What is it like being a women in physics now?

PathIntegrals92
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What is it like being a women in physics now?

Postby PathIntegrals92 » Mon Dec 01, 2014 2:52 pm

Just very curious. I am in the process of applying to graduate school (again)* and I started thinking about this more now.

I never experienced any sexism, discouragement, or anything negative like that during my physics career. In fact, quite the opposite. Yet, I occasionally hear the negative stories (news, facebook statuses, word of mouth).


The only reason I started to think about this more is sometimes I'm looking through potential advisors at potential schools and all the students are men. no women. Obviously that could mean women are not interested in that particular research or w/e. I have also found schools that basically have no female profs. I know this does not mean anything is hostile about the environment etc.

Just want to hear more stories!

*I applied previously and I never actually thought about this last year. I guess the schools/fields I looked at had a decent amount of female grad students and female profs.

Is it weird that I want to attend a school that is slightly more balanced (amount of women and men)? Should this even matter when picking schools?

slowdweller
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Re: What is it like being a women in physics now?

Postby slowdweller » Tue Dec 02, 2014 1:35 am

Admissions are a lot less competitive, for one. In particular, I noticed from previous year applicant threads that many females with low PGREs but good research experience got into many great places. I am not a woman, so can't comment on experiences with sexism and what-not.

PathIntegrals92
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Re: What is it like being a women in physics now?

Postby PathIntegrals92 » Tue Dec 02, 2014 10:26 am

From my experience, and from some of my peer's experience, only the standards for pgre is lower*. Like you said, only the female applicants with good research and otherwise strong credentials get accepted.

Honestly, it would not be good for the physics community, in general, to admit less qualified applicants over qualified for the sake of diversity. At least that's what I think (as a female :) ).

Now I am curious about the type of sexism that men might face in academia too?(If any).


*Not true for places like MIT and Princeton...

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Aether73
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Re: What is it like being a women in physics now?

Postby Aether73 » Tue Dec 02, 2014 12:02 pm

PathIntegrals92 wrote:The only reason I started to think about this more is sometimes I'm looking through potential advisors at potential schools and all the students are men. no women. Obviously that could mean women are not interested in that particular research or w/e. I have also found schools that basically have no female profs. I know this does not mean anything is hostile about the environment etc.

Physics is a male dominated field, so this should come as no surprise. Bear in mind that the vast majority of schools have at least a few female profs. Even if they're not in your field you could establish a relationship with them and they could provide you support if you do happen to experience any form of sexism. A lot of schools also have a society for women in physics - if you're worried you can always check for that.

PathIntegrals92 wrote:Is it weird that I want to attend a school that is slightly more balanced (amount of women and men)? Should this even matter when picking schools?

That's understandable, but I wouldn't make it a priority. The sex & gender of your potential advisor should probably be subordinate to how well their research reflects your interests.

PathIntegrals92 wrote:Now I am curious about the type of sexism that men might face in academia too?(If any).

I haven't experienced any.

Sean Carroll covered this subject briefly in a recent talk: http://youtu.be/RwdY7Eqyguo?t=35m22s. I think his sentiment mirrors a large portion of the physics community's sentiment.

Lastly, I think this depends heavily on the size of the physics department. Schools with larger departments will tend to have a more representative number of female faculty members and grad students.

PathIntegrals92
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Re: What is it like being a women in physics now?

Postby PathIntegrals92 » Tue Dec 02, 2014 3:40 pm

Aether73 wrote:That's understandable, but I wouldn't make it a priority. The sex & gender of your potential advisor should probably be subordinate to how well their research reflects your interests.


That's very true! Most of my research interests align with male faculties than female. I didn't notice these things until very recently when I saw someone's blog post about gender gap and stuff. That's why I just became slightly more curious.

Aether73 wrote:I haven't experienced any.

Sean Carroll covered this subject briefly in a recent talk: http://youtu.be/RwdY7Eqyguo?t=35m22s. I think his sentiment mirrors a large portion of the physics community's sentiment.

Lastly, I think this depends heavily on the size of the physics department. Schools with larger departments will tend to have a more representative number of female faculty members and grad students.


Thanks for the link, Sean Carroll makes some good points. Yeah, I am more interested in schools with larger departments mostly because there are more research opportunities.

bfollinprm
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Re: What is it like being a women in physics now?

Postby bfollinprm » Wed Dec 03, 2014 1:37 am

I think it's rare to find an openly hostile place for women to work in academia, though I'd say it certainly can happen, and probably does to at least some extent somewhere. What is more important, because it's more likely to not hold, is whether the department actively understands the pressures that go with being outside the good old boys network in grad school. It's little things like not getting invited to the group homework sessions, or people over-explaining things to you so you don't get a chance to work through it on your own. These things are a sort of casual sexism--an unfortunate consequence of how our society views women bleeding into academia--and for them to not be inhibitive, there has to be conscious effort from the department. Things like an organization of Women in Physics, a peer mentoring program, etc. can be really helpful in fighting these things, I think. Anything that gives a space to talk about it and bring attention to it, since people don't want to be sexist, by and large.

If this is something you worry about, I think it's absolutely defensible to make this a priority concern when choosing a grad school, and a solid contingent of female faculty, (especially) hired postdocs, and a significant cadre of female peers in the graduate program are all good indicators of a program that takes dealing with casual sexism seriously.

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Aether73
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Re: What is it like being a women in physics now?

Postby Aether73 » Wed Dec 03, 2014 9:38 am

bfollinprm wrote:What is more important, because it's more likely to not hold, is whether the department actively understands the pressures that go with being outside the good old boys network in grad school. It's little things like not getting invited to the group homework sessions, or people over-explaining things to you so you don't get a chance to work through it on your own.

Image

"... and then she asked if she could do school work with us" *raucous laughter*

TakeruK
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Re: What is it like being a women in physics now?

Postby TakeruK » Wed Dec 03, 2014 11:55 am

bfollinprm wrote:If this is something you worry about, I think it's absolutely defensible to make this a priority concern when choosing a grad school, and a solid contingent of female faculty, (especially) hired postdocs, and a significant cadre of female peers in the graduate program are all good indicators of a program that takes dealing with casual sexism seriously.


I agree with bfollinprm's post and advice! I just wanted to highlight this paragraph to emphasize this point, because I think it is very good advice for all students, regardless of your gender identity!

PathIntegrals92
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Re: What is it like being a women in physics now?

Postby PathIntegrals92 » Wed Dec 03, 2014 2:10 pm

Thanks for the responses guys! I agree with bfollinprm's advice too! Also I agree with you TakeruK that this is good advice for all students.

From my personal experience as a female, I have faced discouragement from other females (faculty). they were not at all fun experiences and I am hoping that I don't encounter those in whichever graduate school I end up in. **

My interactions with male faculty have always been positive. My reason for bringing this up, is because it seems that when most women share the negative stories, it almost always involves a male faculty...


**I should point out that in my physics career so far, I have only personally interacted with about 6 female faculty members (2 were very discouraging). The amount of male faculty I have interacted with exceed 15 or so.

Did anyone check out the latest news on James Watson?
http://www.slate.com/articles/health_an ... src=fol_fb

Now he is the type of person I hope I don't want to encounter. Long before I learned about sexism and such, I used to admire him ( along with Crick and Rosalind Franklin).

PathIntegrals92
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Re: What is it like being a women in physics now?

Postby PathIntegrals92 » Wed Dec 03, 2014 10:44 pm

Since I didn't want to start a new thread,
I was wondering if you any of the current grad students agree with what is mentioned in this blog about what good/bad advisors?

http://theprofessorisin.com/2014/02/23/ ... -advisors/

What do you think makes a good/bad advisor?


I take back what I said about the discouragement I received in the above post. It was probably for my own benefit. haha

TakeruK
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Re: What is it like being a women in physics now?

Postby TakeruK » Thu Dec 04, 2014 4:20 am

PathIntegrals92 wrote:Since I didn't want to start a new thread,
I was wondering if you any of the current grad students agree with what is mentioned in this blog about what good/bad advisors?

http://theprofessorisin.com/2014/02/23/ ... -advisors/

What do you think makes a good/bad advisor?


I take back what I said about the discouragement I received in the above post. It was probably for my own benefit. haha


I agree with all 5 of the bad traits but I do feel that the author is overplaying how bad a "nice advisor" is. That is, I definitely do not think that if you do not cry before/after/during a meeting with your advisor then something is wrong. Also, I feel that a lot of the advice presented in that blog post is generally geared towards students who want to be future tenured superstar professors. Let me expand on these points further in regards to what makes a "good advisor":

Regarding the "nice advisor", I definitely agree that an advisor that does not challenge you or constantly gives you positive comments is not the ideal advisor. It's important to get constructive criticism. However, I do not think that every graduate student needs to find an advisor that will push them to their very limit (emotionally and academically). I'll just address the emotional aspect first here: I do not ever want an advisor that makes me feel crappy about myself at any point in my life. People can criticize my work all they want, but one of the main reasons I stopped working with a professor was because I constantly felt bad about myself (not just my work) before/during/after meetings. I also do not think pushing graduate students to the point of tears is a healthy way to train students and I think this attitude towards graduate students is a toxic one. We are junior colleagues, not research robots expected to produce the most amount of work possible.

My second issue with the "nice advisor" comments was that the blog post seems to imply that every single graduate student is striving to become the best in their field, that they want to become a tenured professor. And thus, the blog post argues (correctly) that in order to achieve this, the student must be pushed to their fullest potential, which will involve some academically, physically, and emotionally stressed times.

But, I think the blog post is incorrect to assume that this should be the standard way we treat graduate students. First of all, not every student wants to be a tenured professor and even if we all did, there is nowhere near enough jobs. Secondly, not every student needs or wants to be pushed their absolute limit. Grad school will take up as much of your time as you let it because there is always another paper to read, another experiment to run, another piece of code to write, another dataset to analyze. Sure, doing more of these things will lead to being a better scientist, but I consider myself a human first and a scientist second. Science is just one of the many things I like to do with my time! Even if I knew for a fact that if I worked 70 hours per week instead of my standard 40 hours per week that I would achieve much more science output, I would not do it, because I want to do science 40 hours per week and something else I like for the other 30 hours per week. Science is one of my passion but it is not my sole passion.

Therefore, I feel the tone of the blog post (the one where we expect graduate students to dedicate all of their energies towards science) actually contributes towards the crappiness of grad student life. It leads to us putting higher pressure on ourselves, feeling guilty when we see others working 50+ hours per week, feeling shame to even think about pursuing other passion, and otherwise leads to a lot of mental unhealthiness and a lack of work-life balance.

Thus, in my opinion, another "bad trait" is an advisor that builds an environment where you are constantly expected to perform at your limit and/or has unrealistic expectations that every student wants to be a superstar researcher.

PathIntegrals92
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Re: What is it like being a women in physics now?

Postby PathIntegrals92 » Thu Dec 04, 2014 11:59 am

Thanks for sharing your insight and experiences TakeruK!

TakeruK wrote:I agree with all 5 of the bad traits but I do feel that the author is overplaying how bad a "nice advisor" is. That is, I definitely do not think that if you do not cry before/after/during a meeting with your advisor then something is wrong. Also, I feel that a lot of the advice presented in that blog post is generally geared towards students who want to be future tenured superstar professors. Let me expand on these points further in regards to what makes a "good advisor":

Regarding the "nice advisor", I definitely agree that an advisor that does not challenge you or constantly gives you positive comments is not the ideal advisor. It's important to get constructive criticism. However, I do not think that every graduate student needs to find an advisor that will push them to their very limit (emotionally and academically). I'll just address the emotional aspect first here: I do not ever want an advisor that makes me feel crappy about myself at any point in my life. People can criticize my work all they want, but one of the main reasons I stopped working with a professor was because I constantly felt bad about myself (not just my work) before/during/after meetings. I also do not think pushing graduate students to the point of tears is a healthy way to train students and I think this attitude towards graduate students is a toxic one. We are junior colleagues, not research robots expected to produce the most amount of work possible.


I fully agree with what you wrote here. I have only had advising as an undergrad, which I believe is very different from graduate advising. Many of my peers always asked me whether I have cried in front of my advisor. I found that to be soo strange. None of the professors that I did research with drove me to tears. One the female faculty, the one that is discouraging, is known to drive her students to tears. She is very harsh and does not often give positive or encouraging support directly. She has even driven me to tears ( and she's not even my advisor). However, I noticed that her students are very successful. She pushed them to their very limit!

I resented her up till now, but maybe her bluntness was for my good? She told me that I sucked and that I would never be able to do a certain type of physics field, but maybe if I really wanted to, I could have proved her wrong? If I had tougher skin...

I agree, though, that it is definitely not healthy. It can led to burn outs, depression, and all sorts of things.


TakeruK wrote:First of all, not every student wants to be a tenured professor and even if we all did, there is nowhere near enough jobs.


This is very true. I guess blog poster's audience was for the students who want to remain in academia.

TakeruK wrote:but I consider myself a human first and a scientist second.


I wish this was echoed in academia in general. These days, it seems to be all about how much one publishes. I think in terms of publications, quality is more important than quantity. I disagree with the poster that one needs several first author publications or whatever. I don't think quantity of publications (always) means one is very productive. Obviously, this is not the way academia is.

TakeruK wrote:Therefore, I feel the tone of the blog post (the one where we expect graduate students to dedicate all of their energies towards science) actually contributes towards the crappiness of grad student life. It leads to us putting higher pressure on ourselves, feeling guilty when we see others working 50+ hours per week, feeling shame to even think about pursuing other passion, and otherwise leads to a lot of mental unhealthiness and a lack of work-life balance.

Thus, in my opinion, another "bad trait" is an advisor that builds an environment where you are constantly expected to perform at your limit and/or has unrealistic expectations that every student wants to be a superstar researcher.


I agree. How is it even humanly possible to devote 70+ hours? I loved my research experiences because I had flexible hours/flexible location since i did theory. Obviously if I was getting nothing done, I need to focus more ( which may require putting more hours). However, I left my office when I was just sitting there staring at the wall. To me, that does not count as "working". I don't see the point of doing that. I would rather just go and have fun and maybe come back to the research later. My peers were not like that and it often led me to feel guilty and made me wonder if I was putting enough work. They would spend so many hours in lab and would be like, wait you went out? I don't have time for that blah blah. Anyways, what mattered to me was that I was happy, my advisors were happy, and I was reaching towards my goals.

changing the environment in academia would take a lot of time and might not really be possible. It's more important to stick to one's values and not compare to one's peers. Well if one is competing for the same position as one's peer than it's a different story. That's the way it is, I guess.

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Re: What is it like being a women in physics now?

Postby TakeruK » Thu Dec 04, 2014 2:36 pm

PathIntegrals92 wrote:... maybe her bluntness was for my good? She told me that I sucked and that I would never be able to do a certain type of physics field, but maybe if I really wanted to, I could have proved her wrong? If I had tougher skin...

I agree, though, that it is definitely not healthy. It can led to burn outs, depression, and all sorts of things.


This is something that academia does seem divided on. There are many people that think you must have thick skin in academia and others like me, who do not think this should be a pre-requisite. I think that academia would be ideal if every type of personality is able to succeed, not just the ones who have thick skin and value research production above all else. There are many ways to tell me my work is wrong without directly insulting me as a person (e.g. comments like "[you] suck; [you] would never be able to [subfield]").

I also want to clarify that the career goal "remaining in academia" is not the same as the career goal of "tenured professor" or "famous/superstar professor". There are many other academic jobs like staff scientist etc. These academic jobs do require the graduate to have papers published and I do think that by the time we finish our PhDs, we should have 2-3 published first-author papers if we want to work in academia (not necessary if we have non-academic / non-research career goals). However, I think the key to improving the environment for grad students is to eliminate the mentality that non "tenured professors" careers are for failures and assuming that everyone's main goal is "tenured professor" and if they end up as "staff scientist" then they have failed. Personally, I am not sure that I am willing to undertake the stress and responsibility of a research professor. Graduation is a few years away but I feel like I would be much happier in a staff scientist position where I put in my 40 hours of research work per week and then go home and do something else I also enjoy. But we'll see what happens in a few years :)

PathIntegrals92
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Re: What is it like being a women in physics now?

Postby PathIntegrals92 » Thu Dec 04, 2014 8:12 pm

TakeruK wrote:This is something that academia does seem divided on. There are many people that think you must have thick skin in academia and others like me, who do not think this should be a pre-requisite. I think that academia would be ideal if every type of personality is able to succeed, not just the ones who have thick skin and value research production above all else. There are many ways to tell me my work is wrong without directly insulting me as a person (e.g. comments like "[you] suck; [you] would never be able to [subfield]").


I feel like for certain subfields one needs a thick skin. From my experience in hep-th so far, I definitely need to toughen up ( as well as start doing better on exams) to stay in that field. Personally, I don't want to turn into a robot so I chose to look elsewhere in physics. :D My advisors were awesome though! I would do anything to have someone like one of them in graduate school.

I hope I don't sound like I am giving up on hep-th. I truly just can't see myself doing it anymore. =(

TakeruK wrote:I also want to clarify that the career goal "remaining in academia" is not the same as the career goal of "tenured professor" or "famous/superstar professor". There are many other academic jobs like staff scientist etc. These academic jobs do require the graduate to have papers published and I do think that by the time we finish our PhDs, we should have 2-3 published first-author papers if we want to work in academia (not necessary if we have non-academic / non-research career goals). However, I think the key to improving the environment for grad students is to eliminate the mentality that non "tenured professors" careers are for failures and assuming that everyone's main goal is "tenured professor" and if they end up as "staff scientist" then they have failed. Personally, I am not sure that I am willing to undertake the stress and responsibility of a research professor. Graduation is a few years away but I feel like I would be much happier in a staff scientist position where I put in my 40 hours of research work per week and then go home and do something else I also enjoy. But we'll see what happens in a few years


You are right, one should have 2-3 published first-author papers for a future in academia in general. I just thought the blog poster meant you sort of need to have 6+ or something. I have no idea how people in experimental physics (hep ex mostly) get first author publications? There seems to be large amount of collaborations and stuff. Would certainly like insight into how that works.

I also think in academia that one should remove the mentality that a person who does not pursue a career in academia is a failure, and the job he or she gets is equivalent to burger flipping ( unless if it is really). I hear that too often and it's just very demeaning in my opinion.


Good luck with the rest of your graduate school career! Who knows what the future holds, but I hope you find overall happiness in. =)




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