Career Key

Author: Career Key's President and CEO, Juliet Wehr Jones, GCDF, J.D.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Embracing Challenging Career Options: Part 1, Careers for Women in Science

After an inspiring Inauguration Day, it seems appropriate to talk about taking on challenging career options. This post is one of several I'll be writing about them. This week, it's women in science.

If you’re a woman considering a science career, you’re already aware of some of the challenges that lie ahead – whether you encountered them in the classroom, in an internship, or on the job. I don't just mean outright discrimination, but also peer pressure (anti-geek chic), not having as many female role models, and a lack of female supporters/like-minded friends.

Some believe/hope President Obama is ushering in an era of “geek chic” and greater support for scientific inquiry – and women in science. I recommend Natalie Angier’s excellent article yesterday in the New York Times about the status of women in science careers.

No matter what changes President Obama brings to federal grants and support for scientists and their families, I don’t think the fundamental challenges facing women in science or working women in general will change until the American culture and workplace embraces more practical support for family loyalty and obligations. By practical support I mean flexible schedules, penalty-free “time outs” for women to meet family obligations (children, illness, or parents), and top quality affordable childcare, to name my top three.

What inspires me is not how many women are in certain positions, but what kinds of lives they lead.
  • Have they been able to have a family if they wanted one?
  • Could they pursue other passions outside of work to enjoy a full professional and personal life?
  • Do women feel satisfied with their professional and work goals at the twilight of their careers?
Contribution to society, family and work/life balance are likely some of the issues you’re examining in your career decision and as part of completing your Decision Balance Sheet.

If you want to see how other women are managing, I scratched the surface and found some inspirational, fun, and informative websites and blogs on women in science. Their blogrolls and links lead to others…Please suggest others you find helpful.

List of Women in Math websites, Agnes Scott College
Biography of Dr. Shirley M. Tilghman, President of Princeton University
Women in Science Blog
Sciencewomen: a scientist and an engineer being the change we want to see (Blog)
Association for Women in Science, see their comprehensive list of women in science organizations. a curious look at Women’s Adventures in Science (for young women)
On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess (Blog)
See Jane Compute (Blog)

My advice is to embrace the contradictions of raising a family alongside a career path and find female mentors who had and achieved similar goals to yours. It won’t be easy, but you should write your own plan that fits you best. Whether it takes 10 years to get tenure or 5. Who wants to sit around and wait for change? And don't forget your sense of humor - you'll need it!

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