LPSC – Women’s Networking Breakfast

This is the talk I gave to introduce the Women’s Networking Breakfast at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, 2 March 2010.  I wanted to share it with you today, since this is something that never would have happened if we hadn’t beat cancer in 2007-8.  You helped make this happen.

Good morning.  Welcome to the third annual Women’s Networking Breakfast.

Since the dawn of recorded history, the great scientists, the ones we study in school, look up to, and remember, have largely been men.  Science was done in the monastery, the university, the observatory, and scientist biographies have been filled with detail of their laboratories and their travels, and occasionally, yes, they mention their wife and children at home.

But we in this room are a new breed of scientist.  We in this room have resources unimaginable to previous generations.  We women are university-educated, with multiple graduate degrees, access to outstanding professors and mentors, use of the most powerful mass spectrometers and tricked out labs, and money and time to do field research across the world in search of the best analogues to terrain on other planets.

You do good science.

But we live in a world where doing good science no longer guarantees you a spot at the table.  The competition is increasing, and the very nature of employment is more fluid than the world our mentors lived in.  No longer is it enough to do good science and have a powerful advisor who will place you in a tenure-track position.  Now more than ever we are in charge of our own careers, and we must act accordingly.

One thing that those scientists years ago had that most of us in this room don’t have was a little recognized asset that allowed them to live a life of science.  They were able to – and expected to – live their lives in the laboratory and to die at the microscope.  In fact, many university and civil servant positions still have the expectation that you will work 50 or 60 or more hours at your job, at your desk, in the office, with no care for the demands of your young family, your adventures, your life.  The hiring managers have expected that you will serve like the monks of old, and you are told that to be taken seriously as a graduate student, you must be first in and last out of the laboratory.  That’s how you show your dedication.  That’s how you show that you’re the next hot thing in science.

But that model doesn’t work for many of us.  We do good science, yes, but more and more of us are asking to do science on our own terms.  In this room are examples of women who have taken time off, who have come back, who have balanced caring for a family and a career, who care for aging parents, who dive into volcanoes, who follow hockey obsessively, and who don’t believe that doing science requires you to give up essential parts of yourself in the name of science.

But this is new.

At the same time, we want to be respected, we want access to equipment, we want to succeed in these tenure-track and civil servant positions, and so we do our best to fit into the mold of scientist since time immemorial.

If this works for you, great.  I’m impressed, and I wish you all the best.

But if it doesn’t, I invite you to talk about it with the people at your table today, to gather around the topic that you’ve chosen and discuss what is holding you back.  What policy, situation, habit, or assumption is keeping you from achieving your goals in science, and what are other women and men doing about it?

Is it the two-body problem?  There are solutions for that.

Do you need to bring your nursing baby when you travel?  There are solutions for that.

Want to learn to write proposals that are so crisp that they let your science shine through?  There’s a workshop for that.

Are you looking for your next job and wondering where you will land when the postdoc roller coaster finally comes to a stop? Other people are as well.

Trouble getting data into or out of the PDS?  There’s an app for that.  (Or maybe there should be.)

Looking for funding opportunities and wondering how to compete with people who have been in this field since the Apollo samples were returned?  There are tips for that.

Or are you a graduate student, so passionate about your science, so convinced that this will never happen to you, and you’re looking for the next opportunity?  Awesome.  They’re looking for you.

We are women in planetary science.  We do great science.  If there is something holding you back that is distracting you from your pursuit of truth about the planets, lets’s talk about it today and see what we can learn from each other.

For just as the men of old worked late and shared beers into the night while their wives fed and put the children down, we can come together too – talking about our science and so much more – and we can be better for that.

That is why we come together as a community of scientists.

Originally posted at Women in Planetary Science.

3 Responses to LPSC – Women’s Networking Breakfast

  1. NYFriend says:

    Love it! Thanks for sharing, I was quite curious to hear what you had said. 🙂

  2. I am still disappointed that I wasn’t at LPSC this year. But it does sound like it was a great breakfast and it is great to read your talk that I missed.

  3. upsidebackwards says:

    I bet the room was full of excited women sharing stories and tips after that. Well done! You’ve got me wishing I could join in and do planetary science too, even though I know I’m weak in physics and applied maths!

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