By Kelly

I’m going to do something I might regret here. I’m going to mention the g-word: yes gender. I attempted to take a light-hearted look at some of the ups and downs of the PhD in a previous post, pointing out that I too am only human and have bad days. The reaction by those around me was alarming to say the least, I thought I was going to be involuntarily committed. So I feel I should state from the outset that I am not typing this post with my bra on fire, nor am I singing “I am woman” swinging from the top shelf of the book-case, but if I felt like it, I would. I am merely reporting on a recent article that outlines some research in to that emotive issue of the ‘leaky pipeline’; the moniker for dwindling female representation with academic seniority.

The article in The Guardian’s Higher Education section discusses the retention of  female chemistry PhD students, and highlights the different intentions and expectations between the sexes. After the first year of graduate study 72% of women surveyed intended to carry on as researchers, either in industry or academia, compared to 62% of men. By third year 59% of men still held the same intention whereas the proportion of women who sought a career in research had plummeted to 37%. Academia was the least favourite option with a paltry 12% of women and 21% of men choosing this as the preferred career option. So what happens along the way? What is wrong with staying at university forever? And is this the same for the Earth sciences?

The most alarming aspect of these figures is that they do not represent who actually gets a job in academia, just who wants one. According to the study, women conclude that: “(i) the characteristics of academic careers are unappealing, (ii) the impediments they will encounter are disproportionate, and (iii) the sacrifices they will have to make are great”. While these are very good points to be sure, how is this any different to other demanding professions i.e law, stock-broking or acting?  I should also like to know when in the third year they were surveyed. Here at the ANU you  submit your PhD application the day you submit your Honours thesis (or atleast you used to). At this point in time academia had dropped on my list of  prospects, but then again so had sleeping.

I have always had the sneaking suspicion that the leaky pipeline was due to the lack of role models and mentors that women have in certain scientific disciplines. And to prove my point I think I shall go on to become an academic, a geochemist no less, to see what I can do to boost these numbers.

The link to the full article is here.  I’d be very interested in any other ideas people had, so feel free to comment below. Or join me in the courtyard to burn my office chair, I find it much more constricting than my bra.