Last year I turned 30. What perhaps was notable about this birthday was not only the number of questions I was asked (on my feelings about turning 30) but how much I anticipated being asked these questions. Being 30 feels a lot like being 29 apart from a gradual increasing desire to potter at the weekends (but I’ve always liked pottering!) and a different box to tick on application forms. However, it’s only just starting to dawn on me that I’ll turn 31 this year, 32 next year and so on. My boyfriend often argues 30 is only noteworthy because we operate in a decimal number system. But the reason this is on my mind is because I will finish my PhD in my early-mid thirties and will need to apply for jobs – and I’m a woman. I’m starting to anticipate a difference in how I will be perceived by employers.
Before starting my PhD, I worked as a research assistant in a central London university. There was also the opportunity to undertake a PhD there but I was so keen to come to Goldsmiths that I decided not to pursue it. However, at the end of one supervision meeting, the principal investigator handed me some leaflets about ‘Women in Science’ and encouraged me to go and look up some of the groups associated with this. I left the meeting feeling a little surprised and confused. It felt a bit like when you go to your GP and they hand you some patient information leaflets to buffer the true horror you feel when you get home and realise this applies to you. It occurred to me then that by pursuing a PhD, I will be perceived as a woman in science. I have previously wondered about women scholars studying from both oppressed and privileged positions and Maria Mies has written some fascinating books/articles about ‘double consciousness’: https://glosbe.com/en/en/Maria%20Mies. It’s a similar feeling when I consider my position as both student and associate lecturer in the department.
Yesterday, I met a friend to attend a talk by Uta Frith at King’s College London, as part of a series of talks for International Women’s Day. Uta was asked how she has overcome ‘imposter syndrome’ and whether she has any advice for those experiencing this feeling. Uta pointed out this affects men as well as women and she has learnt to deal it with humorously. Perhaps my favourite part of the talk was her smiling assurance that ‘It’s alright to be nice’ when succeeding in academia. At the end of the talk she was presented with a lovely, huge bouquet of flowers when my friend whispered to me ‘Would they have done that for a man?’
Part of the difficulty in considering women in science is the implicit suggestion that there is a conflict between the idea of women and the idea of science. Uta spoke about how women seem to be more inclined to always take the ‘get-out card’, perhaps suggesting it’s easier to pretend this conflict doesn’t exist. However, it’s important to acknowledge events like International Women’s Day so women are treated as scholars in science and feel supported in their contributions to academia. After considering my employment opportunities post-PhD, I’ve discovered a number of organisations which support women scholars and encourage further career development and I’ve made a start in applying for one scholarship, as I only feel entitled to represent a woman in science if these academic and employment opportunities are pursued.
Maybe it’s time to dig out those leaflets again.