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response to Maureen Colbert + intro

Tonya Frederic frederic at ENGPUB1.BU.EDU
Thu Nov 4 15:43:26 EST 1993

This is a response to Maureen Colbert's message regarding sex
discrimination plus a long overdue introduction.

I also have never experienced sex discrimination in academics, from 
grade school on up to my current status as a 2nd year PhD student in 
biomedical engineering at Boston University.  Neither did I experience
any sexism on the home front.  My father was a biochemist and always 
encouraged an interest in science on the part of my brother and I.  
My mother wanted me to be an engineer, which I think is what she would 
have liked to do if given the educational opportunities.  However, I
have experienced subtle discrimination among my in-laws in Louisiana.
There is a general lack of interest in women's careers down there, I
think stemming from the fact that the majority of them still follow
more tradition career paths such as teaching and homemaking.  My husband
(an MIT grad student in physics) and his brothers are always assailed 
with questions regarding school, career, etc, while his sister (who has a 
physics background) and I are only questioned about gossipy things.
Science questions are always directed toward the men, and the younger
engineers in the family have never thought to direct a school related
question to me, the engineer, rather than my husband, the physicist.

I have been following this net group for a few months and I've seen that
many people have the same concerns as I, but that hasn't really helped
me make any decisions.  I am currently doing what many of you have been 
writing in about, namely vacillating between taking the M.S. & running 
and sticking it out.  All faculty members aware of my indecision (not 
including my own advisor, who doesn't like to take no for an answer in 
regard to getting a PhD), encourage me toward the PhD.  The downside
is that I think this may be partly for statistical reasons.  The department 
has had very few women PhD candidates and is trying to improve their image.  
I've noticed that my advisor always makes a point to include disproportionate 
numbers of women in dealings with outsiders.   

My Mom's advice has been the best so far : You will never regret 
having a PhD, whereas you may regret not having one. 

I'll try to wrap up this reply/intro.  Since I'm married, when to have 
children is one of my concerns, so the discussion in this group was
food for thought.  It was surprising to learn that the general consensus
was have your children in grad school or while postdocking since the
pressure and time constraints only get worse if you stay in academics.
I don't envision myself enjoying the hectic academic life and I want 
plenty of family time, so I will probably get a job in industry that will 
hopefully be more compatible with rearing a family.  Two successful
women faculty members at BU have admitted to me that you can't really
have it all; you either neglect your family or your career.  I'm sure
many of you would disagree with this (maybe you have more helpful husbands
and that allowed you to do both), but I tend to believe them.

Although some of us haven't run into any overt sex discrimination, I think
there is still plenty of subtle discrimination out there which explains,
for instance, why so many women (like myself) have a lack of confidence in
their abilities and tend to aim low (relative to most men).

-Tonya Frederic
frederic at mendel.bu.edu

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