I don’t have a title for my latest book yet, but I know it’s about a woman who is doing a science PhD and wondering whether or not to stay. It was inspired by a conversation I had with a friend about why women leave science.
Every year there are hundreds of women with PhDs who hang up their lab coats and go do something else. It could be something science related (science teachers, lab technicians, that sort of thing) or something totally unrelated – there a lot of accountants and actuaries and lawyers who have science degrees or PhDs.
There are a lot of reasons why women leave science. It’s hard to fit it in with raising a family for a start. A lot of places now have flexible working hours, part time working etc etc etc. But it doesn’t change the fact that you’re expected to do the equivalent of a full time job in the hours you have. If not (or even if you do manage it) you’ll be treated as someone for whom work is hobby. Besides all that, what happens to your experiment if you have to suddenly disappear to pick up a sick child? You’d have to repeat the whole thing when you get back, or ask someone to look after it for you. For women who care about their career, that sucks.
I left science well before I had children. What made me leave? I’ve thought about this a lot, and I’m not sure I know, even now. I could say it’s a man’s world. But my PhD supervisor was female and she was very very good.
One thing I noticed is the difference in the level of confidence between men and women. The guys would stand up with results that they weren’t 100% confident in and talk as though it was conclusive. They believed in themselves enough that when challenged, they would face the challenger down and confidently predict what was going to happen. Me, if someone challenged by work, my first reaction was to doubt myself. HAD I made a mistake in my calculations? HAD I misread something? I would always falter in my responses. Invariably, when I went back and checked, I was right all along. But by then, it’s too late. I’ve already shown weakness. Somehow that diminished my integrity as a scientist.
So much of what happens in scientific circles is down to ego. What my friend calls ‘Willie waggling’ (which would be, by definition, something men are better suited to…). What you’re saying seemed less important than who was saying it and how confidently they said it.. I’ve worked in industry and it happens there too, but not as often.
So, there you have it, my reason for leaving science was a lack of confidence in my abilities. And I think I’m fairly easily bored (useful for a writer, not so much for a scientist). If you left science after a PhD (be you male or female!), what was your reason for leaving?