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

 

What’s next and how to get there… or at least get started.

Last week, we took a little diversion from our stated objective of talking diversity in STEM. Doctor PMS and I have been talking and thinking a lot about the next stage in our careers, and about the anxiety and challenge that holds for us. We wanted to see about giving some space to that, especially as community has come up as important in many of our conversations thus far.


Clearly we’re not the only ones struggling with this – as the ensuing conversation (and wrestling that into this recap!) made clear. But we also wanted to hear how others have made it through and reached the other side. We wanted advice, too.


For starters, many of us attempt to figure out what’s next and make ourselves more marketable by taking on extra tasks or responsibilities.

Yet some (myself included) were all too familiar with the struggle to do that, when we have pressure to focus on one:

We likely won’t get recognized for the additional work we’re doing to make our resume stand out, to explore other options, to broaden our skills. We are feeling more pressure to do as many additional things as we can, while often operating within a culture that puts a premium on a single type of output.

Part of this was the fact that many of us are in an academic culture that values specific goals (peer-reviewed publications, tenure) and a specific path (PhD, postdoc, tenure-track faculty). In addition, as biochembelle (@biochembelle) mused, maybe we get too focused on certain titles in academia (e.g. “tenure-track professor”) – ones that we don’t see when/if we leave. Moreover, Luna CM Centifanti ‏(@LunaCentifanti), Doctor PMS (@Doctor_PMS) and Jorden Cummings (@jordenc_phd) brought up that we are often under the impression that if you leave academia – don’t expect to come back. This narrative alone can be harmful and create anxiety, as Amelia Jordan (‏@Robot_Insect) noted, as it makes us feel like we can’t even try something else, even if we’re unhappy or academia doesn’t feel like the right fit.

Being on an Ivy League campus right now, I have heard from graduate students that success is getting tenure at another Ivy. Anything less is failure. But. This doesn’t have to be the case.

In fact, many responded that leaving was not always a one-way street. While it may be difficult for some in some fields, you can absolutely return to academia. Further, I argue the narrative that it can’t be done says far more about academic institutional culture than it does about reality – and this culture is not everywhere. For me, my MS and PhD studies were at an institution that was very different in this regard from where I am now. The University of New Hampshire was very applied – graduate students worked very often with collaborators off-campus and outside academia. The faculty represented a range of backgrounds, as did the grad students themselves. Leaving academia was never frowned upon, it was done regularly. And you could return – there are academic institutions that value and welcome non-academic experience.


See, there is more than an academic path out there. Moreover, we shouldn’t be looking into it just because we’re hearing over and over again how there are too few jobs and too many of us. Academia might also be the wrong fit! There may be something else out there we’re better at.

Yet even if you do get past the narrative and make the decision to test the non-academic waters, doing so is a challenge. Ian Street (@IHStreet), Jessica Catrilli (@jess_carilli) and others noted that translating our skills and experiences can be difficult. Jorden Cummings (@jordenc_phd) and V. Siva (@DrVidSiva) added that you don’t always know what jobs to look for. The problem is, as V. Siva continued, there is often little being done to help prepare us for a job beyond academia. Doctor PMS (@Doctor_PMS) followed up that this is why it’s so tough – how do you know what skills you need, if you don’t know entirely where you’re headed? And I’ll add – how do you know even know which direction to go, if you’re never made fully aware of all the options available to you?


Unfortunately, in addition to all of that, we have to face fact that the job market may be no better outside of academia.

We can’t assume that just by leaving we’ll suddenly be at an advantage, even if we do figure out how to translate our skills and experience, how to update our resume. However, I’ve also been told that you can make your academic experience work for you. If you have an advanced degree, this can signal that you are good at multi-tasking, at starting and completing difficult projects and research, that you can handle challenges and solve problems. Basically, as academics, we tend to completely overlook what it means to have gone through rigorous academic training in the first place. We can translate that into marketable skills.


So. What to be done? How do we try out new fields when we have been told so little about them? How do we move in a non-academic direction with little support in doing so?


First. The big bottom line really is the fact that there are other paths. Most of us are just not used to seeing them after having been in academia our entire careers thus far, and interacting with only other academics.

Viviane Callier (@vcallier) added there’s a clear path in academia, but less so outside it. This alone is “both terrifying and exciting“…!

So how do we see what’s out there, this place with no path? One really helpful way is simply talking to other people who’ve done it.

In addition to learning what’s out there, do some self-reflection.


What do you enjoy most about your current job? What are you good at? What would you like to learn? What about other positions sound intriguing? If you can design your perfect career, what would it look like?
I know these sound kinda silly, but they really are deeply important questions – and don’t limit yourself. Dream big. For example, I’ve been doing a lot of this thinking over the past few months of my postdoc. Yes, I am doing interesting work at a very prestigious lab at a very prestigious university but… I realize I enjoy the connections between research and management far more than theoretical work. I like collaboration – I like connecting people. I am good at running meetings, staying on task, and following up. A career in academia likely isn’t for me – but a job for a non-profit or “boundary group” that connects research and policy, one where I help develop long-term goals and the strategies to get them done? That would be fabulous. I also want a job that pays me to do diversity work – and I want that work explicitly part of long-term goals and strategies.

Maybe that’s a big dream, but it helps me craft what I do now. Who I talk to, what I talk about, even how I frame the papers I’m working on.

To help you think about this, try out new things! Talk to new people! Read stuff! Check out job boards (some of my ideas come from job posts I’m not yet qualified for). You never know what might click.

Another helpful tip: informational interviews – when you interview someone for information, usually about their job and how they got there, as opposed to for a job yourself. These are also a great way to figure out what might fit for you. Look into people writing or doing cool things, look them up online, read about them. If they have a career that sounds intriguing, even if you have no idea how you’d get there… guess what, they might have some insight. Sure, cold-contacting someone is scary, but remember that informational interviews are done widely in other fields (outside academia!) and that people love to talk about themselves!


If you do decide to make a switch, seek out resources that can help you figure out what you need to be successful in that field. Learn what matters in this new career – what skills, experience, and what they value. Start to network, from your informational interviews say. Update your CV/resume – it will not be the same across postings! – and while this will be challenging, it can be done!

But perhaps don’t just go at it haphazardly. As Doctor PMS (@Doctor_PMS) stated, and I agree, make a plan. If I can think through things, the steps I need to take, that makes all the difference in the world. If you don’t know what comes next, or those steps – again, find someone who does! But – keep in mind this plan should be flexible. You never know what’s going to happen next…


In the meantime, remember the importance of taking care of yourself, and of spending time with the people around you. I’ve just added a whole bunch of additional things for you to do – when you’re already pressed for time, stressed, and anxious. This is where your friends and colleagues come in.

Never underestimate the power of community – of a safe space to talk about your worries and your hopes. Where you can share struggles and get advice, be it with one person or many.

This is particularly important much more broadly. Ian Street (@IHStreet) also got us talking about mental health – a HUGE part of this conversation that often gets left out.

There was a lot of conversation about mental health – and for good reason. Graduate school and our early careers are often highly stressful. We are also likely isolated from friends and family – and even from those around us. I think we often hide our anxieties, feelings of not measuring up, depression, from our lab members and advisor. As the conversation made clear, this is a major, major issue – that we don’t often talk about, and are rarely sure where to go for help.

We don’t talk about our struggles very often. We don’t want people to know that we’re having a tough time, or we’re late on that manuscript. We don’t want people to know we’re not sure how to do that analysis, and didn’t understand this paper – yet it can be much more than that. We live in a society that has a tough time with mental illness in all of its forms already – and now we’re in academia where we rely on our brains and competition may mean we don’t want to show any form of “weakness”. This is a systemic problem I’m already getting sidetracked on, so I’ll just say this: having a community you trust, be that one person or many, and talking about issues together in a safe space is key, but hard to come by. Try to find it well before you need it, if you can, and be that space for others. Do not shy away from conversations about mental health – be supportive. If you need help but can’t find it in your lab or advisor, go elsewhere. Even twitter can be a supportive space where you can be anonymous until you’re ready to find people you can trust IRL.

Coming back to our topic, one important aspect of support is having a mentor you trust, someone you can discuss things in a more professional capacity, as being proactive can help ease anxiety. A mentor is also critical for determining your career path and supporting you through it.

I don’t think I can overstate this – the importance of mentoring, either as a mentor working to help your students understand the options available, or as a student looking forward. However. We live under the assumption that you just need the one, and that one is your advisor. This isn’t true. Let me reiterate Alycia Mosely Austin (@AlyciaPhD) by saying you likely need more than your advisor. First, maybe your advisor isn’t very good at mentoring. Find another. Second, one person cannot do all the mentoring things for you. Your advisor may be a great mentor when it comes to your research, but has never left academia. They cannot mentor you as you think about new career options. As Ruth Hufbauer (@hufbauer) pointed out, faculty may not have be able to advise students on career decisions that are new to them, as well.

A good mentor will help you navigate potential avenues available, and can assist with everything from converting your resume to learning the important jargon you’ll need to know (as David Thul pointed out) to network effectively. And this isn’t just for now. You will need to seek out good mentors for various reason throughout your life. This is not something that is given – this takes active work. Learn to do this now.

Finally, Cassie (@mosquito_chaser) brought up an interesting point…

I know a lot of minority groups feel this way – that what we do as individuals reflects on us as a whole. It’s unfair but reality. To this I say – I’ll echo biochem bell (@biochembelle), Sci Curious (@scicurious), and Alycia Mosey Austin (@AlyciaPhD) that we can lead in demonstrating all of the things we can do in our fields, the range of experiences and opportunities out there. There are many ways to be an inspiration!


So. An attempt to sum up: Think about what it is you want to do, and what you’re good at. What makes you tick, what will be fulfilling – but then take steps to make that a reality. Realize you can try something new – but you will have to work at it and seek help. Be proactive – talk with other people about their paths, about other options, network, attend seminars outside your focus, try out an informational interview or two. Plan ahead – but allow plans to be fluid! And, bottom line, pay attention to you in other ways too: watch you stress and anxiety levels, know you can and should talk about mental health – yours and others. Take time when you need it, don’t be afraid to support yourself too!


There is hope!


I tried to grab all the articles and resources shared during this conversation, but please add more in the comments!

Post-academic Ph.D. Careers: a Spectrum of Alternatives
Finding your career path: A list of articles and resources from @biochembelle
The Awesomest 7-Year Postdoc or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tenure-Track Faculty Life
Advice for PhD Students: Tips From Professors, Startup Founders, and Industry Professionals
PhD to University Administration: A post on Dr. Alycia Mosley Austin’s (@AlyciaPhD) career path.
A Scientist’s Guide to Citizen Science from Megan McCuller (@mccullermi).
biochembelle‘s posts on Changing Course, Part 1 and Part 2.
An Interview with Professional Development Consultant Marquita M. Qualls, PhD
From @SciCurious: Tips for getting out and The ‘system’ failed me. It should have failed me sooner.
Things to do and not do for your future – not former – self.
“In order to be successful, one must project an image of success at all times.”
How Uncertainty Fuels Anxiety

Consider following:
Science Careers: @sciencecareers
The National Postdoctoral Association at nationalpostdoc: @nationalpostdoc
SACNAS (Society for Advancement of Hispanics/Chicanos and Native Americans in Science): @sacnas
AAAS MassMedia Fellowship: @AAASMassMedia
MySciCareer: @MySciCareer


Thank you to everyone who participated! In no particular order (and let me know if I missed anyone):

Jorden Cummings ‏@jordenc_phd
Megan McCuller @mccullermi
Luna CM Centifanti ‏@LunaCentifanti
Ian Street ‏@IHStreet
V. Siva ‏@DrVidSiva
Cassie ‏@mosquito_chaser
Alycia Mosley Austin ‏@AlyciaPhD
Amelia Jordan ‏@Robot_Insect
Gary McDowell ‏@BiophysicalFrog
biochem belle ‏@biochembelle
Melissa WilsonSayres ‏@mwilsonsayres
Viviane Callier ‏@vcallier
Bill Hooker ‏@sennoma
Terry McGlynn ‏@hormiga
Corey Welch ‏@CoreyWelch_STEM
Wandering Scientist ‏@wandsci
David Thul ‏@David_J_Thul
Ruth Hufbauer ‏@hufbauer
Starving Scientist ‏@starvingphd
Bill Price ‏@pdiff1
Marissa Berlin ‏@stiricide
Sci Curious @scicurious
Jessica Carilli ‏@jess_carilli
NatC @SciTriGrrl
InBabyAttachMode ‏@BabyAttachMode
Alberto Roca ‏@MinorityPostdoc
SJ Mentch ‏@sjmentch

Please feel free to continue the discussion in the comments and post additional resources I missed! And don’t forget to check out our two guests post that came about as a result of this conversation:

HIRING SUCCESS STORY guest post by @AlyciaPhD
Tips for Handling Career Anxiety guest post by @wandsci


Til next time!

Emily (@DrEmilySKlein)

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!