The lack of a one-to-one relationship between effort and reward in this job turns off women from entering the profession.
On January 21, 2017, the first full day of the Trump administration, women marched around the world in a demonstration of unity and strength, to show, as organizer Linda Sarsour put it, “that we are not afraid.” Although the feminism of the 1960s has evolved to a more subtle, fractionated form, this presidential election, and subsequent reactions like this march, remind us that a woman’s place in society as equal to a man is a standard for which we must still consciously and tenaciously battle. Nowhere is this clearer than in certain sectors of the workforce, in particular, scientific research.
In 2015, I attended the American Chemical Society National Meeting to receive an award for my research. The first day of the conference, my husband, 3-month-old baby, a well-meaning security guard, and I were frantically and desperately trolling the hallways of the Denver Convention Center to find a place I could breastfeed the baby, who was still eating every two hours for 45 minutes at a time.
Despite having checked ahead of time that there was a designated room for breastfeeding in the building, we searched unsuccessfully for it for 30 minutes while the baby screamed bloody murder. I was about to give up and head back to the hotel when the security guard located the room. At best, it could be described as a homey storage closet with a chair, and no changing table (we changed my son’s diaper on the floor). It was, at least, warm and fairly isolated — that is, behind several makeshift tents housing conference supplies that we crawled through to get there in the first place.
I thought to myself — throughout this experience in particular, but also throughout that whole week of travel and conference activities, and during the few other work-critical trips I took in that first year of my son’s life — that experiences like these are why women don’t stay in academic science. This was nuts. This wasn’t natural. No woman should have to pump breastmilk sitting on a toilet in a stall in an airport with the pump buried in a bag of clothes at her feet to muffle the sound (which resembles that of a ticking bomb).[…] The only thing that’s certain is that even the most successful academic scientists have to put an enormous effort just to keep the ship afloat, and have to improvise constantly. There is not a one-to-one relationship between effort and reward in this job, and this uncertainty, which graduate students often learn about by observing their PhD supervisors, is a turn-off, especially for women, who tend to take longer to build confidence in their scientific and research abilities.