Women in Gaia: from early career researchers to leading experts.

What is a career anyway?

In introducing themselves, some of our speakers observed that we should reflect on what we mean by career.

I never had a career, I had a life I was living“.

I am not interested in a career. A career is a story you tell after you have done it”.

This was a really necessary reality check to hear at the start of the discussion encouraging us to challenge our assumptions. Especially considering we ran a workshop in June on career options.

Our speakers introductions were open and honest reflections on their experiences. One of our speakers observed that participating in a physics undergraduate degree was an environment that increased their insecurity and self doubt: “I was worried I was not a good fit for the job I wanted to do“.

One of our speakers observed that even if you take a ‘traditional academic’ path on paper, it may not feel like a traditional path along the way. Reflecting that they were “following the traditional academic path but in my heart I was looking for ways out. I had strong mentoring and that helped me to find my way.”

How do family and academic commitments change with time?

At times the idea of family and academia are presented as incompatible. This is often said in the context of motherhood but it is important to include fathers in this discussion too. So in discussing family we should be talking about parents, not just mothers.

  1. It can be really hard to keep momentum going when you have a young family. This is a motivating factor for some to have children later in life. The challenge becomes how to keep projects moving and keep opportunities coming in.
  2. Don’t leave science after having children. Do acknowledge that it will slow you down when they are young and you will have less time to contribute to your science. But it is really important to acknowledge that as your children get older you will regain time and energy to focus on your science and other activities.

Some advice on this point: “The advice I was given was not to try to do/have everything all the time, because it is miserable. My approach is to enjoy my family now but to keep engaged in the science just enough to be able enjoy that too and so that I still have a career when my family is older and not so dependent on me.

It is absolutely okay to have a dip in publications. Over a long and varied career I expect it won’t make much difference. The science may take a back seat when you become a parent, but it isn’t forever, and all careers have phases and diversions. It is harmful to think that you have to sacrifice your science for babies. This just simply is not true.

Does the university institution favour men?

  1. It is not uncommon to feel the university system is not working to support you. The goal is to make it work for you. After you have found your way, universities can be amazing place to work.
  2. Think of the university as a vehicle to follow your research interests.
  3. Keep a list of people around you that are setting up flexible work arrangements. Then use this as evidence when you need to request changes to your work schedule to build in more flexibility.

Is the “boys club” still a problem?

  1. It is still common for women to be treated as though we are not good enough. Even though we clearly are!
  2. There are often situations where we need to take risks as scientists. This often suits men who more often task risks, make mistakes and in the process become more resilient to failure.
  3. The idea of the “boys club” has two parts: system issues and confident issues.
    • The system issues can include the delivery of education that is often better suited to “male thinking”. This can create intellectual dominance which does not promote diversity.
    • In terms of confidence, the goal is to reach a place within ourselves where we have a base level of confidence as an individual that is resilient to external forces. This unshaken confidence is the single biggest thing you can do for yourself.

The final point deserves highlighting: the solution for all genders is to have both emotional and gender equality.

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