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Re. breaks, family policies....

S L Forsburg forsburg at nospamsalk.edu
Mon Jun 29 13:20:40 EST 1998

Bharathi Jagadeesh (bjag at ln.nimh.nih.gov) writes
> But what we really need is a way for people to take breaks during the
> process. Though most of the "family-unfriendly" practices of science
> impact men & women, being a birth mother does impose special demands,
> and if we don't make some kind of allowance for it, there will always be
> an imbalance of women in the field. Re-entry fellowships, that allow
> women to post-doc after taking time off may work, as well as a
> relaxation of the rules for applying for NIH/NSF post-docs based on
> years from PhD (for special circumstances). And, maybe, some day,
> "leaves" will be permissible within a post-doc, i.e. you can get a NIH
> fellowship, and then take off two years, and resume the fellowship,
> before looking for faculty positions. Any other ideas?
> I believe that some of these issues will never be resolved as long as
> they are perceived as only impacting women. But, I've noticed that men
> want to be involved with their families these days too, and know a few
> men who considered the family friendliness of their jobs seriously in
> making their decisions.

Agreed, as long as these are thought of as women's issues, they will not
be addressed--anything that requires "special" consideration is a 
problem in this society even if no consideration  is actually given.   Men
must be offered the same options, or else we simply develop a mommy track 
and the women on it will be viewed as "not up to the real thing" regardless
of their actual abilities. 

(An example of this sort of deliberate misconception 
 is the perception that "women have an unfair 
advantage on the job market", a comment often heard from frustrated male 
postdocs.  All you have to do is see the paucity of women hired 
to realize that women have no  advantage at all--yet these young men
are going into the world convinced that the only reason a woman was
hired was special treatment;  she can't possibly be better than a man!) 

But another problem is the tendency to couch everything
as a family-related problem.  I know a number of well-meaning senior
male faculty who think that if they try to make their corner of science
"family friendly", then they will solve all the issues related to women. 
That's simply not true, and contributes to unfair stereotyping.  
I have no kids and don't want any;  while I applaud efforts to
improve the situation for families on principle, the difficulties
I face as a woman  in this male-dominated profession are not 
related to any desire to have  children in my "most creative" years.
Yet the attitude is that if I don't want children, what have I
possibly got to complain about?  

We must try to change things on multiple fronts and 
acknowledge that a family-friendly policy is but one step to making
science as a profession humane and inclusive. 

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S L Forsburg, PhD  forsburg at salk.edu
Molecular Biology and Virology Lab          
The Salk Institute, La Jolla CA 

Women in Biology Internet Launch Page
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