Thursday, April 03, 2008

A ton of feathers

I just returned Lifting a ton of feathers by Paula Caplan to the library. I have library issues. I love libraries. I love the idea of them, and I love being in them. I worked in 2 college libraries for a total of about 3 years and I loved it. But, I'm not a very good patron. I always check out more books than I can read by the due date, and I have some bizarre chore-avoidance issue that flares up and I can never, ever remember to get my books back on time. My late fees pile up so high it's cheaper for me to just buy books. Bad, Andrea!

I got this book with the intention of joining in a virtual book club about it over at ScienceWomen. March was a wee bit busy for me, though, and I didn't get very far in the book. In fact, I'm so far behind on blogreading after my trip to Tromso that I haven't even read the other posts about it!

I had trouble finishing the book for a couple other reasons. One is I'm having trouble reading small typefaces still (just started my eye PT last Friday), but the other is I found the content so depressing I just couldn't bear to pick it up. The book is about women in academia, and it's meant to be supportive in the sense that "knowledge is power" and it does have a ton of great advice. But I just couldn't get past the whole bigger problem of it. The fact that we need this book to begin with, and the vast extent of the problems addressed in it. It's overwhelming.

I guess I'm also a bit bitter about the whole issue right now. For many years I kept being told that if we just get more women into science, we'll reach a critical mass, and the whole culture will start to change. Reading Virginia Valian's book Why so Slow opened my eyes to that being a lie. There is a deeper problem that both men and women value women's input less, and respect us less, etc, that underlies everything. It's no longer enough to just keep packing women into the pipeline, letting each one of us flounder about wondering why we, individually, seemed to like it less than many of our male colleagues. I know so many women who have left science, but almost no men. Yes, that is totally anecdotal, but the statistics back that up.

Just today at our group meeting a colleague gave a practice talk, and I found myself silent. Normally I'm the first one to pipe up with comments and suggestions, but I just couldn't bear it today. The stares, the silence, and knowing that my suggestions are never implemented. I don't expect all my ideas to be used all the time, but when I see, month after month, that my ideas are always the ones to be glossed over, it gets tiring. It could just be coincidence that I'm the only female in the group, but Valian's book convinced me otherwise.

I also wasn't so motivated to read it because I'm pretty burned out on academia in general and have already decided to leave it after I graduate. I've totally lost perspective on the "pros" of academia and see mostly the "cons", so a whole book of cons and how to fight them was just too much.

For example, a new study came out recently about sexism in peer review. The Women in Science blog have a nice writeup about it. Normal peer review in science is single blind--the authors don't know who the reviewers are, but the reviewers see the authors' names. There was one ecology journal that changed its review process to be double blind and after several years Amber Budden looked at how many women were published--it had increased dramatically. No other ecology journal showed an increase over the same time period. It's incredibly depressing.

I think I might have avoided late fees, though, so it's not all bad!

And I've made a decision about what I want to do next. I've really been struggling with that for a long time, but the spiritual exercises I did in February and March really helped clarify things for me. I've decided I want to teach high school science, in particular to under-served kids. I know I'd be an awesome teacher, and it's also really important to me to feel like I'm contributing something. That the world is a better place, in however small a measure, because I was in it. I also feel like it will start to integrate the different parts of my life. Teaching feels like a calling to me, and is in harmony with my values and religious beliefs. It also promotes social and environmental justice, both of which are extremely important to me. Van Jones (here and here and here) is one of my big heroes right now. Ok, this might be the most stilted paragraph about something that I'm actually incredibly excited about. I should post the mind map I drew about teaching. The "so exciting it actually paralyzes me with looking-forward-ness" part totally grew and grew and overtook the "bad" or "fear" parts.

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