Supporting Women in Academia through the Women’s Neuronetwork (WNN)

By Sivaniya Subramaniapillai / 2022-01-17

Most academics have at some point in their lives been asked by a well-meaning friend or relative when they will get a “real job”. While the natural response is to defensively explain that completing a PhD or a postdoc is in fact a real job, the question itself is not completely out of line. While for many career paths, people enter the job market directly after an undergraduate degree or an apprenticeship, research training takes many more years – up to ten years from the start of a PhD program to landing a permanent position (with no guarantees!).

There was a time when a PhD was the level of training expected from applicants to professorships, but it is now the norm to have two or more postdoctoral tenures under your belt to even be considered competitive. While this amount of additional training may be necessary to meet the demands of a research culture that is continuously evolving with new methodologies and technologies, it can be a grueling process, particularly for those faced with additional challenges beyond their control. Ten years is a long time to test anyone’s resilience while they strive to land a permanent position, but navigating roadblocks on the academic career path is not an equal challenge for all when the environment was not initially designed to welcome people from diverse groups and backgrounds.

As STEMM fields are increasingly adding a spotlight to equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), we also have to be mindful that there is no one size fits all. To embrace EDI, we have to acknowledge that individuals come with backgrounds that may make it challenging to navigate the current academic culture. For example, we want to welcome mothers, but how do we account for the inevitably gendered time commitment for caretaking? Academic mothers’ productivity has been most impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic – a timely example of the structural impediments academia imposes on women.

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