Saturday, August 3, 2019

Family, Friends, and Partners

Husband Chris Swarth at Point Reyes Seashore where we met

Suzanne O’Connell, 2015. “Success in the academy is a combination of many factors. Intelligence and hard work are essential but not sufficient by themselves. Help from mentors and advisors in learning how to navigate the complex corridors of the academy is also fundamental; it is unlikely that someone will master this process unaided. Unfortunately for the outsider, multiple studies have shown that workers in any field tend to mentor and advocate for people who are similar to themselves [e.g., Chesler and Chesler, 2002, McGuoire, 2002]. To break this pattern, mentors and mentees, students and faculty, insiders and outsiders, chairs and administrators need to examine the importance of passing information between groups and make sure this transmission occurs.”  

         Our personal partnerships and support mechanisms have been and will continue to be important to the success of underrepresented groups in science. One of the office staff at the Geophysical Lab, Marjorie Imlay, and I often discussed how women received the short end of the stick. She counseled me wisely, “By your work, shall ye’ be known.” Throughout, I stuck to scholarly research, published, and “kept my nose clean” for the first ten years of my career. While in graduate school, I married a local Texas guy who was not a scientist. At the time I was 21 and life was fun. By the time I was awarded my Ph.D. at the age of 24, I felt the impact of having a husband who did not understand the rigors of an academic life. At the Geophysical Lab, the marriage deteriorated as I became more successful. It ended in divorce.
         I had to learn the hard way that women in science need a sympathetic partner to succeed. The long work hours, the travel, and the fixation on seemingly small “problems” are things that academics are used to, but most others are not. It was a painful period for me, and I then awoke to the fact that women in science in the 1970s and 80s were either married to another scientist, and often subsumed by him, or unmarried. I was determined to be neither going forward. Today, 83% of academic women scientists are married to an academic, science partner (Schiebinger, 2008). The support and respect of our partners is key. Men in science have always had respect from their families.  Women need that as well, but sadly I suspect some women don’t get this. I didn’t until well into my career, so I feel keenly the importance of a stable family life.

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