire women are no longer required to, so they don't.

Given the opportunity to withhold tenure from the few existing female faculty after 5 or 10 years in a department, they choose to replace them- with young men.

Unknown said...

but it was because two years ago I was still deep in the midst of assistant professor angst

I sure wish more people talked about this. I had a lot of misery, and it really impacted my productivity. I haven't seen my male colleagues facing similar issues. Do you see any gender difference there?

Average Professor said...

Joan, sorry I didn't see this until just now. To answer your question, no. The assistant prof dudes I know all express the same level of anxiety that I do, some even more.

But I tend to hang out with very down-to-earth assistant profs, male or female. It's possible (probable?) that there's a whole segment so self-assured (read: arrogant) they are never anxious, but since I don't gravitate towards such people I probably wouldn't have a conversation with them about it, so I wouldn't know!