Recently, I was fortunate enough to attend a talk given by Dr. Laura Hoopes. She has recently published a book called “Breaking through the spiral ceiling” and gave both readings from it and a brief history of just how far female scientists have come in the last 50 years. It was interesting to be reminded that up until the middle of the last century science was the dominion of white males. There was the occasional non-white male, Ernest Everett Just is a key example.
Wait! I hear you cry, what about women like Marie Curie who not only was a successful female scientist, but also won 2 Nobel prizes? They are certainly the exceptions to the rule, however they became successful due to the males in their lives. Usually, they were trained by a family member (father, brother or husband) and then worked in their laboratories.
Before the 1960/’70’s women (and minorities) were not allowed to participate in science classes at public universities in the United States. The rules about who can do science have changed over the last half century. It would be great if the training females of today appreciated the trials and tribulations those who have gone before have endured, as we are now reaping the benefits.
There have been an increasing number of female scientists since the day the door opened. There are more females taking biological courses than males. So, why are there so few women in leadership positions?
There are biographies and memoirs written by incredibly successful female scientists. Dr. Hoopes has some as reading material for her undergraduate classes at Pomona College. However, there were no books written about successful ladies who also have a good work-life balance, for example they have both a husband and a family. Dr. Hoopes’ students encouraged her to write her own memoir to fill this gap.
It is a wonderfully inspirational book where she has bared her soul and also been very frank about difficult times in her life. It shows that if you want it all, a successful career, a relationship, and a family, it takes hard work and dedication, but that it is possible. I think many female graduate students and postdoctoral fellows will read this book with relief. There are increasing numbers of women in science who are successfully juggling multiple life roles. The more others witness this phenomenon, the more will try to also “have it all”. I would encourage other women in science to consider writing their own memoir. It would be a great help to those coming through the ranks to receive advice and learn through your experiences.
There are many forums in which Women in Science can discuss issues, get advice, network and receive encouragement from their peers. One of those is the Association for Women in Science. There are local chapters all over the United States which have regular meetings. These vary from informational lectures to social networking opportunities.
My own chapter in LA/Ventura County has frequent meetings which vary from invited speakers, picnics, hiking, happy hours, and jazz evenings at museums! Certainly lots of opportunity for the “Sisterhood of Science” to encourage and help one another. I have heard many women at the beginning of their career complain about the lack of information, training and networking opportunities. I would therefore encourage these women to seek out their local AWIS chapter and join in the fun. You never know who you may meet and where that may lead!
We have come a long way from assisting the males in our lives. We need to be appreciative and embrace this. Take every opportunity that comes along. It not only helps your career and development, but it may inspire the women around you to also aim higher and reach for the stars.