The Best of Systers Blog Leaving Academia
I finished my PhD about a year ago. When I first joined graduate school I knew beyond a doubt that what I wanted to do after I graduated was to teach and work at a research university. What could be better than the flexible schedule, the ability to work on stimulating projects, and traveling around the world to talk about my research? It all looked so cosmopolitan.
It only took a couple of years for me to realize that things were not as pretty as what was painted. Graduate school is a unique experience for everyone, but the students that were ahead of me in the process were having trouble finding jobs. And, more troubling, they just didn’t seem as happy as they used to be. The ones who did find jobs went to post-docs (where they continued to not be paid adequately for the insane hours they worked) and the stereotype of the curmudgeonly old professor seemed to set in for my friends.
This experience is echoed in this recent article posted to systers. It reported that for graduate students “by the third year, the proportion of men planning careers in research had dropped from 61% to 59%. But for the women, the number had plummeted from 72% in the first year to 37% as they finish their studies.”
My personal experiences resonated with this article and I have since jumped out of the academic pipeline to find a stimulating and wonderful career in industry. I still get to travel to present my work, my schedule is fairly flexible, and the work I do is more than stimulating. The reasons for staying in academia were not outweighed by the apparent downsides.
Beyond my personal story, the reason this is a larger problem is the metaphorical “pipeline.” The pipeline is an theory that women move through the pipeline to obtain higher and more powerful jobs. So a woman might go get her undergraduate degree, moves on to get her masters, joins a start-up, moves to a larger company, and climbs the corporate ladder to become the CEO, as an example of moving through the pipeline.
One of the key indicators for moving women through the pipeline is more women. If you are a woman and you are thinking about applying for a higher position at a company, you are more likely to apply for that job if you see that there are other women who also hold that position (or higher positions).
Now the issue for computing is that the number of women who are even majoring in computer science is critically low. When young women are in the classroom, the people they see as one or two steps ahead of them are graduate students and professors. So, when women are dropping out of the pipeline to become graduate students and professors, the undergraduate population of female students is negatively impacted: the female undergrads do not see that people like them can obtain higher positions in the pipeline.
This means that this isn’t just a problem for those few women who decide to stay in academia, but is a problem for any company wants to hire fresh female undergraduate students. One key way to help recruitment and retention of female students is to make sure that they have positive role models in academia.