Hopefully this summer I will finally graduate from my demanding and extremely challenging, 5-years-long Ph.D. program in a developing country. To defend my thesis, I need to come back from a prestigious scholarship at a prestigious university in the (also prestigious) US. Yes, as you noticed, the word “prestigious” is essential. Its meaning may be easily associated with open doors and admiration. The word “prestigious” sounds with success. But there’s one flaw to it all.
Like most of you, my fellow young scientists, I am excited and worried about what the life will bring next. One noticeable aspect of it is my future post-doctoral research career. Some of my friends have already started their job hunts. One of them (male) asked me recently, how many CVs have I sent last year to find the future position. “None” – I answered somewhat confused. “That’s wrong! You should start right away!” – He expressed his disapproval. He just sent his first application to yet another prestigious university.
It is true. I have not thought of my post-doc yet. But there’s something my male friend does not take into account. Lucky for me, I was offered and accepted a teaching position in my home country at one of the universities. Both, my smart friend as well as the sagacious head of the institution that I work in (also male) see approving the job offer as a wrong decision. A small university somewhere deep in a developing country does seem a black hole for them. I know they both want the best for me. They see my potential and neither of them nor myself, want it to squander. Maybe they are right?
On the other hand, maybe I chose a less competitive university in my home country because I was offered a secure contract? Because I know no-one will hire me here in the US if I decide to start my family. Maybe it’s the matter of social safety.
By the time my friend is back from his prestigious post-doc, I am going to have a baby and most probably two years of pause in my scientific career. He doesn’t understand because he doesn’t have this problem. Neither my boss.
I don’t write this letter to complain. I am writing it to make men aware.
Unfortunately, I have the impression that many successful women in science are even less understanding of these matters. Men are just not aware. Women, as they probably raised their children, have more expectations: “I made it, why do you complain?!”. Sadly, in my own experience, it was a female boss, who asked me before starting the Ph.D., if my two last names were because I was married, supposedly to assess whether or not I’ll take a parental leave soon. It was a female advisor, who commented: “I hope she’s not pregnant!”, when my friend suffered from an upset stomach for a couple of days.
So dear fellow postdoctoral friend, my future PI,
Please remember this when you settle for your lab. When you will become a professor and decide whether to hire a female postdoc or not. It is apparent that we – women need your support.