Re-cap: Why do women leave STEM?

Why do women leave STEM? We asked this question for our Diversity JC discussion on April 22nd.

First, by framing the discussion using this question, we (mostly me– Ian), didn’t really think about the fact that many people who leave the traditional STEM path don’t necessarily go that far– often ending up in STEM-adjacent careers, and still considering themselves a part of STEM. Perhaps we should call it the expanded STEM universe (ESTEMU).

Yet the fact remains that there are real barriers for women in STEM – even the ESTEMU. It’s true in almost all professional careers to one degree or another; as we’ve pointed out before (for example the discussion here), this is a cultural problem broader than just STEM.

However, DiversityJC is squarely focused on STEM, and this discussion was on how, perhaps in particular to STEM fields, more women than average leave the traditional academic path of Ph.D. to postdoc to the Tenure Track (compared to other career paths). Though as Melanie pointed out, a key point is that this trend isn’t unique to just the tenure track, and as Needhi elaborated, it was also along more than just gender lines:

The point is, the culture in STEM fields remains narrow, almost always defining success by tenure, grants, and publications (and little else despite all the other things academics do), and the stereotypical scientist is still white and male (until people actually meet some scientists and realize we’re actually not any one thing, other than perhaps universally curious! Check #thisiswhatascientistlookslike). Fitting in to this culture can be very challenging when you don’t reflect conventional expectations or value something outside conventional goals. This especially impacts women – and minorities. There is evidence for hope, particularly in the life sciences where women are half of Ph.D.s and almost half of postdocs now. However, these trends have yet to translate into professorships or other leadership positions, and women are less likely to be tenured and more likely to be in adjunct level positions where they are paid less, and therefore incur more debt, than men – trends that are not changing (these are all, of course, in addition to the cultural problems present at the Ph.D. and postdoc levels, and beyond).

Despite its central place in the traditional definition of success we argue here, the tenure track is becoming less and less likely for the majority of scholars regardless of gender. This is certainly a contributing factor for some women leaving STEM. In addition to fewer positions, smaller pools of money also mean that even for those part of a major discovery early in their careers – CRISPR, say– where success may be more likely, it is still far from assured. Even if you’re a scientist who also contributes to op-eds to the New York Times and writes a book about your time in science, funding is still hard to come by:

Increasingly, successful scientists are also successful at getting money. Yet being “able to compete” often still means those central goals of tenure and publishing – areas where women also experience bias (like this crazy example). The poor economics of academia on top of implicit biases (etc) are a hard combination to deal with throughout ones career.

In addition, like attaining tenure, acquiring money only rewards certain types of success – and negates others, like working for social justice, engaging in outreach, or caring for family members. This tied in with the majority of our conversation: the definition of success in science is too narrow to be inclusive of other life goals and commitments, and in consequence excludes people, including women, from STEM.

What can be done? We must address the disparity in pay and reasons why the greater numbers of women in college aren’t translating to higher paid positions, as well as sexism, harassment, and assault. Support networks are also important and some in our discussion reported having good networks that include more than just their immediate advisors. Even a Twitter network can be a supportive place. Developing, engaging in, and sustaining these networks, across gender lines, can be hugely helpful moving forward.

In addition, from a broad perspective, our discussion collectively revealed a deeper truth: the present values of STEM aren’t broad or inclusive enough, and this does drive women, and minorities, from the field. Our discussion made clear there is a need for an expanded definition of what we value in STEM as a field, and what it means to succeed there. We need to do better at understanding and valuing the intersection of science and humanity – whether that is via interdisciplinary research, outreach and education, or social justice work. We also need to note that it’s not work-life balance, but it rather that scientists have lives. As part of this, it is critical we acknowledge that the previous narrative of the workaholic scientist is outdated – not only because we have lives, but also because it likely meant that scientist had a wife at home to support him.

Finally, as we mentioned and connected to these points, when women do leave STEM graduate schools, postdocs, or professorships, it seems they often don’t go too far– at least not right away. Once a scientist, always a scientist. We need to recognize that leaving the traditional academic track does not actually mean leaving STEM. Especially with fewer tenured jobs and available grants, it’s time we realize there is more we can do with a PhD in the ESTEMU– and beyond.

Join us on May 20, 2pm ET for our discussion. and subscribe to the DiversityJC newsletter to keep up with all of the Diversity JC topics! 

Ian Street (@IHStreet)

Doctor_PMS (@Doctor_PMS)

Emily Klein (@DrEmilySKlein)

 

 

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Why do women leave STEM?

Reminder that you can be kept up to date and get #DiversityJC content delivered to you by subscribing to our newsletter that comes out 1-2x each month.

The #DiversityJC discussion will happen on Friday, April 22, from 2-3pm ET.

Last month, we talked about being being an ally.

This month we’re going to discuss a topic that follows on that and discuss why women leave their chosen career paths – in STEM or otherwise, as this is observed and studied beyond science.

Spoiler alert: it may well not be the reason you think. Compensation is a big factor, as it is for men.

Related to unfair compensation is of course, culture. A new study found that our common ideas about science, women, and men may mean we “perceive women as incompatible” with science. The exception to this was when the survey takers were at a women’s college where the bias disappeared. Think Progress has a write up of the study.

More evidence? Sure. Paige Jarreau recently wrote about how even facts can’t convince people about gender bias, citing a 2015 study that explored comments on Discover Magazine and the New York Times articles on studies demonstrating gender bias. While a majority of comments in the study were positive, those that were negative were really negative, and these, especially from men, simply denied the facts presented or justified the system as was (i.e. women aren’t “built” for science…).

Also recent and related, research has found women are penalized for promoting diversity. For men, it’s of no benefit, but does no harm either. This is yet another example that could well contribute to women leaving STEM. Even if allies exist, they may not be sufficient in a system with a lot of in-built biases as this story about Dr. Nettie Stevens, a 19th-20th century Geneticist shows. Stevens had at least one supportive ally in Thomas Hunt Morgan– a rock star of genetics as we might say today, but nowhere else.

This month on #DiversityJC, we’ll look collectively to this recent research and discuss findings, and ask – why do women leave STEM careers?

If you were a woman in STEM but left the traditional academic career path, what is your story for why/how you left?

How do you feel about it now?

If you are/were a woman in STEM, do the above studies and stories resonate with your experiences?

If you are/were a man working in STEM – do you see evidence, as well? What have you witnessed – and what of the experiences of your friends, colleagues, and significant others?

If facts aren’t sufficient, what else might work to promote inclusion in STEM?

Join us for the discussion on April 22, 2-3pm ET!

@IHStreet

@DrEmilySKlein

@Doctor_PMS

 

If it’s outdated, it’s still voiced. Speak up: #DiversityJC recap.

This week in Diversity Journal Club, we had a discussion about the importance of addressing outdated comments and attitudes (like this and this). Both had such strong and negative responses – so did that mean we’ve moved on? That they might not really matter?

Doctor PMS (@Doctor_PMS) and Ian (@IHStreet) got us started..

Should we indeed be paying attention to the outdated comments like those of Tim Hunt and Ask Alice? Should we just ignore them, wish they would evolve, or wonder how they didn’t know better? Perhaps we should be able to filter out these wrong opinions, given that it is hard to change, and that they do have deep expertise in some areas (Nobel prize = expertise). But…

Indeed. It can be difficult to filter someone, especially if the comments are not all that blatant. Subtle comments like microaggressions can be hard enough to even identify on their own. When it’s someone you respect and admire, subtle comments can be even more difficult to distinguish and weed out. Moreover, it’s not our responsibility to be someone’s filter – for our own sake or for a larger community, no matter how much you and others respect them. We also discussed this initial idea of it being comments of an “older generation” and if we give them a pass as being from a “different time” (my words). Several took issue with this “older generation” stuff – which is totally correct. Age and generation can mean nothing in these cases, and age is relative. We shouldn’t use age as a blanket clause either, basically. The reason I raised this “older” stuff is because I personally have avoided conversations and used this excuse – I wondered if others had as well, and if there was something to the “well that’s an outdated opinion, it’s not very important, look at the backlash, clearly we’ve come far from there, from that time.

So perhaps it’s not just me who has used this as an excuse?

So maybe I wasn’t the only one. But it is still an excuse. It also brought up an important point:

 

In the end, we’d more or less agreed age really wasn’t the issue, and learning was a two-way street. We also agreed that, no matter your age, these comments and attitudes do need to be addressed.

Yet these teachable moments can be really challenging.

In addition, as Doctor PMS (@Doctor_PMS) pointed out, change can be tough and painful – and may not be worth our ATP. It may actually be problematic for us, especially as early career scientists, let alone draining. Ian (@IHStreet) reminded us you can’t be sure who is willing to change or be open to the discussion at the onset. On the other hand, as Ruthie (@ruthiepbirger) pointed out, initiating the conversation can be a good litmus test for how ingrained the attitude is, and how open the person is to further dialogue. But back to the first hand, Benjamin Carr (@BenjaminHCCarr) said some people are actively resistant to change.

And, yeah, as Luna CM Centifanti (@LunaCentifanti) noted, people in leadership and power positions are often people of privilege. As others agreed, they are also the ones with the most control. Over us, over our careers…

I understand these challenges. I know it’s scary. I still think it’s critical. We have to say something. We can’t allow these comments to go unchallenged even when we don’t have twitter ready to back us up. Why? Because other people beyond you are listening. Because if they say it to you, they have said it to others. Because those others might be students, early career scientists, just getting their bearings. They may think statements like that are ok, or are hurt and demeaned by them. When we fail to speak up, we allow those statements to enforce especially unconscious biases and stereotypes of some, and allow others to have their self-worth undermined.

 

 

In addition, some listening don’t realize these comments, or their larger experiences, are due to bias and stereotypes and are not personal. Without someone speaking up or calling out, these can be internalized.

So how to go about addressing comments? Moreover, SometimesScienceSux (@SmtimScienceSux) questioned whether correcting someone would really change their mind – which begs the question if you can engage them in further dialogue beyond just the correction. Will they be open to it? Are you be prepared? Perhaps a gentle nudge, as Ian (@IHStreet) suggested, or offering your perspective on the comment, as V. Siva (@DrVidSiva) recommended. Ian (@IHStreet) further noted it’s likely easier if they know you personally, and I agree. I’ve had the most luck with heart-to-heart conversations. In addition, or if you don’t have a personal relationship to draw on, ask people questions, try not to just tell , find out what they think is behind what they’ve said or done. And remember what you learned in elementary school: use “I” statements. Wandering Scientist (@wandsci) also made a great suggestion:

It can be frustrating, especially as we do end up being the ones careful of our words. As Nicole Morgan (@coralnerd) said, for some reason, people can respond really negatively to something as simple and true as “I’m offended by that“, and Ruthie Birger (@ruthiebirger) reminded us about gaslighting and that we’ll like hear “you’re being too sensitive.” So be prepared. We also talked briefly about the need for a safe space to voice our thoughts – but how this isn’t always available. Ruthie Birger (@ruthiebirger) and I agreed that we can actually make spaces safer – when we feel comfortable, we should more apt to speak up about diversity, or share our own (like me being out as bi, even though I present as straight) to make spaces safer for others. Wandering Scientist (@wandsci) also noted that they are often taken more seriously when talking about racism, whereas they feel less comfortable talking about sexism. This likely has to do with when you have the privilege in a situation, so take advantage of that. If you don’t feel like you can speak about a subject, like racism if you’re white, simply ask questions about it – what your institution is doing – and raise other voices up to speak. We can also spend a little more time being introspective, and thinking about advice and feedback we get and how we take it. About how the feedback you’d give to would feel (do unto others…). And we should encourage others to do the same…

We still need support in speaking out. We still need a community to back us. It will always be scary, and you never know the impact or backlash that may come of it – there’s a reason we haven’t made as much progress and we should: paradigms are entrenched (that’s why they’re paradigms), old biases die hard. You never know when someone will take offense. We should think carefully about how we address these issues.

I think perhaps a real key is bringing up diversity well before it is a personal issue. Find out if your institution has a diversity statement, and if not why not. Initiate discussions around diversity, unconscious bias, and microaggressions. Talk to leadership about opening up these dialogues, or even bringing in speakers or doing workshops. You certainly don’t need an incident to start this dialogue – look to the increasing body of literature on this as a problem (some here on this blog), or the many, many incidents in the news these days (oh where to start… #BlackLivesMatter, on campus sexual assault..).

Don’t want to start out negative? You don’t need to! There’s also more and more research about how diversity helps us all and why it is critical. You can start talking about diversity as a strength, in terms of so many things from problem solving to attracting new talent. Start there!

No matter your tactic, start before an incident – even if leadership is iffy, I promise you, there is someone, likely many someones, quietly thanking you for your forward thinking. And just imagine the next generation.

Additional links shared by the group included

From Luna CM Centifanti (@LunaCentifanti): Six Tings You Can Do When People Say Stupid Sexist Shit To You

From Ben Carr (@BenjaminCarr): Stories of sexism in science: ‘sorry about all the women in this laboratory’

Thank you to everyone who participated (as usual in no particular order, and please let us know if someone was missed)!

Ruth Hufbauer ‏(@hufbauer)
Ruthie Birger (@ruthiebirger)
SometimesScienceSux (@SmtimScienceSux)
Ben Carr (@BenjaminCarr)
V. Siva (@DrVidSiva
Wandering Scientist (@wandsci)
Luna CM Centifanti (@LunaCentifanti)
Nicole Morgan (@coralnerd)
Cassie (@mosquito_chaser)
Dr. Q (@DrQualls)
Dr. Wrasse (@labroides)

Until next time!

Emily (@DrEmilySKlein)
Doctor PMS (@Doctor_PMS)
Ian (@IHStreet)

Tips for Handling Career Anxiety guest post by @wandsci

Last week’s Diversity Journal Club was about handling anxiety, and not surprisingly, there was a lot of talk about career uncertainty, career change, and the anxiety these things can produce.

I tweeted a few things that have helped me handle my anxiety in this regard, and the journal club organizers asked if I’d be willing to expand on them in a guest post.

Before I get started, I want to note that I am making my comments as someone who does not have an anxiety disorder or depression. People with those sorts of diseases will surely have additional challenges in handling anxiety, which I am not at all qualified to address. However, even as someone whose only chronic illness is asthma, I have used counseling services several times in my past, and have always found them to be extremely useful. If you are struggling with anxiety for whatever reason, please do consider seeking some professional advice and support.

I’ve recently undertaken a rather large career change myself: I quit my full time job and set up shop as an independent contractor and consultant. Working as a contractor is going reasonably well, but it is full of sources of uncertainty- the most obvious being where I will find my next contract. I’m also trying to use some of the time freed up by this change to bootstrap a company that makes things for people who love to learn. That is going according to my plan, but that plan was to go really slowly, at least at first.  In a climate that celebrates venture-backed start ups, it is easy to start feeling like my company is failing before it has even really gotten started, even though I made a conscious decision to do things differently.

If you’d like to see where I’m at, here is my company website. I am actually a little further along than shown on the website. I decided that my first area of focus would be publishing short ebooks (you can also read more about that decision if you’d like), and have one book under contract at out with an editor right now and am close to signing a contract on another book.

There is A LOT of uncertainty and anxiety around the products aspect of my company. I would be lying if I said that all of this uncertainty and the anxiety it produces don’t occasionally make me wonder if I’m doing the wrong thing with my life. My husband can attest that I sometimes have a beer or two or three and whine about it all.

But I also know that I am unbelievably lucky to have the chance to try this out, and I don’t want anxiety to keep me from giving it my best shot. That means I have to keep my anxiety under control. Here’s how I do it.

 

I remind myself about how much time I have.

I am 42. I plan to work in some capacity until I’m at least 65, assuming my health holds and I don’t strike it so rich that “travel the world living a life of adventure” becomes an actual option. I got my PhD and entered the workforce 15 years ago. I expect to work for 23 more years or longer. I’m not even halfway done yet! So I have plenty of time left, and I can afford to take a few years to try to make my current plan work. If it doesn’t work, I have plenty of time to do something different.

Yes, this ignores the very real problem of age discrimination, but as someone who’s spent her entire career dealing with the very real problem of gender discrimination my approach is to acknowledge it exists and assume that I will find a way to do interesting things, anyway.

I keep my eye on my own definition of success.

I spent far too much of my 20s and early 30s chasing someone else’s definition of success. I have finally learned to at least try to judge myself only by my own metrics. This can be hard to do: I am not immune to the effects of peer pressure. But when I feel myself worrying that I’m “failing,” I try to take a step back and ask if that is really true, or if I’m just aiming for a different prize.

I also find it helpful to remind myself that the only thing I actually must do with my career is make enough money to support myself and my family. All other aspects of success are up to me to define.

It is natural for us to absorb the definition of success that is common in the environment in which we work- but we don’t really have to accept that definition. We can choose a different definition, more in line with our own goals. If you choose to aim for a different goal, though, don’t be surprised if some of the people around you are not supportive. Watching a friend make a large change in goals can cause people to question their own choices, and that can be uncomfortable. Some people will lash out at the person whose new direction initiated the confusion. Just remember that your choices and goals are not actually a commentary on their choices and goals, and try not to let them derail you.

I try to understand the root of my anxiety and work to mitigate that.

I can feel anxious for a lot of different reasons. A few years ago, I had a tremendous bout of anxiety that I eventually tracked back to a feeling that my technical skills were getting stale, which would limit my career options. I decided to start working on a personal side project to alleviate that feeling, and that led me to launch Tungsten Hippo, a website about short ebooks. I have done everything on that website myself, and seeing it take shape reminded me that I am perfectly capable of learning new technical skills when I need them, and quieted that particular bout of anxiety.

More recently, I’ve been stressing about money. My husband and I checked our budget before I decided to quit my full time job, and we can accommodate a less predictable income. There is no rational reason for me to be stressing about money, but there is also no denying that I was stressing about money. When I examined my anxiety a bit more, I realized that what I actually need to stop worrying is a reliable income that covers a certain percentage of our monthly expenses. That amount is a small fraction of the amount I actually bring in each month, but it is apparently really important to me. Therefore, I recently signed on to do some work that pays much less than my usual sort of work, but is reliable and can flex around my other commitments. This makes it worth doing, even though by a straight analysis of the hourly rate, it might not be.

This example also feeds back into the point about knowing what success means to me. By most objective measures, the contract I just signed is a “step down” from my usual work. Some people might consider that an indication of failure. But in fact, it is allowing me to continue to pursue my larger goals, so to me, it is part of my attempt to succeed.

Everyone has their own definition of success and their own anxiety triggers. It can be hard to see those through the fog of society’s expectations for us, though. Perhaps the first step towards combating career-related anxiety is to spend some time learning about what really matters to you. This has been an iterative process for me, and it is ongoing. However, as I learn more about what matters to me, my enjoyment of my own life continues to grow. So I think it is worth the effort.

HIRING SUCCESS STORY guest post by @AlyciaPhD

I knew pretty early on in graduate school that I wanted to pursue a career in academic administration. When I was a second-year Ph.D. student a friend who was the Graduate Student Association representative for our program suggested that I serve on a University-wide committee, since I am “the kind of person who has opinions about things.” I joined the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on the Status of Women. The main benefit of this experience was exposure to all of the different constituencies that make a university run. It is a common experience for graduate students to be isolated within the environment of their individual departments or programs, such that they have no idea what provosts, vice chancellors and the like actually do, or why they should care. Serving on this committee gave me a view into the other side, beyond research and teaching, and I found it really fascinating to see the nuts and bolts of how the administration tries, sometimes unsuccessfully, to serve it’s students, faculty and staff. At about the same time I joined the newly formed Diversity Recruitment Committee for my program, and participated in the diversity recruitment efforts of the Office of Graduate Studies.

My first Ph.D. advisor was not a good match as a mentor, and my research project was languishing as a result, so it was important for me to find avenues outside of the lab where I felt competent and that I was making a contribution. In addition to my committee service, I acted as a mentor for an undergraduate summer program, and did as much informal science outreach as I could. Eventually I got to the point where I found more personal fulfillment out of my “extracurricular” activities than my research, so I tried to find models for how other people had turned these types of interests into a career.

During graduate school I went to every panel discussion on non-academic/non-traditional careers for scientists available to me both on my campus, and at any conference that I attended. My main goal was to identify how people who have successfully moved away from the bench got their start. It was very frustrating to find out that there was no real answer, and that there were no pre-existing models that I could follow.

At first it seemed like most of these folks found their positions by sheer luck. They would say, “well I was doing my post-doc and someone called up and said would you like to do this other thing” and they accepted the offer. Take-home message: stay on the academic path and wait for someone to call you out of the blue. This was not the advice that I was hoping to find. In retrospect I think the answer is that luck favors the prepared, or that if you take the effort to build a broad base of skills, and make sure that a wide spectrum of people know about you and your skills, you will be in the position to create opportunities for yourself. Fortunately I was already doing just that. I didn’t seek these experiences out with a plan that they would help my career, but in the end it worked out to be a tremendous advantage.

The institution where I went to graduate school was approximately 3000 miles away from where my husband and I grew up, so I knew that I wanted to find a job closer to our families. I had a very small and very specific geographic location in mind, and my goal was get a non-faculty job at a university. Consequently there was a very short list of universities that I targeted in my job search. For years I had been searching job listings just to get an idea of what types of positions I could possibly do, and I started getting in touch with contacts at those universities in 2009, about a year before I planned to defend my dissertation. By this time I had a new advisor and a new research project, which was going very well with his guidance. He was not only supportive of my research, but also of my plans to pursue a non-research career.

One contact was a woman I met at a conference in 2007. She let me know that she had left for maternity leave and decided not to come back. Her position had not yet been posted, and had been unfilled for some time, but they were interested in eventually hiring a replacement. As luck would have it, I was going to be in the area for a wedding, so I took the proactive step of sending a resume and cover letter and letting them know the dates that I would be available if they wanted to meet with me. Even though there was no job ad. I knew they needed someone who could recruit and provide support to underrepresented Ph.D. students in STEM fields, so I tailored my document to show that I had those skills.

My CV highlights my research experience and doesn’t mention any of my administrative or outreach activities. In contrast, my resume puts my university service at the forefront, to show that I was familiar with the process of graduate student recruitment and professional development, and that I was comfortable working with students, faculty, and senior academic administrators. I included several bullets points for each item so that it was clear exactly what I had accomplished and what skills I had developed. For example, if I had just listed the names of the committees that I served on, the people reading my resume could think I had just gone to a bunch of on-campus meetings and was not an active participant. It was important to use my resume convey to that I also helped to shape university policy, plan and implement events, and travel to national conferences to recruit students.

For the cover letter I chose to take this idea further by structuring it around three experiences that I had in university service, and describing the skills that I developed in each that would prove valuable in this position. I also made a point of giving a specific example of my contribution to a successful outcome, in this case planning a focus group with the founder of MentorNet. This example allowed me to show that I was able to take action on information that I gained by directly engaging with a university administrator, showing my ability to identify a problem and work with various campus constituents to implement a solution.

As I mentioned, when I contacted them the job had not yet been posted. I sent them my resume and cover letter in May of 2009, and they responded immediately to let me know that they had not yet updated the position description but that they intended to hire someone and would keep me in mind. Within a few weeks they got back to me to schedule an interview in June on one of the dates I had suggested in my letter. I found as much information as I could about the university by searching Google, and went into the interview with a plan to explain to them that I had all of the skills and experience that they were looking for, even if they didn’t yet know what they wanted.

All of the interviewers that I spoke with that day asked the same question, which was why I wanted to do this job when I was in a position to have a successful research career. Because I had been thinking about this for several years at that point, I had a very well crafted answer that called back to all of the experiences that I mentioned in my cover letter and resume. The interview went very well, and they kept me informed as they went through the process of getting the job approved by Human Resources so that they could officially open the search. It was not until August 31, over two months later, that I actually saw the job description. I will let you the reader decide if there were any similarities between what was posted and what I listed on my resume. They interviewed a few additional candidates in October, and I also had phone interviews with members of the search committee that I had not met in June. I don’t remember how long it was until they offered me the position, but I think it was late November or early December. It is a union position so the salary range is fixed, but I negotiated to get the maximum, plus an allowance for moving expenses.

My mentors were very supportive of my decision to pursue this career path, but they were confused as to why I would choose a university that was not in the same tier of prestige as any other institution in my background. I felt that this position provided me with an opportunity to make a real contribution to an effort towards institutional change, which was very exciting. If I had gone to a more elite university I think it would be harder to feel as if I were having an impact, being a little fish in a big pond. It was also a work-life balance decision, since I was planning on starting a family.

Once in the position I was thrilled to be able to use both my administrative and research skills to help recruit a more diverse pool of graduate students. Similar to my volunteer experiences in graduate school, I now travel nationally to recruit prospective students, represent the Graduate School on various university committees, and advise faculty and staff on best practices in recruitment and diversity. My academic background comes in handy when I must collect and analyze data on graduate admissions and enrollment, or give presentations for audiences as diverse as the Council of Deans, or groups of undergraduates thinking about applying graduate school. One of the things that I like most about working on the administrative side of the university is that I get to interact with both students and faculty from a variety of disciplines, rather than remain isolated in a sub-niche of a my chosen field.

Another great benefit of my position is that I get the chance to demystify graduate school for so many people struggling like I did with the fact that there are so many unwritten rules of academia. I tell them that it is important not to ignore all of the networking advice that is out there. My trajectory shows that it works. I never would have known about this position if I hadn’t sent a random email to a woman I’d met at a conference two years prior. Make contacts before you know you need them. Even if you don’t end up going to someone for help, you may be in a position to help them one day, which is just as important. I also tell my students something that I mentioned earlier, which is to make sure your network has contacts that can vouch for your non-research skills. Many students look to their advisors and committee members to serve as references for academic jobs, but if you are looking for a non-traditional career that may not be sufficient. In addition to my advisor, I obtained letters of recommendation from a faculty member that I worked closely with on two committees over the course of four years, and from the coordinator of the mentoring program that I worked with for two summers. They were able to speak to aspects of my character that were relevant to my desired position, but may not have been obvious to my research collaborators because they knew me in a different context.

A final piece of advice is to be open to all possibilities, and to be proactive about finding them. Don’t wait for a job to find you. Many jobs that go to newly minted PhDs never get posted at all, so if you are not out there asking questions, you have already missed out.

Alycia Mosley Austin

Ph.D., Neuroscience, 2010

Director of Graduate Recruitment and Diversity Initiatives at University of Rhode Island

What’s Next??

Why is it the most anxiety-inducing thoughts always come in the middle of the night?


I woke up recently and the most random thing popped into my head: If I need a job, any job, in a year from now… what the heck would that be? Could I really go back to retail with a PhD? I don’t know if I could waitress, I’m such a klutz as it is…


This thought appeared benign and inquisitive. Just a random idea that didn’t seem threatening… until it totally was.


These days, we all know there’s a “glut” of PhDs, there are not enough jobs and too many of us are toiling away as low-paid postdocs, across STEM fields. Bleak, reading? Yes. I’ve still got a year of my postdoc and am I worried? Oh yeah. I mean, I’m thinking about my prospects as a waitress at 2am… and I have multiple advanced degrees.


I know I’m not alone. As we Young Career Scientists look out on the Future, it’s kind of a scary place.


Indeed, this is a bit off-topic for our Diversity Journal Club, but Doctor PMS and I decided it’d be a good topic to tackle, as many of us are in this boat together, searching for a paddle. Moreover, so many of our conversations have come back to the importance of community, of a place to talk about concerns and issues – and certainly these concerns affect all of us.

So next time we get together on twitter, this coming Monday 23 March at 2pm Eastern, let’s talk about what’s next: About our concerns and fears for the future, but let’s also lean on that community to help one another find a paddle. Let’s share thoughts, ideas, and advice on how we get through the scary times, and also about alternative routes to fulfilling careers that lie beyond academia (where so many of us have been told for so long to hang our hopes). Let’s talk about what you do or did to help get through the Early Career stage, and about what other avenues are out there to explore.

Come to commiserate, or to share how you got through it and to give advice! All voices welcome!


2pm ET, Monday 23 March!