Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Career Advancement and Forging a new career

Office at Geophysical Lab prior to move

Horner-Devine et al., 2016. “Community and empowerment are necessary for individuals to leverage their scientific training, skills, and expertise into successful and impactful careers. To advance diversity in STEM, we must change the ways we support women scientists and scientists from other underrepresented groups as they embark on their careers, and we must develop strategies that create a sense of community and empowerment...By creating opportunities to foster community building and empowering all our early-career scientists, especially women and underrepresented minorities, we can foster a scientific culture in which all our scientists can thrive.”

         Although women are now seriously considered for academic positions, several roadblocks are still in place. Many articles have been written about the problems (Holmes et al., 2015) often referring to a “leaky pipeline” in which trained women scientists drop out along the career path, such that few attain senior status. I knew the dangers first hand. With my first husband, there was constant pressure to give it all up and live in a cabin in the woods. While searching for a full-time academic position, the rejections were enough to convince anyone they should settle for a lab assistant’s job. With motherhood, the pressure from society and family to stay home was present. Certainly, keeping up long hours at the lab were no longer possible. And although I was in a stable, understanding relationship, it was a constant balancing act. I was comfortable at the Geophysical Lab for 30 years and made little effort to further my career beyond growth in research contributions. Things changed when my son was about to leave for university and the possibility of leading the Geophysical Lab opened up in 2009.

         I wonder how my career might have advanced if I were a man. In 2008, I put my name forward to be considered for the Director of the Geophysical Laboratory. I understood the operation of the Lab, knew everyone on campus and in the Institution including the President, and was reaching some prominence in my field of biogeochemistry, astrobiology, and geobiology. For final consideration, there was only one other candidate, my colleague Russell Hemley. Rus is a member of the National Academy of Science (and at that time, I was not), has published more than 400 papers, and had brought in millions of dollars from external grants. A committee was appointed to review “the candidates” and at first, it was comprised of only men. After a complaint was lodged with Carnegie’s President, one woman was appointed. As candidates, we submitted a 2-3 page statement and our CV. There was one interview with the committee, and none with the staff or the administration. We did not give a special seminar. When President Meserve made his decision, he picked Rus Hemley, who on paper was eminently “more qualified” than me. To achieve what I have, I was convinced that I had to pour more energy into aspects of my career than did my male colleagues.  Aspects of early career disadvantages remain even today. Are there roadblocks to administrative leadership that women are more vulnerable to than men?
New Horizons for Marilyn, sunset Oklahoma on drive to California

         In response, I decided to build some administrative credentials and was selected to be a Program Director at the National Science Foundation in Geobiology and Low Temperature Geochemistry. Many researchers reach a point where they want to explore new challenges.  Administrative leadership is a common line of career expansion sought in academia.  After my stint at NSF, I learned a few important things about myself and about women in science. One, pure science credentials--a good reputation, lab skills, great postdocs and students, and consistent funding--are not enough for advancement into administrative leadership. Leadership is viewed as being Director, Chair, Dean, Provost, or President. Anything less than this, doesn’t count. Two, I am first and foremost a scientist, not a bureaucrat, and I’m good at the creative aspects of science and research. Personnel management and paper shuffling is not my strong suit, jobs often delegated to administrative leaders. Three, I should have made the effort earlier in my career to get “leadership” experience. As a woman, this is required. 
New house in Mariposa, California

         I returned to the Geophysical Lab in 2010. When my husband, a native Californian, said he was more than ready to move across the country back to his beloved natal state, I took the opportunity to cast a wide net to see where I might contribute in a university setting. By 2012 I had interviewed and obtained an offer at the University of California Merced, where I was offered the opportunity to provide leadership while doing research and formal classroom teaching. In January 2013, Chris and I “jumped ship” and headed to California. 
Boxes in new UC Merced laboratory January 2013

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