Women in Ecology and Ecolog Discussions (Updated!)

This was going to be a Friday links contribution, but I got a little carried away, so now it’s a whole post on its own. It is inspired by the newest round of discussions about women in ecology that have been occurring on the Ecolog listserv. For whatever reason, Ecolog seems to periodically feel the need to tackle the question of whether women are qualified to do ecology. For example, last spring, there was a long, disheartening (to me, and I know to others as well) discussion that started when a graduate student asked, quite reasonably, for recommendations for carriers to use with her baby when doing field work. Some people replied with their suggestions, but others replied with admonitions against bringing an infant into the field. One of my favorite replies came from  Lis Castillo Nelis, who pointed out (correctly, in my opinion), that, if a colleague over 50 had asked for gear recommendations, people would not have replied with warnings about the potential for heart attacks in the field; she then suggested that perhaps we should also assume that the original poster is an intelligent adult who has already evaluated the risks and benefits, and, being a competent adult, had come to the conclusion that bringing her baby into the field was the right decision. The discussion quickly devolved into one related to women and parents in ecology; the full threads can be found here, here, and here. Some of the most troubling replies, in my opinion, came from Clara B Jones, and were summarized and countered in this post on work-life “balance” from Prof-Like Substance.

With that as background, when I was skimming through the “topics of the day” list in the ecolog daily digest while eating my oatmeal a few days ago, it caught my attention that there were several posts with the heading “Gender issues”. These had spun off from a thread on “A Graduate Student’s Guide to Necessary Skills for Landing a Job”; unfortunately, that thread isn’t grouping nicely in the archives, so you’ll have to go here and then scroll down. Once again, Clara B Jones plays a key role in this thread. Just as important, though, is the way the discussion evolved from there. This newest round of discussions of women in science have led to great posts from Prof-Like Substance and Jacquelyn Gill. Both of them tackle a key point: how/whether to respond when statements like this are made.

How have I responded? Last spring, I wrote the original poster off list to say that I was dismayed at the turn the discussion had taken and that it is indeed possible to have an academic career in ecology with children and to be happy while doing so. I also took the discussion over to twitter; I’m pretty sure that’s how PLS originally found out about it. But I didn’t engage on Ecolog. I imagine it would be a very frustrating experience. But that thread was definitely in my mind when Jeremy approached me about writing for this blog, and when I agreed despite knowing that I would be insanely busy this year (with, among other things, a move to a new university, teaching a giant course, new baby on the way, and submitting my tenure dossier this summer). This is a topic I hope to cover more in the future (when I magically get more time – that will happen, right?!) For this round on ecolog, I once again haven’t replied to the list, but once again brought it to twitter. And now I’m writing this post.

But there is another way that I “reply”, in a sense: I try to do good science. I haven’t been as active with the blog recently in part because we are trying to get a bunch of papers out the door, to get new experiments going, and, in general, to do good science (along with departmental service, some guest lectures and seminars, etc.) It’s not a direct reply, of course, but I do think it’s a reply of sorts. As a postdoc, when I first started reading data about bias against women in science [pdf] (that we – including women – have), rates of women with children getting tenure (as compared to men with children or to women who do not have children), etc., I found it totally depressing. And at first I was pretty bummed about it. But then I decided to be a bad scientist and ignore the data. Instead, I focused on women I knew who had children and did good, interesting science. Keeping those women in mind was very encouraging to me.

I now receive emails from grad students and postdocs indicating that, for them, I am now a person that they look to as an example that one can have a tenure-track career with children. This also comes up quite often when I give seminars – especially this semester when I am very obviously pregnant. It’s a little scary – and definitely humbling – to me that some people view me as a role model for this sort of thing, but I can also very much understand how they feel (in terms of needing to have particular people in mind to use as examples that it can be done). Unfortunately, when they ask what the magical secret is to having children and a tenure track career, I feel stumped. I know that, for me, having a partner who fully shares parenting and household responsibilities is essential. And I also know that, while I may look like I have achieved the mythical work-life balance from the outside, that’s only if you take some sort of long term average. Certainly last fall was very much skewed towards work (which, again, was only possible because my husband took on extra responsibilities at home); once I have baby #2, things will skew towards life for a bit. So, I agree with PLS that, really, work-life balance means not dropping the same ball too many times in a row (or, I would add, not dropping a particular ball at an especially crucial stage).

So, to finally get on to those links I had in mind: I wanted to link to PLS’s and Jacquelyn’s posts, as I already did above. I also wanted to:

1. remind people that we ALL have biases. One reply to ecolog indicated that Clara B Jones couldn’t be sexist because she’s a woman. The data – including in this recent paper – show that women are biased against women in science, just as men are. As I’ve posted on here before, I have found Project Implicit a really interesting tool towards beginning to evaluate and think about the biases that we all have.
UPDATE: In the comments, Karen Lips pointed to this video of a talk by newly elected AAAS president and Yale astrophysicist Meg Urry. I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet, but Karen reports that it is full of data and case studies on the ways we all show subtle biases. Sounds very interesting!

2. remind people that we still have problems with women leaving science and academia. This is not simply an issue of demography that will work itself out as current grad students move on to academic positions. This post by Curt Rice focuses on why women leave academia, and why universities should be worried.

3. point to some biology- and ecology-specific data. For example, there is this preprint of a new paper in BioScience that focuses on reasons why women leave the biological sciences (especially as compared to medicine, where women are retained as physicians). There is also this interesting way of looking at data on gender & publications, where you can zoom in to look at Ecology & Evolution. If you do that, you will see that women are quite underrepresented as first- and last-authors on papers.

So, to conclude: Do I think the comments of a few posters on ecolog represent all ecologists? Of course not. But it does serve as a reminder that there are still real problems to tackle related to women in science in general and in ecology in particular. There are no easy solutions, of course, but hopefully making sure that the issues remain in the spotlight will help remind people that there is a problem, and that we need to work towards a solution.

61 thoughts on “Women in Ecology and Ecolog Discussions (Updated!)

  1. Great, thoughtful post with a lot of good linked info.

    One of the reasons I try to stay on top of these types of situations, even when I get sick of having the same conversations over and over, is that I worry about new people in the field seeing this and thinking the community tolerates it. While I’m not a subscriber to ECOLOG, the egregiousness of Jone’s comments need to be called out. There should be no uncertainty about the acceptability of that mind set and the notion that “science is tough so she’s just reflecting that.”

    • Yep, part of why I wrote the post is having heard multiple times from younger readers of ecolog (esp. grad students and postdocs) that they are discouraged when they see comments like that on the main society listserv. I guess it’s kind of like creationism & evolution — the fight can be exhausting, but that definitely doesn’t mean it’s not worth fighting.

      • Without wanting to disagree, I think this is also a reason to actively discourage students and postdocs from seeing Ecolog-L as the “main society listserv”. I suggest being very clear to our trainees: Ecolog-L is a place where you look for and post job ads and announcements, period. It’s a troll den for anything else, you’re only setting yourself up for misery if you pay any attention to it for any other purpose. If you want to have discussions or get technical questions answered, there are a whole bunch of better ways of going about it than posting to Ecolog-L. Ecolog-L once was a useful online forum for ecologists, but it isn’t any more. You shouldn’t have any more attachment to it than you have to AOL or Prodigy.

        And while I can see why one would make the analogy to creationism vs. evolution here, I actually don’t think it’s a great analogy. I mean, have you ever gone on a USENET group and stood up for evolution vs. creationism? Or commented on a creationism blog? I’m guessing not, because you quite rightly wouldn’t see any point. Now, if the state of Michigan were to propose teaching intelligent design in their public schools, would you speak out? I sure hope so! Because in that case there’s no avoiding the battle. But in the case of Ecolog-L, I do think the battle is avoidable, or would be with a bit of effort on our part. Why commit to a perpetual investment of time and effort speaking out against sexist garbage on Ecolog-L when instead we could, via a one-time effort, warn people off from Ecolog-L in advance? We don’t have to constantly fight the trolls on Ecolog-L; we can all just quit using Ecolog-L as anything other than a job/announcement board and tell our students to do the same. That’s a big reason why I wrote my follow-up post: it’s an efficient way to let a lot of students know that, hey, you don’t have to read Ecolog-L; plenty of people have stopped bothering and you can too.

  2. Pingback: What’s Ecolog-L for and how can we make it better? | Dynamic Ecology

  3. I find you so refreshing. I wish we could be friends/mentors/colleagues. Check me out at sswillard22 on twitter. I mean this in the best science nerdy geek love way not a stalkery way.

  4. So, Jones could not be sexist because she’s a woman, exactly as men can’t be feminists? Exactly just how would one be defined as a guy (I can only be a masculinist or a not-masculinist), or as a women (I can only be a feminist or a not-feminist) that way? That’s not just naive, that’s plain stupid…

    • Agreed. I said on twitter that someone needs to make a bingo card for this, and that the “it can’t be sexist if a woman said it” box has been filled. PLS replied by pointing out that that’s like the free space. He has a point!

  5. Nice post Meghan! I agree that threads like those can be disheartening, and I too shy away from responding to the conversations so as not to fuel the fire. Indeed, like you I try to do my part by being the best scientist I can be and by encouraging other younger scientists to find their own way of contributing, rather than comparing their CVs to those around them.

    One point I would add though, is that although women clearly are not publishing as many papers as men, they seem to be most likely to be first author and least likely to be last rather than under-represented in the first and last position. I found this interesting (as I mentioned in the second half of this post: http://brittkoskella.wordpress.com/2013/01/11/your-data-needed/) because it might suggest that women are less likely to be included in larger collaborative networks or to be added onto a paper without an obvious, direct contribution. In other words, we have to work damn hard to get onto a paper.

    Overall, we have a long way to travel but personally I have experienced little to no lack of support during my career and have never felt the victim of gender discrimination (although I know the biases are usually quite subtle). Here’s to hoping we’re moving in the right direction!

      • I suppose there are two ways to look at this? Women are certainly less likely to be first author than men (which reflects the fact that women are less likely to be authors at all), but when you compare the percentage of women in first author position relative to all other positions, it seems that they are more likely to be in the first author position (at least in Ecology and evolution and Molecular and Cell). When using the database, did you select post 1990s? This changes things quite substantially!

      • Hi Jacquelyn – I saw the eigenfactor graphics yesterday too. I’m still trying to figure out how to interpret them, but if you narrow in on 1990-2011 (all JSTOR), then it looks like women are not underrepresented in the first author position (given the percentage of papers that have a female author and assuming that the null is that all author positions should be equally represented). If you narrow down to Ecology and Evolution, the percentage of female first authors is above that null expectation. I suspect this reflects the high number of female graduate students in our field. In all cases, the last position is underrepresented. You could argue this signals the lack of senior women leading their own groups but I don’t honestly know if that last author data is really meaningful. Have all fields transferred to an standard expectation of last author = lab leader? Is it even the standard in ecology?

      • Re: whether last author should be assumed to be the group leader or PI, that certainly didn’t used to be the case in ecology. And it still isn’t, at least in my lab. In my lab, authors are listed in order of overall contribution to the ms, along with a statement of author contributions in the Acknowledgments. And there’s no default expectation that I will even be an author at all just because I’m the PI–I need to have made a sufficiently substantial contribution to any particular ms to earn co-authorship. I think many, though probably not all, ecology and evolution labs still operate this way (?)

        So while I wouldn’t totally dismiss the relevance of the data on male vs. female last authors in ecology, I would interpret it cautiously and not make too much of it on its own.

    • Sure, on its own, this may or may not be a big problem. I do think the question of last authorship is interesting. At Georgia Tech, they really weighted last authorship and corresponding authorship. Traditionally in ecology, the last author was the person who did the least, and the corresponding author was the one who had to deal with the reprint cards, right? But I do have the sense that viewing the last author as the most senior one (or, more generally, as a position of prestige) is increasing in ecology.

      • Ethan and I had a long discussion on this last week. We have used the authorship criteria that Jeremy uses (based on contribution) but our feeling is that this view is increasingly becoming ‘old school’. The last author thing seems to be increasing as the number of institutions who judge their faculty by last authorship increases. I suspect this is NIH culture bleed over and I’m not a big fan of it, but there are only so many battles one can fight.

      • So you couldn’t just tell GA Tech “that’s not how things are done in my discipline”? Or even “that’s not how I do things in my lab; here’s how authorship was determined on my papers”? Wow. That GA Tech would just default to weighting last authorship heavily suggests that the admin there is rather ignorant of how things are in the field in which a number of their own faculty work.

        And personally, I will be really annoyed if Meg and Morgan are right and the molecular biology practice of “the last author is the PI, and that’s what really matters” starts making inroads into ecology.

        Perhaps the solution is to use another up-and-coming–but far more sensible–practice to defend ourselves, namely statements of author contributions? Authorship order is a crude way of assigning credit anyway, given the increasingly collaborative nature of ecology and the increasing number of authors on a typical paper. I’m making statements of author contributions routine in my lab, even if the journal doesn’t require them (they can just be stuck in the acknowledgments). Are other folks doing this?

    • Your comment has reminded me of a study that came out at least 6 or 7 years ago showing that women published fewer papers than men, but their papers tended to be of higher quality. I know I should look this up, but I really should be marking midterms right now. If anyone knows the study I am referring to, please post it. I bring it up because the “women in science” issue has been around for a long time, and there is a wealth of studies not only showing gender bias, but gender differences that may serve to work against women in their scientific careers.

      • I can’t find the original article you brought up here, but as per our Twitter conversation this one just came out in PLoS that is highly related “Gender Differences in Publication Output: Towards an Unbiased Metric of Research Performance” (http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0000127).

        It would appear from the results of this study that gender differences in publication (quality over quantity) can negatively impact women over the course of their scientific careers.

  6. I’m pleased you flagged this, Meg. I signed back on to Ecolog last week, after a couple of years away, in part to advertise a PhD position, but also to re-engage with that online community.

    I unsubscribed again, almost immediately, because of this discussion. It repeats the same approach (if not exactly the same topic) that made me sign off the last time – too many appallingly misguided cranks putting words into others’ mouths (or comments) for it to be worth my while engaging.

    There were definitely a couple of reasonable voices in the latest discussion, but if I want to drown in the other sort of nonsense, there are plenty of Jeremy’s Quackometer or Orac‘s posts I can jump into 😉

  7. Thank you for your excellent blog post. My wife is a rock star, tenure track scientist. Together we have a toddler and another due in a week (yes I am very excited). One of the discussion points that I feel is under-represented is the sexist (if that is the right word) nature of our societal view of the choice to stay in science or to leave. More specifically, I believe that women scientists are offered a choice by our society to, in essence, drop out of such a hard job when they have children or to stay in science. I am not trying to argue that either is the correct choice, rather I am suggesting that women are offered a choice of options, either of which would be accepted by society. I do not feel like that choice is offered to men. I do not feel that, when their partner becomes pregnant, men are asked if they are going to drop out of their challenging scientific career to concentrate more on family. If only 10% of our excellent women scientists opt to drop out of science upon childbirth, and (because the choice is not offered, or largely considered) 0% of men drop out, a massive disparity in gender will emerge. Perhaps, instead of trying to reduce the (IMO) obscene, and unnecessary pressure on women in science to choose between family and scientific career, we could start pressuring men to consider that an option exists for them as well.

    • Thank you Scott for such an eloquent comment embodying the male stance I have been lucky enough to see in many of my colleagues, friends, and my partner. I agree completely it should not be a choice of women alone nor men alone. But the option should exist for both to share the trials and triumphs of future challenges whether they be within your career or personal lives. Your wife is not the only rock star in the family it seems.

    • Yes, I definitely agree that there are general issues related to being a parent and an academic. I think this is why a lot of parental leave policies have been so popular in academia.

      On a related note: parental leave for both parents has come up in Friday Links before: https://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2012/12/07/friday-links-exploiting-reciprocation-and-more/ In that case, I was disappointed in the example used in a story on the importance of paternity leave.

    • Not so amazingly, I remember being praised as a modern guy for cancelling duties due to kids illness while my partner had a teaching schedule to maintain. In a then mostly female lab it had been noticed and I got a very very positive feedback (feels great, he!). Then, when I applied to an position in the very same lab, I did not even get interviewed, and I strongly suspect that it was not seen as good that I might casually stay home when kids are ill.
      In the same line but another situation, I remember a discussion where I asked a grey bearded successfull professor if hiring committees would take into account parenting (how many kids you have) when evaluating productivity. I was answered that, no, not for men. Women maybe, but definitely not men (suggesting that it is not even automatically accounted for women with kids!). I replied that basically, they are screwing up in favour of old school boys with wifes that stay at home or take all parenting tasks in charge, and it won’t help the community to evolve to fairer standards since hired scientists will consider this as completely natural.

  8. Great post! I wanted to add a link supporting your point on bias (#1). The link is for a video by Meg Urry (@UrryM) newly elected AAAS president, & Yale astrophysicist. She came to Maryland and gave a talk on Unconscious Bias as part of the the Advance Program Seminar Series. Her talk is full of data and case studies on many of the ways we all show subtle bias. remindhttp://www.advance.umd.edu/html/videos/index.html

  9. The issue of women in science and work-life “balance” constantly gets me down. I am glad to see such a well-referenced positive post about it. Wouldn’t it be awesome if you shared this page’s link on ecolog? j/k. sort of 😉

  10. Great post Meg!

    On authorship, I am positive there are a lot of filters and biases that work against women (and indeed a lot of evidence is cited above). But I think Morgan is right that you have to be careful about interpreting last author in ecology. I know people (male and female) who treat last author as “senior author” like in the medical sciences, and I know people (male and female) who consider it just the last slot on the paper (I’d much rather be 2nd author). I wouldn’t be shocked if more males like the hierarchical connotations of senior author vs the more collaborative connotations of 2nd author, but since this is personal choice its not a signal of importance, productivity or anything else. This probably occurs in enough other non-medical fields to mess up any signal in last author.

    RE Ms Jone’s atittude, I think it is time to start calling BS on such posturing. Nobody works 80 hours a week regularly (as she claimed in one post). It actually is physically impossible* over the long run. I used to be a consultant where you billed every hour. We were a bunch of type As in an environment where we were strongly encouraged to work long hours (indeed its how the company made money by paying us a fixed salary and billing hours worked). I think I exceeded 80 hours once in 9 years, and only rarely and only in times of crisis exceeded 60. The official company expectation was 45 (although of course if you wanted a good review you might aim to be a tad above rather than below). We don’t record hours in academia, but I know what 80 looks and I know what 60 and 50 and 40 look like because I measured it so carefully for 450 weeks and I haven’t seen anything truly different here. Most young profs are in the 40-60 hour range is my belief with most in the lower half of that. And yes 50 hours plus rest of life feels crazy and insane. But stop saying its 80 and making everybody else feel guilty they’re not measuring up. The game is incented to exaggerate how much you work, so believe those numbers other people throw out at your risk.

    I don’t want to say there aren’t challenges, there are. And tenure track is certainly high stress. And on the topic of this post, as a male (even one who tries to pick up 50% at home) I know there are so many ways I’ve had it easier than a woman. Among many other things women get judged from every direction when they even talk about work-life balance. And there are biological realities in the peri-natal years. So I’m not trying to disagree with any of this, and I really hope this doesn’t come across the wrong way in the context of this post, but in the vein of Meg highlighting success stories and talking about how the gloomy attitudes drive women away, and in contrast to Ms Jones, I think it is important to start speaking out how great academia is for being a parent and stop pretending like its a death march suitable only to the childless or pseudochildless (i.e. 1950s males with wives). These myths matter and inform the decisions people make. And because of the aforementioned judgments, I think probably guys have a responsibility to step up and do this (and face their own challenges about conforming to male stereotypes and acting like they work 80 hours work and care about nothing but science). So ..

    I assert there is a great a match between professor and parenting (at least as great as there is between any job and parenting). In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a job that is more compatible. I’m responsible for getting my kids out the door to school every morning and therefore never have meetings before 9:00AM. I pick my kids up one day a week after school and therefore leave at 2:00 every Wednesday. Anytime a kid is sick or a car needs to go into the garage it is manageable for me in a way that nobody who works a “regular” job (including my wife) can. I can work from home when kids are sick or frequently in the summer. That does NOT happen in business (or at least you are considered on an alternative track if you do). I still definitely work >40 hours, but really how many of your friends in well paying jobs don’t, and I have extraordinary flexibility about when and where.

    Good as the situation is, I think everybody who is a parent (male or female) needs to be involved in making it better and easier. Canada has a wonderful parental leave (note not maternal leave) policy for newborns. Most fathers take advantage of it. Its not a big deal. And Canadian research productivity in ecology is not notably different from the US. It is, again, BS that making life more compatible with parenting hurts productivity. And again, I kind of expect male parent professors should be taking the lead on asserting this around campus for the aforementioned reasons. So while I agree with the original topic about not engaging in the mud with Ms Jones, I think it is important to get out an alternative voice in more rationale, calm venues like Dynamic Ecology (ahem) and more specifically in our departmental meetings, etc. In short, I kind of think a big part of the solutions is guy profs need to start being militantly pro-family friendly and yes to be role models of work-parenting balance themselves. So step up guys! (I actually say the last partly in jest – I actually see a lot of people male and female doing that these days, even at top research universities). It makes me optimistic.

    I’ve sort of got carried away on the work-life balance issues! On the issue of other sorts of biases, I don’t have an easy formula more than anyone else. Except that obviously naming them and calling them out is the first step. So thanks for the great post and comments!

    *Do the math on working 80 hours/week -112 waking hours – 14 hours/week eating/grooming/maintaining car house – 5 hours commuting = 83 hours and that is pretty sparse grooming and maintaining – e.g. no exercise – and nobody lives on 3 hours/week leisure time)

    • Yes! We definitely have to make it heard that becoming parent isn’t necessarily hurting career in sciences. Prejudice does, though.
      When I asked myself the question, I already had kids. Comparing within applicant pools, in average, early career parent scientists have ca. 1 paper less by kid. Not a big deal actually, except to binge bean counters. What’s more, it is not well understood that unparenting scientists will quite probably produce kids once they “secured” a position (i.e. when leaving the post-doc trail), and that’s basically just after they are hired. So if I were judging applicants, I’d suspect productivity to decrease slightly if people don’t already have kids but still want a family life of some sort. That is, already parenting scientists are most probably a safer bet… 🙂 (of course, I’m biased, this stands as a declaration of interest).

      • Impeccable logic! (especially since I was in the same situation both my kids were born while late PhD/Postdoc).

  11. “I think it is important to start speaking out how great academia is for being a parent and stop pretending like its a death march suitable only to the childless or pseudochildless (i.e. 1950s males with wives).” – Brian McGill

    I would like to second Brian’s comments. I have found that academia gives me great flexibility in juggling a family and work. My average work week is probably ~50 hours. It’s lower some weeks (either because I’m burnt out or my child is sick or you know, life) and increasing exponentially as grant deadlines approach. Like Brian does, my husband (also an academic) and I use that flexibility to spend quality time with our child. We typically leave by 4 pm every day (it was even earlier when she was younger) and stagger our teaching so that someone is always available to sit with a sick child. We make up the hours in the evenings after she goes to bed or mornings before she wakes up. Weekends and holidays are dedicated to family except for #naptimescience or evenings if we’ve got a lot on our plate. Other than teaching, grant deadlines, and student defenses (and, for me, committee meetings because they’re so dang hard to schedule), there is very little that can’t be adjusted, canceled, or otherwise rearranged as needed. Is it hard sometimes being an academic and a parent? yes. But I think being a parent and anything (firefighter, nurse, minimum wage laborer, corporate accountant, probably even president – never met one of those so don’t know for sure) is hard because being a parent is hard (rewarding but lets be honest, it’s hard). The question is whether it is harder to juggle being an academic and a parent THAN being a parent and some other job. My feeling is in most cases the answer is no and in other cases its a lot easier. Just my n=1 perspective (I’d include my husband in that count but that’s probably pseudoreplication). But if I include Brian then we’re at least at n=2. Anyone else?

    • There is no doubt that scheduling flexibility is a big perk to an academic-parent’s job. To answer Morgan’s question, I don’t think it is harder being an academic-parent compared to other professions, but rather the challenges may be different. Academics (i.e. TT and Tenured faculty) typically require large blocks of time for deep, focused thinking to write papers. I find it difficult most days to do this in my office during the work-week because of all the other work responsibilities/duties/interests I have. Writing at night is a challenge for me because I share that time with my family and in many instances I am just knackered (or brain dead). I am not complaining at all, really. I just want to raise this as a valid challenge for me anyway, and perhaps as a general challenge for any parent at a job that goes way beyond a 9-5, “leave the work at work” approach. I am truly lucky to have a partner who probably (no actually) does more than 50% of the home duties, and picks up the slack on week-ends when I come in to the office to write.

      I am not trying to discourage young academics aspiring to be a prof some day, but I think it is important to offer personal experiences like Morgan, Brian and I are doing. This way, next-gen ecologists can make informed decisions about their career decisions. What I have realized reading many comments on this topic is that every person has their own set of unique circumstances and standards for work-life balance. I just hope in the future that in ecology and in science overall there is more acceptance for a diversity of approaches and a diversity of metrics (not just # of papers) that reflect valid contributions to science.

      • I agree that the challenges are different, Your insights into the increased difficulty of finding chunks of time (which I agree is a challenge) is one of the important challenges. I think having a real open and productive dialogue on the challenges of balancing kids with academia is really important (and strategies people are using to deal with them). I’d rather the next generation makes informed decisions about the cost-benefits of the academic life-parenting tradeoffs than responding to the perceptions of prejudice and impossibility of the tradeoff.

    • Count us in (when the genetic makeup is not the same, and the environment might still differ despite correlated, if pairs are actual pseudorep is an open question, and should we care that much about pseudorep in this case? ^^).
      There’s an issue about parenting in science: it is that most scientists still consider both incompatible. I’ve seen many people deciding otherwise and not doing any worse than those who decided not reproducing (the issue is probably made worse by people deciding not having kids because they listened to advisors or colleagues and reporting guilt for their lack of ambition on people deciding otherwise… This is quite common actually).

    • Yes, I agree that the “you have to work 80 hours a week to succeed in academia” thing is not true, and that it doesn’t help to have that be the standard message that is given out. There was a point where I was going all out to run some really big experiments while still having a pretty small lab, teaching, etc. I tallied up the number of hours I was working a week, and it was about 60. And, as I said, I felt like I was going all out at that point.

      Right now, I work a pretty standard 9-5 in the office/lab, in part because of daycare hours. I go through emails while eating breakfast in the morning. At night, when my daughter goes to bed at 7:30, I go back to work for about an hour, but I also am usually pretty fried by that point and usually use that as time to catch up on emails (or, last night, to write this blog post). And then I work through naptimes on the weekends. (I am the creator of the #naptimescience hashtag on twitter.) That is most certainly not 80 hours a week, but I think I’m reasonably productive. I suspect that people who say they work 80 hours a week are not truly working all those hours. As a postdoc, I spent a while carefully tracking the number of hours I was truly working, as opposed to, say, checking out articles on Slate. It was a lot less than I would have estimated, and that exercise helped me realize how to be much more efficient.

      And I very much agree that the scheduling flexibility is immensely helpful. We had a day this fall where our daughter’s daycare was closed due to a norovirus outbreak. (By some miracle, our daughter avoided the plague.) My husband and I have been able to arrange our teaching so that our classes do not overlap, but we both had busy days that day. But we made it through the day with lots of hand offs of our daughter on campus. I did a phone interview of a prospective technician that day while pushing my daughter around in a stroller — work-life balance, right?

      • Seems to me that some of this discussion on actual working hours is quite relevant to the concerns Caroline Tucker raised over at The EEB and Flow in her “academic ambivalence” post. To an extent, her angst about how academia selects for “workaholics” may be misplaced, if in fact nobody is really an 80 hour a week workaholic.

      • Efficiency – that really stuck out at me from Meg’s comment. My advisor, who I would argue was reasonably successful, had an academic spouse and kids (his spouse affirms he was an equal parent). We asked him how he did it and his answer: you become more efficient. I think that is the secret to effective work-life balance with kids. You have to say no to some things – which is part of the equation. But you also have to be better about focusing during your productive hours and using your less productive hours for the things that don’t require as much brain power. I do emails, easy programming, data entry, keeping up with tables of content (or rss feeds), and administrative work at night or early morning. I block out on my calendar research time for each week which I protect like my life depends on it. Things like blog commenting, I often do while waiting for my next meeting! Speaking of which where is my 3pm?

      • @Morgan, yes efficiency is key and some days I am better at it than others. Still, it is something I strive for because it will help me make the best use of the productive time I have. To your last point, you are bang on that the cost-benefit assessment on this career path not be tainted by perceived/apparent prejudice or unrealistic demands on work-life balance.

    • i think the balance of evidence shows that, at the highest levels of Science, most females are lesbian and/or have no children [i have always spoken to and about females who want to compete at the highest levels [which, as documented in the tumblr attack, i have characterized as top 1% or 5%]; also, please note that i have not claimed to have worked, consistently, 80 h/wk; i claimed [once] that i emulate those who do…many fieldworkers work 80 h/wk as do, say, many employed in tech industry, many surgeons, many cardiologist, many nurses, many non-professional workers who work more than 1 job, many stay-at-home mothers…etc, etc…also, following up on my 2014 comment to another blogpost about my Ecolog-L comments, i have never, never claimed that female scientists are “inferior” [which (Jacqueline Gill erroneously claimed, within quotes, i said)…i think many, many females in EEB are duly capable of being in the 1% or 5% of EEBers…

      • “i think the balance of evidence shows that, at the highest levels of Science, most females are lesbian and/or have no children”

        What evidence supports this statement? Can you cite a publication that shows this? I doubt there is one. It’s interesting that this comment is on a post where I talked about whether or not to engage in this sort of situation. I don’t want silence to seem like tacit endorsement of a message I strongly disagree with, but I also realize that this discussion is probably not going to be productive (though I hope I’m wrong about that). This comment has left me weighing the same things that the earlier ecolog comments did.

        On the topic of the original post, though: If anyone is looking for another example of a very successful woman in EEB: Hopi Hoekstra, a scimom who does fantastic science, was just elected to the National Academy of Sciences last week; I don’t know numbers, but surely she is one of the youngest people elected. She joins Joan Strassmann, an excellent evolutionary biologist, mom of 3, and champion of women in science, in the National Academy’s Evolutionary Biology subsection.

        Finally, just to note for anyone finding this — which is more likely now that it will appear in the recent comments list on DE — this post is over three years old, but I am commenting now in response to Clara B Jones’s comments above, which just came in over the weekend.

      • http://www.americanscientist.org/issues/pub/when-scientists-choose-motherhood …primary papers cited here…think of probabilities, not special cases…BTW, Hoekstra did not have a child until after she had risen to top of field, & Strassmann, & West-Eberhard have exceptional marriages to famous EEBers–not even approximating the norm…keep in mind that my concerns have always been w top 1%, 5% & that, of course, females trained as scientists have the ability to join the ranks at those levels…

      • p.s. post over 3 y old because i just came across it again on Google & decided to respond now since i did not respond to my attackers in 2013…BTW, often pointed out tht many men @ top of Science have traditional wives @ home; however, females who want a high-powered career [the phrase i use often] could, also, make this partner choice…

      • One thing that makes this a challenge to discuss is that I have no idea how one would define the top 1% or 5% of scientists. I absolutely agree (as this post states) that the numbers indicate biases against women in science, and that women scientists with children face additional challenges. Perhaps where we differ is in how we respond to these numbers (which I recognize is undoubtedly influenced by our experiences.) My responses to these numbers have been to try to support younger women in science and to try to change the climate for them (both at my own institution and more broadly). I don’t want to be a Pollyanna, but I think it’s possible to be both realistic and encouraging. I don’t think emailing a major societal listserv with statements saying young, female applicants don’t bring much to the table (to pick just one example) helps the cause of women in science.

        I still don’t understand how one’s sexual orientation plays into this discussion (clearly many lesbians have children), but am not sure that topic is worth getting into.

      • 1. Sexual orientation, per se, is not the point…i think there is evidence showing tht women who identify as lesbian & women without children are most likely to be @ the tops of their fields in STEM…i would speculate that lesbians who have partners structure their relationships differently than most heterosexual couples do…i will try to find the report[s] i am vaguely recalling and will post a link, and, then, will not pursue this line of discussion any further…time and more research will tell…
        2. as for my [poorly stated] comment about what EEB females bring to the table, the evidence, in my opinion, is who gets the highly competitive fellowships, awards, prizes that are judged by which early-career EEBers are doing “cutting-edged” work [i think that phrase is often used]…females could be taught to be more competitive & to enjoy high-level competition; however, in my experience, most shy away from it…anyway; the competition only gets more intense as any EEBer rises in the ranks & females in EEB need to be prepared for that…
        3. as for your comment that it would be difficult to determine who is in top 1% & 5% of EEB, i encourage you to consider whether it would be difficult to obtain relative consensus about who is at the top of the [admittedly diverse] field…i think consensus would not be difficult…i think many posts & comments to Dynamic Ecology demonstrate that there is such consensus…
        4. finally, i think we could benefit from having more videos such as West-Eberhard’s; then we could search for trends, similarities, differences, generalizability, etc…all best…

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