"Women are just not that interested in a career in academia"

I keep hearing people say this over and over and I am never sure how to respond to this. I usually ask if people who say this have data to support their statements, which they usually don't. But in yesterday's diversity journal club on twitter, the following paper was brought into the discussion: "What's the purpose of a scientific career?" in which Kenneth Gibbs makes the point that women and underrepresented minorities tend to choose their career based on slightly different motives:

This and other work shows that women and URM scientists on average “choose differently.” Their choices are made “outside of ability, outside of competence”—but in keeping with expressed desires to pursue social justice, community involvement, and altruism, he says. In contrast, men from well-represented groups more often seek academic research careers that incorporate the value of “scientific freedom, the ability to research what you want on your own terms.”

For scientists with strong social concerns, scientific and social motivations are “intertwined,” Gibbs says.

This really resonates with me, because when people ask if I'm happy in my new job, I usually answer that what makes me most happy at the moment is that it is less personal. My job now is not about my ideas and my papers and my rejections anymore. It is about what I contribute to the team, and in the end: what we as a team make for the people that buy the things that our company makes. And while it makes me a little sad that the victories are not mine alone anymore, it makes me very happy and relieved that the rejections are not mine alone either. And maybe this feels different when you are the PI of a lab and you have a team of your own, but the difference between being a lonely post-doc in a competitive environment versus a team player feels like a huge difference to me.

11 responses so far

  • drugmonkey says:

    Soo, well represented doods are more likely to be more selfishly motivated? Yeah, that's a shocker.

  • drugmonkey says:

    "scientific freedom, the ability to research what you want on your own terms.” sure sounds like people who are selfish and expect that what they find of interest is all that matters.

  • Debbie says:

    This is such a great post and your feelings about contributing to a team resonate with me. Thanks!

  • Also Anon says:

    Well, color me "selfish," then! I'm a hispanic woman, and apparently I chose my career for the same reasons that many white dudes did. Another shocker! How nice that I now have yet another stereotype to bust, because really, it's not like I didn't have enough....

    • babyattachmode says:

      Wait, how is this a bad thing?

      • Also Anon says:

        How is it a bad thing that people will assume that because of my gender and/or ethnicity, I had particular reasons for choosing my career? How is that a good thing?! People are different and they have different reasons for making life choices. I don't think it's helpful to make broad statements about what motivates women or URMs to choose science. This is barely a step up from saying that women choose chemistry because it can be related to makeup, etc. It's pretty insulting and reductive. Not everything I do is impacted by the fact that I am Hispanic or a woman.

        • babyattachmode says:

          I totally agree with you that people make decisions based on their personality and other individual differences and that making generalized statements like this reduces people to stereotypes. However, if we want to increase diversity in science, I do think it is useful to get a good picture of why people choose a particular path and what incentives can be used to increase diversity. How do you think this can be done better without being insulting and reductive?

          • Also Anon says:

            I think the incentives that can be used to increase diversity in science should start and end with getting rid of existing discrimination against underrepresented groups. There are plenty of women and URMs that want to do science as is but don't do it for a number of reasons/obstacles that don't have anything to do with science. "Studies" like these pull focus from the real problems.

            The goal, in my opinion, should not be to morph science into something in order to achieve perfect representation of every group in society. The goal should be to get rid of barriers so that everyone that has a love for science can pursue it *if they so wish.* We are very far from that right now.

  • My DH also prefers the team environment of his non-academic job (that uses his phd skillz) to his previous lonely academic job.

    • babyattachmode says:

      Yeah the more I think about this, the more I think it is more about different personalities that people have that fit better with different jobs or different aspects of a job than it is about (white) men vs women or underrepresented minorities.

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