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Women in Science – Another Interesting Take on The Issues With Science Careers

September 10, 2010

One of the things I hope to do with this blog is share links to various articles I find to show that I’m not alone in my assertion that the Ivory Tower is deeply broken.  This link came to me via Reddit, in a discussion where a person was discussing entering a career in physics, and the comments were a mix of “do it, it’s great!” and “run away as fast as you can”.  To me, this actually points out one of the issues with the system – the people who are successful are that way due to luck.  I’m sorry if that offends someone – if you worked your ass off and have a great job which you love, and you think I’m demeaning your effort, but you are lucky.  For every one person who has that perfect academic career, loves their work, and has the life they envisioned as they sat in that first freshman physics class, there are ten more whose lives are filled with misery and hardship.  When you sit in grad school, and ask your professors about a career in physics, those professors are a terrible sample – they’ve already gotten further than most people ever will. It’s like sitting down next to a pro football player and asking whether he thinks sports are a good career choice, or asking a CEO of a Silicon Valley company whether you should form your own startup – great ideas, and if you have the rare combination of luck and skill to get there, amazing lives, but you need to talk to people who failed, as well as people who succeeded, to get a genuine picture of the landscape.

While I now have a really great job, and even get to do a tiny bit of physics once in a while, I consider myself one of those people who “failed”.  Or, to spin it a different way, I escaped academia, and all its hardships, before it had a chance to ruin my life.  One of the most common questions I saw people asking in academic departments was “how do we get more women to enroll?”.  This often leads to heated discussions about whether men are more suited for scientific work, whether women are as capable of scientists as men are, and so on.  Philip Greenspun, at MIT, has framed the discussion in a slightly different way – his version of the question is not so much “are women smart enough?”, but more “why are men more gullible than women and convinced to enter this terrible career path?”.  I think it’s a great question, and his thoughts on the subject are an outstanding read.  See more at:

http://philip.greenspun.com/careers/women-in-science

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