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The Value of Female Advisors

Amanda Labuza

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Recently I have been struggling with finishing my PhD. The pressures to find a job, stressful committee meetings, writing, trying to get that last experiment done, etc. And I have realized how helpful it is to have female advisors. I don't have any female PIs on my committee, haven't collaborated with any, and haven't really had many classes with female PIs either. But this last week I met with two for various reasons and I am suddenly wishing I would have built these relationships a lot sooner. Speaking with women PIs has been very uplifting.

They managed to help me go from completely overwhelmed to putting it all back into perspective. Maybe it is because they were a little less blunt, a little less harsh about some of the issues I was having. Maybe it was because they took the time to say "I know it is upsetting, but these are just small obstacles to get to the end." Or maybe it was because they weren't on my committee and were just removed from the situation. Either way, helped.

There is a certain validation is speaking female-to-female about certain struggles. Occasionally there are still sexist comments I have to bear. I'm not saying they are all the time and worth reporting. But just the occasional side comment from my advisor that "it's your two x chromosomes" stopping you from standing up for yourself just frustrate me. I know he was trying to encourage me to advocate for myself and not to be a typical timid female, but did we really need to bring gender into it? But it was relieving to hear from someone in authority "that comment doesn't sit well with me either". Just the reassurance that I'm not being overly sensitive. And the simultaneous reassurance that it is okay to be sensitive. To hear they cried during their PhD too, but they still managed to become PIs. It gives me hope I can do it too.

This isn't to say men can't cry during their PhDs too. Of course you can. And it isn't to say male advisors can't be inspiring or supportive. I'm just saying there is something special in getting to speak with someone with shared experiences. And occasionally someone with more tact than certain cranky PIs (male or female).

To all the wonderful women out there, creating an awesome example for young scientists like myself, thank you. You are an inspiration. I should have learned the value of speaking with you earlier. And to all the young female grad students, go make friends with a female professor. They don't need to be your formal advisor to help mentor you through this still male dominated field.

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