This session is unique in that it is almost entirely Q&A. After a brief introduction from each speaker, they begin answer questions and giving advice. It is a wonderful chance to discuss issues facing women from balancing family and work to dealing with harassment. While the entire session will be available online later, I wanted to highlight a few of my favorite moments.
I was first drawn in when Dr. Kasey Jackson was asked what her biggest challenge to overcome was and she replied “myself.” It was so honest and so relatable. We can be our own largest enemy. Jackson described a familiar feeling of inadequacy and not being smart enough for science. Jackson said she reminds herself that it could not have been luck this many times. You don’t get this many grants, papers, etc by luck this many times. You have gotten where you are by hard work.
I was most surprised when the panel had no response to a question about sacrifices they made to be a female scientist. Really, no sacrifices at all? They mentioned there were occasional talks they missed because they didn’t want to travel while 9 months pregnant. There were choices to wait to have kids. But none of them viewed them as sacrifices. Just choices they made to create the life they wanted. It wasn’t meant to be an idealistic response. But it became a subtle way to fight this idea that you have to “sacrifice” your life as a mother to be a scientist or vis versa. Dr. Michelle Jones-London admitted “you can’t have it all, all the time, in every moment.” But you are an adult, and you can choose what you want to prioritize when.
For some women, that priority is going into a field that is not supportive of women. And that is great. We need trailblazers who are willing to start tipping the scales. But I want to thank the panelist who reminded me, not everyone has to be a trailblazer. You can pick an institute or job that is known to be more supportive of females. And that doesn’t make you less of a person. Just because you are a minority doesn’t’ mean you have to be the one to fight every battle.
The most moving part though, was when an audience member was brave enough to ask what she should do next because she wasn’t getting the support she needed from her administration, including Title IX. To that woman, I admire you and thank you for your honest vulnerability. To the panel, I am so touched to see how deeply concerned you all became. Dr. VanHoven was near tears. The best advice from all of this panel was simply this: for anyone, male or female, student or faculty, young or old, your first priority is to be safe; your second is to make it safe for others. No job is worth risking your physical safety. It doesn’t matter if you need to switch labs and take longer to graduate, whatever the price, your physical safety must come first. And then report it so others can be safe as well. It won’t stop if you do nothing. Even if one person didn’t respond, the administration is made of multiple people, and you only need one to respond to you. You can take legal action. Do whatever you need to do to take care of your safety first and foremost.
To all the amazing women who served on this panel, thank you. May you continue to inspire the next generation of female scientists.