A PhD is Not Enough…A sexist guide to survival in science


I recently started reading A PhD is Not Enough by Peter J. Feidelman.

The first chapter of this book is a cautionary tale that gives six stories of academics whose careers took a wrong turn over mistakes that could have been avoided. The first five use the pronoun “he” (names are just initials to protect identities). By the fourth story I was already rolling my eyes and waiting for a ‘she’.

Huzzah! There she is, in the sixth and final story. Whew.

All five male stories focused on the career consequences of poor choices. Getting pushed out of basic research or not getting hired into a permanent position. The female story actually resulted in tenue but is considered a failure because her marriage failed, she didn’t have time to have children or “[relax] with a good novel”. The suggestion that could have saved her career: pick a path with less demanding hours.


The sexism here is so obvious.

There’s been a lot of hub bub lately about sexism in STEM because of the Tim Hunt episode. Some say it’s been taken out of context and blown out of proportion. Like this fantastic article states about his comments, “they were the drop that finally caused the bucket to flow over“. A bucket full of sexist B.S.

Then I read this book and am slapped in a face again with what is a very real opinion of women in STEM fields – we aren’t as committed because of our family obligations and are more delicate than our male counterparts and need to be treated accordingly.

We’re going to need a bigger bucket because the B.S. is still coming.

When sexism is so ingrained and is very clearly preventing women from reaching the top ranks of academia books like this are just confirming everyone’s bias (conscious or not) that women can’t cut it, that we’re not as serious, that all we really want are kids and time to read a good novel.

The same goes for Tim Hunt’s “joke”. When women face colleagues and supervisors who actually hold these beliefs, it’s not ok to joke about them. I know when I apply for a job after my PhD I will face this bias. For example: “Childless, unmarried women earn 96 cents for every dollar a man earns, while married mothers earn 76 cents” (NY Times). Ouch.

It’s not a joke to me, it’s reality.