How did I get here, contributing or rather eliciting information on women and careers? For periods of my life (when I was a bit younger and stronger-willed) I would refuse to check the “M/F” boxes when filling out forms. It seemed that to the world the most important identifying characteristic I had, next to my name, was my gender. Certainly at some points during the day (e.g. finding a restroom), it was useful to be aware of my gender, but for the most part, it seemed irrelevant, especially when I was studying or working.

Once in graduate school, I went to one “women in science and engineering” event; thought I’d give it a chance for the sake of networking, but came away a bit frightened. There was a panel of 3 Stanford faculty talking about having children. One had started bringing her newborn to work at 2 weeks. The other 2 had done similar things to return to work as soon as possible. When asked what was most important, there was a chorus of “a good nanny!” More recently, at UofM, I attended a “women and tenure” event. If I recall, again there were 3 panelists. They all spoke of long hours and high stress. When asked what it took to get tenure, one, an MD, said she had worked 80 hour weeks. The other two panelists nodded in agreement.  I raised my hand and asked “Did you literally work 80 hour weeks? Because I’m working 60 hours/week and am feeling pretty worn out”. And she replied “Yes. 80 hours/week”.  Eventually, after receiving tenure following my 60 hr/week efforts (and let’s be honest, many weeks it was somewhat less), I concluded that 80 hour work weeks are self-inflicted by people who volunteer for such tasks as being on panels. Even if a person like me were to end up on a panel, she would be unlikely to fess up to “reasonable” hours, because it is perceived as wimpy in academia to do anything but brag about how incredibly busy and overworked one is (see my other posts for how incredibly busy and overworked I am :) ).

Now that I am older and wiser, I recognize that there is benefit in looking into issues that are gender specific in the workplace. I just hope that the info I’ve helped collect is diverse enough such that those looking for encouragement, rather than just stories of heroism (which are great, don’t get me wrong), will find it there.

 

5 women sat at a table at the ICWSM conference in May. Four had baby boys at home, the 5th was expecting. Two of us (Karrie and I) thought this was a funny coincidence, and meeting again in July at the Google faculty summit, we thought: let’s do a survey. The survey would be about women with PhDs having kids, but we would gather data on the child’s sex as well.

Several months and several hundred survey responses later we know the following:

I am very grateful to those who have taken the survey and hope that these few pages will be a possible resource (in addition to much great published research) to those weighing their choices or wondering what others’ experiences have been like. Personally, it has opened my eyes to the range of experiences, struggles, triumphs, and resourceful solutions out there, and has helped me to calibrate my own experience.

 

Every once in a while I receive a request like the one quoted below. I’m not quite sure what kind of school assignment this is or what its purpose is. It would be actually good to think about next generation Roombas and self-driving cars, or at least revisit those Scientific American articles, or even revisit colleague’s web pages to catch up on recent research in this area, but it would also be good to tackle some of the questions I’m actually researching for the papers I’m writing. And although I do not intend to reply, such emails still stay in my mind for a while.  It also makes me think how email may only appear to make people accessible:

Hello, my name is [].  I am currently researching AI for a paper I am writing.  I am hoping you would be willing to answer a few questions on the subject, and if not be able to give me the name of someone who could.  If you do answer these questions feel free to be as descriptive or as vague as you deem necessary.

Here are the questions:

Can you define artificial intelligence for me?

[...]Thank you in advance for your time,

[]

Another student had emailed me with the title:

Scientist Interview PLEASE READ NOW!!!!!!!!!!

 

Now that the cold season is upon us (in Michigan at least) I face this recurring problem. Once I realize I’m too hot in my sweater (e.g. right before I’m about to give a talk or lecture that would call for waving my arms about etc.), I have little choice but to keep it on.

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